Above: Dirt (MIT Press, 2012); Vik Muniz, Pictures of Dust (2000) (after Donald Judd’s Untitled, 1965 and Richard Serra’s Left Corner Rectangles, 1979); Vik Muniz, Wasteland (2007-10) (see the documentary film website)
My very first semester of graduate school, I took a class called “Post-Spectacle” in the Architecture and Design department at UPenn taught by Helene Furjan. It was a great crash course in Guy Debord’s “Society of the Spectacle” from c.1900 phantasmagoria—theater shows with projected magic lantern slides—to c.2000 Las Vegas casinos—with their disorienting carpets and scented air so that time, space, and anything outside collapses into quarter-lobbing oblivion. It was also great to meet architecture students whose rapacious program dictated a tempo that made the art history PhD track seem languorous. A few weeks in Helene announced that she was working with a group of students on a publication, via. The issue on Occupation had just come out and the new issues on Dirt was in the works (Camouflage is in-process now). She gave us the option of writing something for a final paper. I wrote about recreations by artists as a way of remaking the heavy detritus of art’s history, and one heavily edited example from my rambling first graduate school paper made its way into the collection of essays. That was 2007, and like most academic publishing, I have learned, the book has finally been published jointly with MIT Press this month in 2012.
The beautiful book is a varied collection of takes (conversations, essays, designs) on an almost limitless definition of dirt. Many take detritus—the rejected, excreted, organic, excessive—as a modality of practice for doing and creation. From the flap: “Dirt presents a selection of works that share dirty attitudes: essays, interviews, excavations, and projects that view dirt not as filth but as a medium, a metaphor, a material, a process, a design tool, a narrative, a system. […] The chapters predict and report on city waterfronts revamped by climate change, the reinvention of suburbia, and cityscapes of ruins; dish the dirt with yet-to-be proven facts; make such unexpected linkages as ornament to weed growth and cell networks to zip-ties; examine the work of innovative thinkers who have imagined or created, among other things, a replica of Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork Spiral Jetty in “table-top scale,” live models of the Arctic ice caps, and an inhabitable “green roof”; and describe an ecological landscape urbanism that incorporates the natural sciences in its processes.” Yup, that’s (emboldened) what I wrote about. Vik Muniz’s recreation in his Brooklyn apartment of Robert Smithson’s legendary earth art. I basically discuss appropriation hinting at originality while exposing artificiality as contemporary art’s dirty modality.
Had I written it today, I would have expanded on Muniz’s incredible oeuvre. His collection of dust (skin, hair, nails, and particles left by the crowds of museum-goers and biological processes) from the Whitney museum, and his use of this public material to recreate installation photos of major minimalist sculptures by Serra, Judd, etc. And so, for instance, you have the sterile minimalist space of the museum and simple, serial forms re-composed from the dirty detritus of that museum space. It’s freaking brillant. Or maybe I would include his work in the trash dumps of Brazil, where he worked with local “catadores”—pickers of recyclables—to create large-scale photographs of famous artworks from the materials and then uses his renown to exhibit and sell the works at auction and gives the money back to the community. It’s captured in a moving documentary Wasteland.
I’m thrilled the book is out…check your local store to see if it’s on the shelves!
Dirt contributors include Barry Bergdoll, Alan Berger, Anita Berrizbeitia, Megan Born, William Braham, Lindsay Bremner, Kim Brickley, Case Brown, Mark Campbell, James Corner, Phillip Crosby, Keller Easterling, Ruth Erickson, Larissa Fassler, Annette Fiero, Helene Furján, Future Cities Lab, Andrea Hansen, Mark Alan Hughes, Tetsugo Hyakutake, Robert Le Ricolais, Lily Jencks, Peter Lloyd Jones, Keith Kaseman, Ferda Kolatan, John Landis, Sylvia Lavin, Andrew Lucia, Ian McHarg, Frank Matero, PEG Office of Landscape + Architecture, Rhett Russo, SERVO, Cathrine Veikos, Phoebe Washburn, Marion Weiss, and Richard Wesley.
Dirt on MIT Press.