Or else, you can choose laziness and dilettantism, you can feel content with the cultural veneer you’ve acquired here and there about Duchamp’s Le Grand Verre [The Large Glass] and this Dust Breeding photograph, and therefore you can simply let yourself go and experience the poetry of dust, its invincible persistence and its almost elegant incongruity. You can smile, upon reading Georges Bataille’s imaginary tale of Sleeping Beauty under a layer of dust, without necessarily blathering about the complex relationship between Bataille and Duchamp. And you can shudder at Bataille’s prediction of an Apocalypse for cleaning ladies (“fat girls – maids of all works” in his own words) who will someday be vanquished in this uneven fight against dust, leaving us prey to the worst nighttime terrors. You can admire the composure of London intellectuals during the Blitz leafing through books covered in dust from deadly bombings, in a library now lacking a roof. You can be moved by Pompeii and Hiroshima, two eminently dusty catastrophes, or you can be intrigued by the attire and habits of Midwesterners struggling against dust storms.
You can also let yourselves be gently troubled (and, trust me on this, a certain kind of vertigo or intoxication will seize you then) by photographs that you do not understand at first (especially since the labels are rather badly displayed, missing or illegible at ground level), whose images present a disturbing and eerily unsettling appearance, for you cannot figure out the scale, even if you do discern rectilinear and structured shapes, or fluid and fleecy ones. Is this an aerial view of a desert or a field, or is it a banal domestic surface in want of housecleaning? Is it an aerial view of the Iraqi desert during the first Gulf War by Sophie Ristelhueber, or is it a crystalline micrograph by Laure Albin Guillot? Is it a floor mat or a wheat field? Precisely, this exhibition overlooks the question of scale, of the perception of size, and regrettably so, in my opinion, as geography and the scale of representations are neglected and overshadowed by the focus on history.Another topic of interest, even with the leaflet in hand (actually, I only read the catalogue afterwards, at home; but having read it, I will probably go back if I can, and visit the exhibition with a different and fresh eye), another topic that could have been more thoroughly examined is the framing. Sure, we learn about the two published versions of Dust Breeding, with different framings, but we remain in want of a larger reflection on the effects of the frame on an image of dust. The frame can emphasize the disorientation effect, the feeling of vertigo, it can erase any sign indicating direction or place, neither up nor down, neither right nor left (similarly to Stieglitz’s photographs of clouds). Several images displayed at the Bal feature such tricks, and they could have been better deciphered.
Finally, if this exhibition entices you, stop vacuuming your home, let dust bunnies and ashes accumulate gleefully, abdicate in the struggle against the dust goddess, and live as nomads who set up and take down their tents in the midst of dust storms. This is what Eva Stenram (whom we’ve already discovered in Arles, subverting conventions) did, in her own way. She stacked under her bed (analog) negatives of (digital) photographs of Mars, taken by the NASA. She did not clean her room for a few months, and she then retrieved the negatives to print them in a series titled Per Pulverem Ad Astra: “through dust to stars”. The red planet appears as if it had been tamed, domesticated by this oh-so light, so elegant white fluff, and Mars seems almost inhabitable. I wish you to enjoy this exhibition, to enjoy it through feelings and emotions as much as through reflection: “sic itur ad astra” (“This is how you reach the stars,” or “This way the starward path to dwelling-place divine,” The Aeneid, book IX, line 641).
Photos 2, 3 & 4 by Lunettes Rouges
Original publication date by Lunettes Rouges: December 26, 2015.
Translation by Lucas Faugère