03/09/20 (Life Changing Magic)

Brief update: Over the last weeks, I’ve been working on the sound for the installation with Alchemy. Mentored by the excellent Heather Andrews, I’m learning a lot, and doing it in small doses, so my eyes don’t go square.

I promised someone, somewhere (It was probably the team at Alchemy) that I’d go into more detail about my Read More collection of books, and thought I’d start with the one that’s occupying more of my thoughts than any of the others; Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.

I heard about Marie Kondo on Woman’s hour… years ago now, was it 2017? Where she explained about storing things vertically in drawers so you can see everything, and that made sense, but I wasn’t sold on the book. Nobody really needs a book to tell them to fold up their underwear neatly, right?

And then one quiet day in the library (I worked part-time there for a year or so, please please please use treasure your libraries, they are so important to knowledge and freedom) I spotted this little white book when someone returned it. I scanned the barcode, turned it over, and started to read.

By the end of the day, I’d finished it (it’s not very long; working in a library doesn’t just involve reading books, really!) and was convinced on starting my own joy-sparking journey.

The basic concept of Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method is to choose to keep only items that spark a feeling of joy when you hold them. The method involves working through belongings – and digital belongings too – by category; clothing, books etc, bringing them together in one place, and holding each thing one by one to feel if they spark joy before deciding to keep them or discard them with gratitude.

It’s not hard to criticise – a filmmaker friend of mine said, ‘but what if you’re in a bad mood, you’ll just throw everything out!’. Another friend reminded me that this method might only for people with the privileges of both money and time – if she’d given away all of her bags that didn’t spark joy, she’d be left with none, and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a new one that did spark joy. I guess it is important to be pragmatic about using the method, life can’t really ever be as completely simple as ‘spark joy’ suggests, can it?

I can’t claim to have completed a ‘Tidying Festival’ – who’s got the time to take however long it takes to ransack their entire home? But once I’d sent several bags of clothes to Oxfam, and books and CDs and so many pieces of fabric that ‘I’ll use one day’ over the course of a year or so, I wound my way around the house to the photos (these are one of the last categories to do, as sentimental items are generally impossible to replace).

Working with my personal collection of printed photos – taken between 2002 and 2012 (the year I got a smartphone, probably), I made Photograph – where you can watch me destroying all the photos that didn’t give me that spark joy hit. They’re the underexposed, the overexposed, the duplicates, the embarrassing, the photos where no-one’s looking, or I can’t remember who these people are, but they must have been important at the time, or blurry landscapes that don’t do a place justice.
The video itself, kind of does spark joy – maybe it’s seeing the horrified reaction of some people, and the curiosity of others – did they want to see more of these images, or are they still reeling that I’ve not kept them, other than in this moving digital and noisy form?

The connection between joy-sparking de-cluttering and experimental filmmaking might seem a little tenuous, and I guess it depends on how a filmmaker works. The instinctive, emotional and tactile approach of the KonMari method, for me, is almost the same process as making a video. Not in all, but in many videos, I take screenshots, print them into little contact sheets, and cut them out. One by one, I discard them or keep them, arrange them, play with them, then glue them down or tape them down and construct the video to match this papery layout. Putting one image before or after another is led by something, be it rhythm or instinct or logic or joy or duty or anger or any of the endless other reasons we make art, but letting work spark joy as it happens definitely makes the process more fun.