August 4, 2011


From top to bottom: Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Social Mirror, Santiago Sierra's Anthropometric Modules made from Human Faeces, a 19th Century racist Pears Soap advertise and a Cholera safety suit etching.

Now that the summer break made many galleries close their doors during August, I visited the strongly advertised exhibition "Dirt" at London's Wellcome Collection at Euston Station. As usual in this venue, the pieces displayed consist of a mixture of artifacts, antique books and artworks. Dirt and sanitation, dust and shit, bacteria and racial hygiene - separated into 6 chapters, the exhibition covers: THE HOME (17th Century Dutch paintings of cleaning activities), THE STREET (London's 19th Century overwhelming cholera problems) THE HOSPITAL (Glasgow's 19th Century filthy hospitals, which caused more amputations than recoveries), THE MUSEUM (Dresden's 1930's emergence of the first Hygiene Museum that has been co-opted by the Nazi's racial hygiene ideologies), THE COMMUNITY (India's persistent problems with the officially forbidden 'manual scavenging' - the cleaning of human waste by hand) and finally THE LAND (Staten Island's 2030-project of turning the biggest waste dump in the world into a park).
Some contemporary and astonishing artworks are shown, such as Bruce Nauman's 1996 video "Raw Material of Washing Hands," Mierle Laderman Ukeles' "Social Mirror," or the overwhelming and massive Santiago Sierra sculpture titled "Anthropometric Modules made from Human Faeces by the People of Sulabh International, India;" and they are juxtaposed to 'vintage' racist soap adverts, early pictures of bacteria or cholera maps.
As an art exhibition, I would agree with Florence Waters, the curation has no choice but to fail and disappoint in some way. On the other hand, however, the temporal guidance through a development of human's relation to dirt and the term's meanings is not only very informative, but it also confronts the viewers with dirt's ongoing recontextualisation. Further images and information after the click:

Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life 
24 March - 31 August 2011

Wellcome Collection 
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE (Admission free)
Tuesday-Sunday: 10am-6pm, Thursday: 10am-10pm


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