Jorge Otero-Pailos has undertaken to create a record of the world’s pollution through The Ethics of Dust, a series of installations resulting from its preservation. So far two installations have been realized at Manifesta 7 in Bolzano and at the 53rd Biennale di Venezia. As an architect and theorist specialized in experimental forms of preservation, Otero-Pailos scientifically removes and preserves the dust settled on key historic buildings of the world. Latex, the cutting-edge of preservation cleaning technology, allows Otero-Pailos to isolate that microscopic layer of history. Separate, but never entirely free from the building, pollution is allowed to recast its own story. Building on the tradition of 19th century architects and conservators, who made plaster casts of the world’s monuments so academics could study the architecture of distant cultures, Otero-Pailos’ casts of pollution suggest a new way of looking at architecture and our history.
Before pollution was everywhere, it was admired and even desired. Pollution was the true mark of modernity, only visible in the industrial capitals of the nineteenth century. Architectural conservators were among the first to recognize a positive value in pollution. John Ruskin (1819–1900), one of the fathers of modern architectural conservation, theorized the dust deposited on buildings as foundational to their historic value and character. He vehemently opposed cleaning buildings, which he considered an act that effaced their historical significance and treasured pollution as an index of the temporality of architecture, referring to it as architecture’s “time-stain.”
This practice began to change in the 1890s, after Camillo Boito (1836–1914), the most prominent Venetian conservator of the time, heretically proclaimed Ruskin’s time-stains to be “extrinsic filth,” not to be confused with the intrinsic ageing of stones, properly called patina. Boito’s thinking gave rise to wholesale cleaning campaigns to remove the (now considered insalubrious) pollution from building facades. He also invented the idea that each monument should serve as its own museum. The Museo dell’Opera, lodged in the ground floor of the Doge’s Palace, serves that archival purpose. It contains thirteen capitals from the building’s outer loggia that were replaced with copies during the restoration campaign of 1876–1887. In contrast with these stones, all the dust that conservators removed from the Doge’s Palace over the years was not considered worthy of the museum, and was washed into the lagoon. Otero-Pailos’ installation situates pollution at the intersection of the twin discourses of preservation and museum curatorship. He both cleans and preserves the pollution on one of the last remaining soiled walls in the Doge’s Palace, which was hidden from tourists inside the building. The resulting installation holds an ambiguous status, unfit for the Museo dell’Opera on account that pollution does not belong to the building, neither artwork nor architecture, yet constituted by the meeting of those two worlds.
Produced by Thyssen-Bornemizsa Art Contemporary for the 53rd International Art Exhibition / Biennale di Venezia
Fare Mondi // Making Worlds, curated by Daniel Birnbaum
PUBLICATION: Jorge Otero-Pailos: The Ethics of Dust
DURATION: June 7 - November 22, 2009
LOCATION: Arsenale, 53rd Biennale di Venezia