There is a dinner party game where you are asked who you would invite living or dead. I think I would have a dinner party at Margaret Olley’s house. With Marie Kondo. Just the two of them. I want to see how Ms Kondo copes with Ms Olley’s intensely populated surfaces. I think she would get very drunk. Margaret certainly would. I want to see how the Queen of decluttering mixes it up with the Queen of cluttering.
On the weekend I went to the Margaret Olley installation at the Tweed Regional Gallery. It’s such a wonderful experience to be transported into two of Margaret’s Paddington rooms. It’s a wonderful visual and textural cocophany of paint tubes and empty chocolate boxes and old fruit and dried flowers and broken crockery, and teapots, and ornaments and vases and sculptures and drawings and coats and baskets and tins and ashtrays filled with butts. The only thing missing is the smell. It looks fecund. Like living organic matter. I imagine the high tones of quietly rotted fruit, with the smell of linseed oil and turps and cigarettes and fresh flowers.
A dear friend told me of the many times she visited Margaret’s house for lunch, where everything would be painstakingly removed from the table and laid on Margaret’s bed. In order as it was on the table. They would eat, and then she would have to reassemble it back on the table. A child having to do the installation all over again.
That is creativity. It’s abundant. It’s beautiful and fresh and broken and decaying all at the same time. Creativity is chaos. It’s an autopsy. It’s the rubble on the floor, the rotting pear, the open book, the bits of paper, the chalk dust. It’s the box of letters, the photograph, it’s the favourite chair. It’s messy. This is the essence of our human condition. It’s where ideas live. I love the mess of Margaret Olley. But it also scares me. How does one contain oneself in such wonderful ruin? In this anarchy of art and life where is order? Where is the uncluttered mind?
Perhaps the mind is meant to be cluttered. Perhaps decay and detritus is the part of life where our stain of our existence is not shameful but beautiful. Perhaps our shelves are meant to be dusty, our floor unwashed. Perhaps our crockery is meant to be broken, or cracked and lovingly patched. Perhaps these layers and layers of meaning are part of the experience of understanding who we are when we sit in our rubble.
Perhaps the real problem is not disorder at all. It’s order. This need to control and sanitise and audit our spaces. This sense that a clear space equals peace of mind, rather than a lonely stark madness.
Why do we need to be organised? Why are we obsessed with cleaning, and sorting and throwing out? Why do we need our spaces to look like no-one actually lives there? Marie Kondo even has her own trademarked method, where one cleans and sorts according to category where one only keeps things that speak to the heart, items that no longer ‘spark joy’ are discarded. What a sad indictment of our consumerist lifestyle. We have so much we need a method to throw it out. Is nothing precious? Don’t our stories weave these disconnected objects together in a joyous narrative of life and death and love and loss, fierceness and fragility?
At our dinner party, where I sit drinking wine with Margaret Olley, Marie gets a bit drunker than she should. She moves like a soft breeze between the chairs, brushing past the bookcase, making flowers tremble and fruit roll forward. She is smiling. This place is bringing her joy.
‘I love it,’ she says.
Marie slumps into Margaret’s generous chair. She smiles and closes her eyes. There is nothing to remove or re-organise or re-fold or re-pack. There is just surrender to the life of everything as it is, and your capacity not to take control, but to be part of a natural order, as you quietly decay in your chair.
Mess is life.
In Olley v Kondo, Olley wins every time.
At this dinner party, no-one does the dishes.