Self Storage

September 20, 2009

Here is the link for the article Julia told us about in crit.

The article appeared in the New York Times Magazine on 9/6/09.  It is titled, The Self Storage Self.  Author Jon Mooallem begins by giving the history of the self storage unit which seems to be quintessentially American.  The article is pretty depressing.  I find storage units fascinating and the article still depressed me.  How could it not?  It gives an account of an older man who is a veteran and lives in his truck, keeping all of his possessions in a storage unit because he is in deep credit card debt.

Why are storage units so American?  This accumulation of uselessness is heartbreaking.  What is it that we think these broken toaster ovens, boxes of books that aren’t that great, Tupperware containers without lids and old clothes will bring us?  Why do we have such a hard time letting go?

This makes me think of the Beijing artist Song Dong’s exhibit, Projects 90 at MoMA that I saw this summer.

Here is a link to MoMA’s site about the show:

I spent a long time looking at this accumulation of materials.  And I took a lot of pictures which I will add below.  The story of the exhibit is sad and amazing, but nothing can compare with seeing it in person.  The materials are categorized so beautifully.  I like the mingling of sadness and beauty that I felt while experiencing this piece.  I guess that is the same way I feel about storage units.

empty plastic bottles

empty plastic bottles

toothepaste tubes

toothepaste tubes



Part of why Song Dong’s piece resonates so much with me is that the objects themselves are so colorful and beautiful and seeing them collected together strengthens each individual object.  But the objects are inherently sad.  There is a lingering stillness and death about each one.  They are dead objects whose purpose is no longer useful, but they were kept and there was an unwillingness to let them go.

Daniel Harris talks about objects in the Quaintness chapter and the anthropomorphism that we put onto those objects.  We think that old homes retain the essence of their former owners, and we feel the same way about furniture and everyday objects.  I must say that I am someone that fully subscribes to this idea however irrational it may be.  But usually this anthropomorphism happens to expensive Victorian chairs, and old pianos, and drafty houses, and not everyday mass produced items.  We don’t think of new computers as having this quality, or empty tubes of toothpaste.  Which is why the Song Dong exhibit really floored me.  Here is all this stuff, trash really, and I was feeling some essence off of it.  I was feeling the artist and his mother.  I was feeling the sorting and the collecting and the refusal to throw away.

Maybe I am sensitive to this coming from recently cleaning out my grandmother’s home when she passed away in 2007?  Or maybe I am just a sentimental person?  But I have to question how our feelings towards objects have changed now that we own almost nothing that is not mass-produced.  I think that this idea is really relevant to our discussion and questioning of kitsch.  What do we value?  And why?


One Response to “Self Storage”

  1. JimmyBean Says:

    I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog. Thanks, 🙂

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

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