This poetic film shows how our shopping endangers the planet

London-based poet, artist, and model, Wilson Oryema shares a short film that raises alarms about our growing consumption habits

“What is the problem with our consumption?” is the question posed to readers of Wilson Oryema’s debut book, Wait.

In an attempt to bring awareness to the societal crises of our age: addiction, destructive habits and pollution, Oryema authored Wait. In it, the model-slash-artist examines the effects of human consumption on the planet through a series of thoughtful short stories and poems.

Today, the London-based creative is driven by his art and poised, as he puts it, to find “new ways to communicate and give perspective”. This multifaceted approach can be felt. Over the last year we’ve traced Oryema’s trail, watching him move from curation to spoken word, poetry to videography. “I think it’s really important not to be confined or held back by a particular way of doing things. There’s more than one way to communicate an idea.”

In an attempt to give this topic the continuation it deserves, Oryema has produced Boxing Day Blues, a short film premiering on Dazed Digital today. The film opens honed in close on a cluster of trees. As the camera backs away, more and more trees are revealed, all living (and growing) in their natural habitats. The film moves on, to show the unsettling life cycle of these trees as they become – at the hands of humanity – a mere commodity, reaching the end phase of their perceived value on Boxing Day as they lay lifeless and strewn on the streets.

Below, Oryema unpicks Boxing Day Blues and addresses the themes of ‘consumption’ and ‘repurposing’ in relation to human behaviour.

“We can all do things to help careful consumption and to become more aware of it. But, no one size fits all” – Wilson Oryema

Tell us a bit about Boxing Day Blues and the inspirations behind it.

Wilson Oryema: I wanted to centre the video on something, a moment, that would be relatable to as many people as possible. The Christmas period is a far-reaching cultural event and so many people have fallen victim to the commercialisation that comes with it. Boxing Day Blues is a build-up to Christmas Day. The film moves on to document a Christmas Day evening – where my poem is then read. The ‘twelve days after Christmas’ concept is also referenced, as trees are cut down and cast onto the streets. I wanted to show the new crops that are automatically lined up for next Christmas, the paper notes that are printed, the amount of money exchanged, the presents that are wrapped then unwrapped. It’s a lot more visual than the book and gives much more context.

What was your process when making the film?

Wilson Oryema: I wanted to release this on Boxing Day but I had so many ideas and they still needed exploring. I started by taking lots of different photographs and making videos of Christmas waste and rubbish – most of which, was easy to find on the streets. On Boxing Day I found myself walking around my area and I noticed that there were so many trees left out on the pavements. I started to take photographs of every tree I found. On its own, this idea didn’t feel enough. That’s when I started to give the film structure, following the trees life cycle from the beginning to the end phase of their ‘perceived value’ – basically when they are no longer needed as decorations. I also wanted to show the sheer scale of money that is made (and used) during Christmas, the amount of water needed to grow these plants and to print this money, the paper needed to wrap these presents – it’s all in there. Then the film reaches this day of ‘reckoning’ on Christmas Day and it becomes clear that most of these things have temporary value. There is a clip where money is just being thrown around to essentially convey this feeling of wanting more and more and more.

You’ve used a variety of outlets to communicate this issue. Has this been a conscious approach or entirely organic? 

Wilson Oryema: A mix of both really. You know, at primary school and secondary school you’re trained to respond in different ways to tests. They vary, some are audio-based, others are visual, some are kinetic – all are about discovering what kind of learner you are and what causes you to respond. Not everyone intakes information in the same way. I want to communicate this concept of consumerism in as many ways as possible. I have created a public installation, a book and now a short film. They all tackle the same ideas, but they communicate them in different ways. You have to let it come naturally though.

Would you say excess and greed are inextricably linked to consumerism?

Wilson Oryema: There are a number of things at play. Indoctrination is one. A certain mindset has been impressed upon society; we have all felt and heard it. We are never told that we need to earn up to a certain amount of money in order to live, instead, we are encouraged to earn more and more – there’s no cap. It’s self-feeding and everyone plays a part. ‘What have you been up to?’, ‘Have you tried this yet?’, ‘You haven’t lived until you’ve tried this’. It’s a mindset that cross-affects everyone and when these moments do come up, you feel like you have responded. There are so many ideologies and psychologies at play, I haven’t expanded on them all yet.

Your work and writing are never didactic in tone, rather you seem to be encouraging people to educate themselves as you do. Would that be true?

Wilson Oryema: Yes. For me, this video and my book are for everyone but they are also very much for me. I need to clean up my own consumption habits. I’m learning about everything and everyone around me. It’s about small changes and awareness. I’m learning to consciously ask myself questions like: ‘These are nice trousers, but where did they come from?’ Or, ‘this plastic bottle is really convenient, but where will it go after I use it?’

Do you think social media fuels addictive behaviors?

Wilson Oryema: We live in the age of the internet; everything is measurable, attention, influence etc. I would say that all social media really does is surface addictive behaviours that were already there. Social media is not the first instance where addictive behaviours have come into being. Trillions of tonnes of waste sit in the ocean and we can attest this to behaviours before. But yes, addictive behaviours are pushed in our face more. Once we would consume one billboard, now we consume thousands every day and everything is impressionable – we want to consume more and more.

How can we practice careful consumption?

Wilson Oryema: We can all do things to help careful consumption and to become more aware of it. But, no one size fits all. I can show my perspective, but really it’s your journey to take, just as much as it is my journey to take.

Wait is available now