Curious Trends


Dirty icons as symbols of hope in design art

In an exercise inspired by the vast dust heaps that dominated the skylines at the top of Gray’s Inn Road, as immortalized in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, a growing stack of dust-made bricks will be exhibited as part of the Dirt exhibition at Wellcome Collection. A series of events will also celebrate and and ritualize the bricks, and the project will culminate in their burial, returning them to the earth:

In the early to mid 19th century, dust heaps supported a wide range of industries, including the making of bricks. Mud from the bricks of Somers Town was mixed with ash, cinders and rubbish from the dust heaps, so the dirt was recycled into new material from which the expanding city was built.

Artist Serena Korda is asking the public to donate dust, which will be used to create bricks for a new artwork called Laid to Rest, which will consist of 500 commemorative bricks. Ken Arnold, Head of Public Programmes at Wellcome Collection says, “Serena Korda’s Laid to Rest reminds us that dirt is now and always has been a part of daily life. By asking people to make bricks from the dust of their surroundings, she is encouraging people to see that their surroundings are built from dust.”

In another symbol of renewal - and hope, there’s also a photographic feature on Fresh Kills, the world’s largest landfill site on Staten Island, New York - which, by 2030, should have been transformed into a public park. Fresh Kills or ‘Fresh Waters’ was the name given by 17th century Dutch settlers to the then lush and pristine marshland that was prized by nomadic Indians thousands of years earlier .

And these illustrations, part of a suite of devotional images by Flemish engraver, Anthonie Wierix, (c.1600), show Christ cleaning the believer’s heart, assisted by angels and Christ clearing demons out of the believers heart. The heart was often portrayed as a house or a room, which, as the place where man and God meet, must be kept pure and free from all corrupting influences.

Distinctions between who or what is considered clean or dirty become more ambiguous during the annual Hindu festival of Durga Puja, where the feminine creative spirit is celebrated with sculptures of the goddess Durga, made from dirt, straw and clay taken from the banks of the holy Ganges in Kolkata.

Durga Goddess by Tarun Paul (2011) is an unconsecrated idol made especially for the Dirt exhibition from clay and straw decorated with fabric and jewel-like adornments by an artisan living in Kolkata. The incomplete nature of some of the unpainted forms and the visibility of the raw materials reveal the maker’s hand in the creation of this work, while reminding us of its dirty beginnings.

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