A Handful of Dust – Whitechapel Gallery 2/9/17

This study visit was well attended and was led by Jayne Taylor. The exhibition was curated by David Campion, and it really did feel as if it was following his train of thought. It had a very personal feel to it.

I’m a bit at a loss of what to write. The exhibition was spell-binding, and I think I will, to make an awful pun, have to wait for the creative dust to settle before I can clearly see how my landscape has changed as a result of this show. Undoubtedly, it will have changed.

It made me look at dust differently. You forget that for every part of skin flakes and general traffic crud, there’s meteorite traces, pollen, paper and evidence of traumas past. It’s evidential, of course, but also ubiquitous, universal, fundamental, elemental. It can be smooth and undisturbed or collected into balls or string (both Man Ray’s “Dust Breeding” and Sophie Ristelhueber’s “Fait”) showed this eloquently. We see it in large scale, in man-made destruction (Robert Burley’s Kodak demolitions, Jeff Mermelstein’s Statue) and natural dust storms where the dust swirls and flows like water on the ground and howls in opaque clouds and waves in the air.


Man Ray’s “Dust Breeding”


I was fascinated by the smaller scale interactions with dust. Man Ray’s image for example, where the dust was left to cultivate, and even the actual image was a long exposure, left for an hour whilst he went to lunch. Eva Stenram’s Cosmic and Domestic dust – where negatives of images dust in space were left under the bed to collect domestic dust and then rephotographed. In this house, you’d leave them on the tv console for about 30 minutes to achieve the same result. Dust seems to be an incredibly cosmopolitan occurrence. Robert Fillious’ cheekily swiped dust from Louvres artworks entranced me – he simply wiped the dust from 100 national artworks whilst a partner took Polaroids, then displayed the cloth in an archival box, along with the Polaroid.  What a double affront to the Louvre – firstly to their security and secondly to their housekeeping. He claimed to have part of the paintings’ auras along with the dust.  I love that concept. I loved, but didn’t expect to, John Divola’s “Vandalism Portfolio”. It reminded me of something I saw in BJP about alterations made to abandoned crofters cottages in the Scottish Highlands. This one was more engaging though, with the different layers of work and the integration of existing and altered. Ed Ruscha’s Royal Road Test looked so intriguing with bits of a typewriter photographed on a Nevada dust highway but was taped off and you couldn’t really get close enough to get a good look.


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I did look hard to find some actual dust there to photograph – the security didn’t look as if they’d be that keen on me wiping the top of a caption board with a clean tissue and I hadn’t brought my Polaroid, so I settled for phone photographs. It was a well dusted space.


I could feel my brain starting to fuse, so bought the catalogue, which is letting me absorb this strangeness in slower time. How does it relate to my work? My A3 Decisive Moment for EYV featured pregnancy tests, many of which had acquired dust over the intervening years, along with various dubious biological and microbiological changes. I think also, that David Campion had curated an entire exhibition about something as everyday and mundane as dust, yet we still had to look several times at some images before realising that we did not, in fact, know what they were of, or even have a clue. I like this practice of making the familiar unfamiliar and it resonates with how I work. Less than 24 hours after returning I’ve dusted a couple of the worst places in the house for dust. Not photographed, though. I know there’ll be opportunity to change my mind.

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