Artist Michael Landy made an inventory of everything he owned: every item of furniture, every book, every piece of clothing, every cat toy… The list took three years to complete and contained 7,227 items. Then, with the help of a large machine and an overall-clad team of operatives, he set about destroying it all. After two weeks nothing but shredded material remained.
Break Down was presented in one of the the former C&A stores on Oxford Street in London. Landy’s deconstruction-line was displayed for a fourteen day period one of the UK’s most iconic shopping streets, a stone’s throw from Selfrisges. Landy described Break Down as a Scalextric version of the material reclamation facilities in which goods that have value are reclaimed from the waste chain. Circulating on a roller conveyer, the stuff of Landy’s life was classified into ten different categories – Artworks, Clothing, Equipment, Furniture, Kitchen, Leisure, Motor Vehicle, Perishables, Reading Material and Studio Material. It was then systematically smashed, pulped, granulated – whatever it took to destroy it entirely.
Landy proposed his project to Artangel via The Times/Artangel Open, conceived to give artists an opportunity to realise unusually ambitious projects. This was the first time the organisation opened the doors for proposals from artists, rather than inviting them individually. From some seven-hundred proposals, Break Down was selected by a panel comprising Brian Eno, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Cork and Artangel Co-Directors James Lingwood and Michael Morris. The other selected project, also staged in 2001, was The Battle of Orgreave by Jeremy Deller.
The accompanying publications was part manual, part inventory and part research file. I remember inviting Michael to the office for one of the first proper meetings about the publication, as asking him “simply bring all the stuff you think is relevant.” In he came with a big box, that included exactly that: stuff. A lot of it. Press clippings, books, photographs, research material. In the end the publication took on the format of a ring-binder, not that dissimilar from some of the recycling plant manuals also in that box. It included a substantial extract from the list of Landy’s possessions plus drawings, photographs, a collage of research materials (in essence the content of the box laid out flat), a description of a test with the dismantling of a small sound system, a section of photographs from the actual installation and an interview with Julian Stallabrass. Subsequently, the full inventory was published by Ridinghouse in a stand-alone book, simply titled Break Down Inventory. The design of Break Down was by Mark Diaper.