“In a way, this activity (dusting) symbolizes our inability or our unwillingness to deal constructively with our selves, to accept their entanglements with finitude, death, and the others, archived in dust”
(Marder: 2016, p.6)
Using found materials as the primary medium of my work, I try to establish a direct link between the land and its inhabitants. For my current project on cleanliness I decided to research and explore dust, as another kind of landscape, created out of human body parts such cells and hair. I was particularly intrigued by human obsession in eliminating dust, and the overuse of cleaning products. Dusting as a reference to the elimination of a timeline, as an attempt to reverse or disturb the life circle. For the testing boundaries project I chose to explore these ideas by creating diamond shaped soaps with dust/dirt collected from my vacuum cleaner, with added lime smell. In a way the dust is preserved in the soap and can also be read as a preservation of the archive.
The diamond form is used a reference to the significance attributed to cleanliness: it is a precious stone, when collected from the ground is in a dirty state, the means of collections are questionable, creates feelings of self importance and significance to their owners, diamonds as a statement and proof of power. The use of the mirror is twofold. An aesthetic one: to create reflections and make the diamond shapes look more alive and impressive. Also for the image of the viewer to be reflected in the work, automatically making the viewer part of the work and also “forcing” them to engage with work.
As to the site chosen I chose the space of my law office. Several reasons for this. First going against my up to now practice not to mix my legal practice with the art making, I have not put up on the wall of the office any of my personal work. Second, I have not exhibited my work in spaces other than spaces used for exhibition purposes only. At the same time there are two associations that can be made by exhibiting this work in a law office, more specifically in the toilet room. First the apparent link between soap, hygiene, over use of cleaning materials, the need of people to hide whatever they do not want to reveal by being obsessed with cleanliness and the elimination of dust. Second the meaning of cleanliness for a law office. People in general see a law office as a place that facilitates “cleaning” illegal/“dirty” actions. Also recently there have been numerous changes in amendments in anti-money laundering laws and regulations. So placing the work in the toilet room opposite the wash basin mirror will give a reflection of the person washing their hands in the work and at the same time the two opposite mirrors will create an indefinite space where the soap, the dirt and the individual will appear in multiples. As if a never ending cyclone where the soap the dust and the person become one.
A number of people visit the office on a daily basis. So this can constitute a fair sample of audience. Audience is not only people that have a certain knowledge about art, so ideally the work exhibited should be readable or understandable by any viewer without specific knowledge of art. At the same time the artist/maker should direct the viewer in understanding the context of the work or at least intriguing the viewer to give to the work their own understating and interpretation. Having this in mind, the chosen space of exhibition may have a contributing role in the interpretation of the work’s context or even provide a different contextual perspective of the work.
The specific space chosen had one major disadvantage: I could not get the immediate audience’s reaction. But I was hoping that the fact that a work hanged in a toilet room on a formerly empty white wall, would make people comment about it. And they did, mainly because they could see their multiples in the mirror and thus stare at it. Also the smell of the work could not be bypassed. So the challenge was to document the audience’s reaction. But even when a work is exhibited at a gallery space the artists is not always present to experience the audience’s reaction. And even if the artist is present the reactions most probable will be censored.
Attempting to document the audience’s reactions I put together a simple questionnaire with five questions, just to get an idea of what people thought of the work. The questionnaires where left at the front desk, so in case anyone commented (some of them were forced to comment) about the work they were given the questionnaire:
- What are the materials of the work? Did you touch the work?
- What did you notice more about the work?
- Is there a reference to the toilet room?
- Is there a reference to the law office?
- What do you think is the context of the work?
I received a number of different comments. In relation to the materials, most people commented about the mirror. Fewer commented on the soap and less on the dirt, with only two people commenting about this. Some people said that they touched the work – I thought that no one would dare to do that because of the dirt. Surprisingly most people commented on the smell of the work as the one thing they noticed more about the work. I thought that the diamond shapes, as a familiar shape would be the aspect of the work most people would comment on, but there was not much commenting on this. The questions about the reference to the space were a bit confusing to the audience. On purpose I chose not to inform people about the context of the work, however for most of them it was difficult to give a context to the work and so make a link with the exhibition space. I only got very few answers on these questions which mainly related to the diamond / preciousness / reference to the office / clients wealth etc.
Making this experiment, i.e. not informing the audience about the context of a work, made me realize that the audience need a form of guidance and information from the artist about the work. Even if the artist does not give an explanation about the work’s context, the audience ask “what does it mean”, “what does it say”? So it was a bit too ambitious to expect the audience to give to this work an interpretation of a different form of landscape and not just diamond shapes on a mirror. Although some of the commenting were not far away from the work’s context. Also when the work is exhibited in alternative spaces you get the risk the work not being noticed. When people go to an exhibition space they go there intentionally to spend time looking at the installed work. In a contrary case where they encounter a work by chance the work might not be noticed. In terms of making, I will try to experiment with work that the audience will be able to engage more directly with the soap, urging them to touch it and also continue with the experimentation of symbols of significance and power like the marble.
Marder,M., Dust (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)