I’m standing on thick-pile carpet in front of a 3-seater Chesterfield sofa. A golden-framed hexagon-shaped mirror is mounted on the fashionably patterned wall behind it. The room and all of its trinkets and finishing touches is dominated by peacock greens and blues with metallic accents. There is a rich, decadent, almost exotic feel to the place, as if it is inhabited by a well-travelled, well-heeled bohemian type – a person with a loud, grandiloquent way of speaking, whose parents were perhaps famous actors, or painters, or photographers, giving them a catalogue of good name-dropping stories to tell at dinner parties, and granting them unlimited access to the upper echelons of London’s art society.
I am joined on the thick-pile carpet by a middle-aged couple laden with carrier bags. The woman, wearing chunky jewellery and trendy thick-rimmed glasses, reaches towards the Chesterfield, turns over a label and remarks, loudly and grandiloquently, “Look Rodger darling it’s only eleven thou, we could put it in Tilly’s art studio.”
I am at the Ideal Home Show at London’s Olympia, a sprawling temporary city of stands selling anything and everything to do with living in or building a house, including actual full-sized rooms complete with realistic touches like half-finished bowls of granola which are making me really hungry.
I am reminded of Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality, the idea that we live in a world in which it is impossible to distinguish simulations of reality from reality itself. We all know the showrooms constructed at the Ideal Home Show are simulations of homes. Nobody actually lives there. They are carefully designed simulations that the furniture companies have decided we (the customers) will find appealing enough to buy. But what happens when we then take bits of those showrooms home to our own houses? When do they stop being simulations? Will that 3-seater Chesterfield be more real in Tilly’s art studio than it is at the Ideal Home Show? Or will it always be a symbol? A symbol of being fashionable, of having money, of having good taste. Everything we buy, to some extent, is a symbol of something. That is the very basis of consumerism. Our self is caught up in our possessions. We dress the way we want to be seen. We dress our homes up too. The world is thick with layers of meaning and symbolism we don’t even consciously see. Our choices are never simply made.
Soon, if all things go to plan, I will have my own home to dress up. My husband and I will make various choices. Wall colours, furniture styles, placement. We will construct a home that satisfies our image of home. We will play out the games we played as children in the playground. But this time the kitchen isn’t multicoloured plastic. It’s real. Or is it?
So much of what we have in human society is surplus to requirements. How many kitchen gadgets do you have that you don’t really need? The Ideal Home Show was packed with weird and wonderful gadgets. We spent a good twenty minutes watching a man make soup and smoothies with a £600 blender. He said it replaces 10 kitchen gadgets. He said it saves hours a week. And what’s more precious in life than time? The blender is not a gadget. It’s a symbol. It’s a symbol of progressiveness, of antidomesticity, of efficiency, of wealth, of being a busy person, of being healthy.
This is what we spend our money on. Ideas. Simulacrum.
We believe we are trapped because we can’t afford the things we want, but it’s important to ask why we want them. Are we simply building playhouses? Our own personal Disney Lands? Are we trying to obscure the truth? And if so, what truth are we obscuring? If we live in the hyperreal then where is reality?
My brain is far too small to answer these questions. That’s enough deep thinking for Sunday morning. Good bye.