Whitechapel Gallery Presents Visual Journey Exploring The Motif Of Dust

The Whitechapel Gallery is presenting a new exhibition which brings together artworks and documents tracing a visual journey through the motif of dust from aerial reconnaissance, wartime destruction and natural disasters to domestic dirt and forensics. Conceived by curator and writer David Campany as a speculative history of the 20th century, the exhibition features works by over 30 artists and photographers including Robert Filliou, Mona Kuhn, Gerhard Richter, Sophie Ristelhueber, Jeff Wall and Nick Waplington alongside magazine spreads, press photos, postcards and film clips. 

The exhibition features works by over 30 artists and photographers

The starting point of the exhibition is a 1920 photograph taken by American artist Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp’s work in progress The Large Glass (1915–23) deliberately left to gather dust in his New York studio. First published in the seminal Surrealist journal, Littérature in 1922 and captioned as a ‘view from an aeroplane’, the photograph went on to appear in various journals, books and magazines, cropped and contextualized differently each time, before being formally titled Élevage de poussière (Dust Breeding) (1920) in 1964. The year 1922 was also marked the publication of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land, the great poem reflecting on the modern era in the wake of the First World War. The poem includes the line ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ from which the title of this exhibition is drawn.

Dictator Benito Mussolini’s car.
Dictator Benito Mussolini’s car

Highlights include Robert Burley’s photograph Demolition of Buildings 64 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester, New York (2007) of the headquarters of the analogue film manufacturer being flattened after the company ceased to produce film. Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu’s image titled Bottle Melted and Deformed by Atomic Bomb Heat, Radiation and Fire, Nagasaki (1961) is part of a group of photographs commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs and depicts a glass bottle mutated by an atomic bomb. Walker Evans’ Erosion Mississippi (1938) documents the rural landscape in the United States during the Depression, while Aaron Siskind’s images of scarred urban walls recall abstract expressionist painting.

Works by these renowned photographers are on display alongside examples of photojournalism, such an image of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s car. A mechanic is shown with dirty hands from the thickly dust-laden automobile, which was abandoned in a Milan garage after it carried Mussolini to his death. He was riding in it when captured by Italian partisans and shot on 28 April 1945.

A Handful of Dust was originally conceived for Le Bal, Paris in 2015. A version was presented at the Pratt Institute, New York in 2016 and it will travel on to Moderna Museet, Stockholm in September-December 2018.

Whitechapel Gallery London Exhibition A Handful of Dust 7 June – 3 September 2017

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