Jorge Otero-Pailos

The Ethics of Dust

Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster, London
29th June 2016 - 1st September 2016

 

Jorge Otero-Pailos’s The Ethics of Dust is a site-specific art installation series that reifies invisible elements of grime—natural byproducts of a structure’s long history of human use—into a material form. Through this attempt, he interpolates cultural meanings into materials that are regarded as waste in built heritage conservation—dust, dirt, and other pollutants. Commissioned by a London-based arts organisation, Artangel, Otero-Pailosdeveloped a uniqueEthics of Dustinstallation for Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster (2016), a structure that is more than one thousand years old. 

 

Stemming from a restoration and stone-cleaning project at the House of Parliament in the UK[1], the work consisted of a fifty-metre-long and six-metre-high translucent skin of latex hanging down from the ceiling of the hall, which captured surface pollution and dust accumulated over hundreds of years (see Photo 1). The latex sheets were placed side by side, a few metres away from the wall. When visitors walked alone the hall, they could see clearly the dirt captured in the latex on one side, in contrast to the cleaned-up stone wall on the other side. The dirt contained particles corrosive to the stone, which were necessary to be removed for the sake of conservation. The translucent latex was retrieved from a non-intrusive cleaning process of the interior walls of the Westminster Hall.

As the oldest building in the Parliament, Westminster Hall has been a historic landmark bearing witness to important historical events in the UK. There is no doubt that the dirt is important to this special place, which has captured evidence of history, and it should not have been recklessly wiped away. In the exhibition pamphlet written to accompany the exhibition, Otero-Pailos explained that “Westminster Hall dates back to 1099 and its limestone walls have held the dust, soot and dirt from events including the Great Smog of 1952 and the trials of Guy Fawkes in 1606 and King Charles I in 1649. Westminster Hall is used for public ceremonies and lyings-in-state, most recently HRH the Queen Mother in 2002.”

 

Otero-Pailos devoted the work to John Ruskin, who was pioneering art critic and artist in his own right in addition to being an influential thinker and social reformer in the Victorian era. The title of the series, The Ethics of Dust,comes from John Ruskin’s book of the same name as a tribute to the visionary, whose thought is still relevant in the 21st century.

 

A historic figure who left a significant mark to the field of architectural conservation, Ruskin, as stated in his extended essay The Seven Lamps of Architecture, was a staunch opponent to all forms of building restoration and heavily criticised it as a spurious change that damaged the integrity and value of the historic building. He advocated that historic buildings should be allowed to age by natural causes. Based on that, he urged for a minimum intervention to historic buildings. Instead, he urged constant repair and maintenance in order to keep them in good order. 

 

“Ruskin greatly admired Westminster Hall and the Doge’s Palace: both were seats of governments ruling vast naval empires, often threatened with demolition and ultimately saved by restoration. Ruskin argued against cleaning both buildings with the blunt tools available at the time and went on to lay the intellectual foundations for approaching the conservation of historic building today,” Otero-Pailos explained. Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy, was the location of another site-specific installment in his series, The Ethics of Dust

 

Jorge Otero-Pailos is Professor and Director of Historic Preservation at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture in New York. His work intersects contemporary art, architecture, and conservation. Speaking about his enthusiasm for conserving waste and his thoughts on The Ethics of Dust, Otero-Pailos (2016) said, “we are at a moment of environmental change and pollution is one of the ever-present man-made products out there. It is going to be around for millennia, so coming to grips with it culturally is important. People in the sciences and technology are working on ways to lower our carbon footprint and that is all well and good, but I do not think that any of that technology will be adopted unless there is a radical cultural shift in the way that were appreciate pollution. The museum, cultural producers, artists, preservationists have an important role to play in opening up this discussion.”[2]

 

“The concepts that we have for preservation are very old. The concept of monument is at least one hundred and fifty years old; the concept of authenticity is over one hundred years old; reversibility is eighty or so years old; intangible heritage is maybe twenty. They do not look at the crisis of the object’s conceptual integrity,” added Jorge Otero-Pailos, remarking on the legislation of built heritage conservation.

 

Herein lies a core question for built heritage conservation that captures the zeitgeist of our time. Given that nature and culture have become inseparably bound together—both are mutually dependent on each other—the old, distinct, and separable view of nature versus culture is no longer tenable. This also relates to the concept of the Anthropocene epoch, a period of time that refers to when mankind gained the ability to irrevocably alter the world’s systems of ecology, geology, and climate. The term conservation nowadays implies more broadly to choose the best of what culture has to offer for preservation, so as to move forward in an increasingly globalised and radically changing environment with our cultural touchstones remaining intact. In the Anthropocene, should built heritage conservation be just concerned with passing on (as in a time capsule) what we have inherited from the past to the future in attempt to build a continuous sense of collective identity? Or, should built heritage conservation be placed into a broader context of values to be addressed and interrogated for key contemporary concerns (such as long-term environmental sustainability, urban degeneration, social segregation, and inequalities in a globalised world)? 

 

[1] Experimental Preservation. Edited by Jorge Otero-Pailos, Erik Fenstad Langdalen, and Thordis Arrhenius. Zürich: Lar Müller Publishers, 2016.

[2] UK Parliament. 'The Ethics of Dust' artwork to be displayed in Parliament [online], 2016. https://www.parliament.uk/about/art-in-parliament/news/2016/may/ethicsofdust/

Jorge Otero-Pailos的《塵埃的倫理》(The Ethics of Dust)是場域特定的裝置藝術,將無形的污染元素實體化成物質形態,將被視為文物建築保護中的廢棄物——灰塵和污染物質,注入文化意義。

該作品源於英國國會大廈(2016)的修復和石質清潔保養項目,當中包括一個50米長、6米高的半透明乳膠面,從大廳的天花板垂下,其表面採集了堆積數百年的污染物和灰塵。半透明乳膠是從西敏寺大廳內牆的非侵入式清潔過程中回收得來的。乳膠與牆壁並排放置,相間幾米遠。當觀眾獨自走進大廳時,他們可以清楚地看見乳膠中殘留的污垢,而另一邊則是清理過的石牆。污垢含有腐蝕石頭的顆粒,為保護石牆,這些顆粒必須去除。

作為國會大廈最古老的建築,西敏寺大廳見證了許多英國重要歷史事件。毫無疑問,這地方的污垢灰塵也是重要的,保留了歷史的憑據,不應該被魯莽地抹去。在展覽的小冊子中,Otero-Pailos 指出「西敏寺大廳的歷史可以追溯到1099年,它的石灰石牆壁上有塵埃、煙塵和污垢,是1952年的大霧霾、1606年佳·霍士和1649年查理一世的審訊留下的痕跡。 西敏寺大廳用於公共儀式和遺體告別儀式,最近一次是於2002年皇太后喪禮。」

Otero-Pailos 這作品是向約翰羅斯金(John Ruskin)的致敬,羅斯金除了在維多利亞時代是一位有影響力的思想家和社會改革者之外,也是藝術家和先駶的藝術評論家,他的思想在21世紀仍然具影響力。這作品的標題《塵埃的倫理》,取自羅斯金的同名書籍。

羅斯金在建築保育領域留下了重要的印記,正如他的作品《建築的七盞明燈》(The Seven Lamps of Architecture)中所述,建築修復破壞了歷史建築的完整性和價值,故堅決反對任何形式的建築修復,主張歷史建築自然老化。在此基礎上,他敦促對歷史建築進行最低程度的干預,並且只進行持續的維修和保養,以保持其良好狀態。

Otero-Pailos解釋道:「羅斯金對西敏寺大廳和總督府(威尼斯)讚嘆不已:兩者都是統治著巨大的海軍帝國政府的所在地,但經常受到拆遷的威脅,最終因修復逃過被毀之劫。羅斯反對用當時採用的鈍器清理這兩座建築物,奠定了今天歷史建築保護的基礎。」

Otero-Pailos是紐約哥倫比亞大學建築研究院歷史保育教授兼主任。他的作品貫穿當代藝術、建築和保育等元素。Otero-Pailos(2016)在談到廢棄物和其作品背後的理念時,說明了其創作動機:「我們正處於環境變化和污染嚴重的時代,那是人類的產物之一,並將持續數千年,所以有文化上的掌握是很關鍵的。科技界正在研究降低碳足跡的方法,其出發點是好的,但我不認為這些技術都會被採用,除非發生根本性的文化轉變,使我們改變對污染的看法。博物館、文化創作人、藝術家,保護主義者便在這方面發揮著重要作用。」

Otero-Pailos在評論建築遺產保育的法例中指出:「我們對保育的概念非常過時。古蹟的概念至少有150年的歷史;真實性的概念已有100多年的歷史;可逆性是80年前左右提出;非物質遺產則是大概20年前提出的,這些都沒有考慮到物件在概念完整性方面的危機。

這是建築遺產保育的核心問題,也捕捉了這世代的時代精神。鑑於自然和文化已經不可分割地聯繫在一起,兩者彼此依賴,自然與文化是明顯分隔的觀點已不再成立。這也與人類世的概念有關。現在,保育一詞意味著更廣泛地選擇文化所能提供的最好的事物,以在日益全球化和急速變化的環境中繼續前進的步伐。對人類世造成的破裂,討論應集中探討建築遺產保育是否只是單純原封不動地,如時間囊般,將我們的過去流傳下去,以延續集體認同;抑或必須將其納入更廣泛的價值觀中,以解決和質疑當代面對全球化的關鍵問題,例如環境可持續發展、城市衰退、社會隔離和不平等。

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