ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The word “possession” carries multiple meanings, signifying both an object under ownership and the state of being in the thrall of a dominant force. Capitalism thrives on material consumption, and we are driven as a society to constantly express ourselves through our possessions, even as many of us find ourselves in crushing debt to maintain them. While there’s been a recent trend to minimize one’s possessions, it’s merely a part of a larger cycle of purging, inherent to an unhealthy relationship with material objects. Without some kind of process of reflection, we are prone to simply fill our spaces with new possessions expressing our desires, weaknesses, and aspirations.
Over the course of two years, artist Jaye Schlesinger embarked on a project to consider every one of her personal possessions, deciding whether to keep them or let them go. After selling, recycling, or donating everything that failed to make the cut (or, in the current parlance of stuff-purging, failed to “spark joy”), Schlesinger reified her relationship with her remaining possessions by depicting every single one of them as the subject of a small-scale oil painting, numbering 380 in total. Some of the paintings are of individual objects, and some show groups of objects, such as a stack of pans or a set of button-down shirts on hangers, that relate to each other by function or form. This object-cloud of little paintings, collectively titled Possession is on pop-up display at the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, and creates a pleasing, abstracted portrait of an existence.