I’m currently cleaning out my apartment and moving into a new place and I’m quite shocked at how much dust can accumulate over time. As a self-proclaimed neat freak, it’s insane how I can clean a room and how days later, dust settles back in again. Just as interesting are all of those trinkets and keepsakes that I packed away, deemed unimportant or useless, and then stumbled upon exactly one year later. The way that nostalgia wafts through the body after you find an old photograph, article of clothing or letter is pretty dynamic.
Recently, I visited the Museum of Arts & Design to check out the exhibit Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design. The exhibit features works that were composed of recycled and discarded materials as well as earth matter such as clay, dust, sand, mud, lint and ashes. Themes of loss, longing, nostalgia and bodily history are explored in the form of sculptures, films and installations.
Julie Parker’s Ritual Accumulations was striking and commanding. I could spot Parker’s work from across the room—a large quilt in various shades of grey with hot pink and pale blue squares interspersed. When I moved closer, I realized that it was composed of dryer lint and string. When I looked to the floor beneath the quilt, there was a pile of dust and odds and ends—hair clips, feathers and other scraps. I found Parker’s work to be moving and horrifying at the same time. It was interesting to see someone create a work of art that was crafted with so much attention to detail. On the other hand, thinking about the earth and how much waste human beings produce every day, it was a bit terrifying to view a work that was composed completely of discarded, abandoned materials. I had a very corporeal, very somatic reaction to Parker’s work. A shudder traveled through my body, accompanied by the fear that if I breathed too hard, the dust might slip into my mouth and shimmy down through my lungs. When I recognized that fear, I realized just how much weight dust, excess and overflow carry. The “leftovers” remind us that our bodies were present in a certain space and document our time spent in that particular space.
Equally mind-blowing was Kim Abeles’ Smog Collectors. Abeles’ work featured a dinner table with plates. Each plate had a stenciled design that was created using smog. Yes, smog. Abeles’ process involves putting the dinner table and plates on her Los Angeles rooftop for 30 days and letting the environment do the rest of the work. It’s jaw dropping—the clean, starched tablecloth, the pristine white plates and the smog that coats every inch of the installation. In a time when human consumption and waste is spiraling out of control, Abeles is using smog, a truly destructive force in our society, to evoke dialogue about the critical state of our environment. The artist’s commentary is innovative and whip-smart and definitely worth checking out.
Swept Away: Dust, Ashes, and Dirt in Contemporary Art and Design is on view at the Museum of Arts & Design through August 12, 2012.
Lauren Nicole Nixon is a Brooklyn-based artist representative, teaching artist and poet. Nixon holds an M.A. in Arts Politics from New York University. Recent work can be seen in Bone Bouquet, Clockhouse, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House, The Tulane Review, Aforementioned Productions, Spillway and No, Dear. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, There’s a Jukebox in the Back, will be published in summer 2012 by Dancing Girl Press. http://www.laurennicolenixon.com/