Dust: Arch Enemy and Artwork

Staub aus dem Naturkundemuseum (c) Klaus Pichler

Dust from a museum of natural history
(c) Klaus Pichler

Day in, day out collections staff is fighting against dust. We wrap artwork, dinosaurs, cars and coffee makers, sometimes we even put old cardboard boxes into new archival boxes. We do everything to keep our arch enemy, the mighty dust, away from our artifacts. And while we brush, wipe and vacuum I bet it never occurred to one of us that this evildoer could have an aesthetic aspect.

But photographer Klaus Pichler, whom we already know from his series “Skeletons in the Closet”, has now captured this aesthetic aspect of dust. Fascinated by the difference between the dust from a natural history museum and a fashion shop I asked him how he got the idea:

Klaus Pichler:
“The idea for this project came by coincidence: I moved from my old apartment and while I was clearing the space I realized the dust in the living room was red and the one in the bedroom was blue. This astonished me and I couldn’t get it out of my mind, so I decided to look into it and to study dust systematically, especially the notorious “dust bunnies”, agglomerations of dust. Right from the start it was my plan to create an archive of dust that should contain dust from a wide range of areas from our society and that all dust samples should be photographed. To decide on which places to collect dust I took the model of the basic living needs (reside, work, recreation, traffic,…) and used it to decide roughly the weighting of the places that should be included in this project. And then the time had come: I went dust hunting!

Staub aus einem Modegeschäft  (c) Klaus Pichler

Dust from a fashion shop
(c) Klaus Pichler

I guess you can imagine the reactions I got when I (without advanced notification, I like to add!) showed up in different shops, apartments, museums, schools, restaurants, etc. I was interested in and asked them permission to search for dust. Especially, as I didn’t go much into detail why I was doing this, but as soon as I got the permission began crawling on all fours, searching for dust bunnies. For many people confronted with my wish it was surely one of the stranger requests in their professional life…

The dust samples I discovered (I tried to collect different samples in every room but always kept only one) went to my dust archive. I cataloged them with consistent categories (date, place, address, description, catalog number) and archived them in numbered petri dishes. Every time I had 25 new samples I made a photo session where I photographed them all at the same conditions with a high-resolution macro camera. The results of my activities as a collector can be found in the book “Dust” that is out now.”

What is it that fascinates you about dust which is for most of us – especially registrars – only an annoyance?

Klaus Pichler:

Staub aus einem Kunstmuseum (c) Klaus Pichler

Dust from an art museum
(c) Klaus Pichler

“When I started this project I expected that there would be a certain range of dust but by the best stretch of my imagination I didn’t anticipate what I discovered then: every dust was different and not a bit of the monochrome dust I expected. Quite the contrary, the different dust bunnies often had a rich coloring, some in one primary color, some mixed in color, some harmonic, some dissonant in terms of color. This was matched by the irritating variety of ingredients – from fibers and hairs to parts that pointed to the purpose of the room the dust was formed in. Pieces of popcorn in cinema dust, dead insects in the dust from the entomology department of the natural history museum, breadcrumbs in the dust from the bakery. Sometimes it’s nearly possible to decide where the dust comes from by looking at the ingredients and the color of the dust, because every room produces an unique kind of dust due to it’s design and purpose. For me all of this was extremely fascinating.

That’s why I’d like to give you this little piece of advice: Next time you are sweeping dust, take a moment and a strong flashlight, guide the beam to the dust bunnies and dive into the fascinating world of dust.”

Thank you for the opportunity to see our dust with different eyes!

The book “Dust”:

Dust_Book-003Hardcover wrapped with 2mm textile and flocked ‘Dust’ logo, handmade, 30x30cm (open: 30x60cm), 102 pages (4 pages transparent paper, 98 pages uncoated paper), 45 images. Including a folded poster, 50x70cm, printed on uncoated paper.
First edition, 2015. Limited to 450 hand numbered and signed copies.
Can be ordered via the author’s website:
http://kpic.at/images/4497

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This post is also available in: Spanish German

5 comments

  1. Julia says:

    This is what one would refer to as ‘when life throws you lemons, make lemonade.

  2. Sue Gatenby says:

    It would appear that the study of dust particles or bunnies would reveal a story about its past and present locations which could be used to possibly map its travel adventures through the floors of its existence. Could their be a sequel?

  3. Harvey says:

    I am laughing after reading this because I have finally found somebody in the world who is as “weird” as me. Almost everyone thinks I am “off the wall” because of the many things I do that are similar yet perfectly based in science – look closer at that stuff with a microscope and you would probably get sick. when I sold my home and packed my 6,000 volume library I insisted on using a vacuum cleaner on every individual book before I wrapped and packed them for storage. Nobody understood my explanation and simply accused me of “stalling” the move. Are we surrounded by idiots? I think yes. People do not understand the relationships between and among dust, mold, temperature, humidity, light – did I miss anything? The idiots say “just box it up” as they hand you an empty banana box with nice handles. I am also an amateur photographer but the close-ups that I do are for medals, coins, stamps and other collectibles. Klaus – you may have my vacuum bag anytime you want it for your next book!

  4. Lois says:

    I’ve seen a person use dryer lint of different colors to make a picture. She sells her works. I believe dust might also be used in the same way.

    • judith says:

      You can make rather nice paper from dryer lint. The color tends to be gray, although the bright red lint we got after washing new flannel sheets for the first time was lovely. It’s the same process as making it from any fabric fiber.

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