The Wellcome Collection has done it again. It has mounted an exhibit called “Dirt: The Filthy Reality of Everyday Life” that links art and science. It is not to be missed. Luckily for those of us that cannot get to the exhibit itself, we an access it at www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/exhibitions/dirt.aspx. It describes the exhibition as follows:
“Bringing together around 200 artefacts spanning visual art, documentary photography, cultural ephemera, scientific artefacts, film and literature, the exhibition uncovers a rich history of disgust and delight in the grimy truths and dirty secrets of our past, and points to the uncertain future of filth, which poses a significant risk to our health but is also vital to our existence.
“Following anthropologist Mary Douglas’s observation that dirt is ‘matter out of place’, the exhibition introduces six very different places as a starting point for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in 17th-century Delft in Holland, a street in Victorian London, a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s, a museum in Dresden in the early 20th century, a community in present day New Delhi and a New York landfill site in 2030.
“Highlights include paintings by Pieter de Hooch, the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow’s ‘ghost map’ of cholera, beautifully crafted delftware, Joseph Lister’s scientific paraphernalia and a wide range of contemporary art, from Igor Eskinja’s dust carpet, Susan Collis’s bejewelled broom and James Croak’s dirt window, to video pieces by Bruce Nauman and Mierle Ukeles and a specially commissioned work by Serena Korda.”
Reviewing the exhibit (Science, 27 May 2011) Caroline Ash concludes that “Dirt being given this degree of intellectual consideration becomes absorbing, even thrilling–particularly when one is made sensitive to its barely controlled ubiquity. It is horrifying, too, to contemplate the the ghastly nightmare of lives on the dustheaps of the world’s megacity slums. With almost 7 billion people on our planet and despite the best efforts of the good wives of Delft to sweep our dirt away, ultimately there is no “away,” and we must relearn how to value our dirt. This exhibition thus gives us a glimpse into a choice of possible futures: life in a recycled paradise or grim existences eked out on a planetary garbage dump.”