Michael Landy: Break Down

February 2001
Former C&A store
Oxford Street, London W1

The machine in C & A

Green moulded plastic frog on metal key ring... leaflet and layout plan for Alton Towers theme park... Damien Hirst paperweight... cherry red Saab... 3 amp fuse... pink mouse cat toy... Post-it note... till receipt... ankle sock...

Michael Landy made an inventory of everything he owned: every item of furniture, every book, every piece of food, every cat toy... The list took three years to complete and it 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 powder remained.

Break Down was presented in the former C&A department store on Oxford Street. In this recently closed shoppers' paradise, Landy's consumer nightmare was displayed during a fourteen day period of systematic de-construction. 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. In an earlier work, Landy plastered ‘Everything Must Go' over the gallery walls; in Break Down, Everything Did Go. It proved to be Michael Landy's most ambitious – and most extreme – project to date.

"I see this as the ultimate consumer choice," said Michael Landy. "Once Break Down has finished, a more personal 'break down' will commence, life without my self-defining belongings… One way or other I'm trying to get rid of myself, so it's kind of the ultimate way without actually dispensing of me."

Landy proposed his project to Artangel via The Times/Artangel Open, conceived to give artists a unique opportunity to realise unusually ambitious projects. For the first time Artangel opened the doors for proposals from artists, rather than inviting them individually. Some seven-hundred proposals were tendered. 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.

Break Down was accompanied by an Artangel publication – part manual, part inventory and part research file. It included a substantial extract from the list of Landy's possessions plus drawings, photographs, a collage of research materials, a section of photographs from the actual installations in Oxford Street in London and an interview with Julian Stallabrass. Subsequently, the full inventory was published by Ridinghouse in a stand-alone book, simply titled Break Down Inventory.

This project was supported by Arts Council England, Special Angels and The Company of Angels