Monday 20 June 2016

shuttle 4: dusting

'[Dust] is not about rubbish ... It is not about Waste. Indeed, Dust is the opposite thing to Waste, or at least, the opposite principle to Waste. It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. Nothing can be destroyed. The fundamental lessons of physiology, of cell-theory, and of neurology are all to do with this ceaseless making and unmaking, the movement and transmutation of one thing into another. Nothing goes away' 

(Carolyn Steedman, Dust: The Archive and Cultural History, New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002, 164). 

'Dust is particulate matter, the dispersed, disordered raw material from which everything ordered and coherent arises, and it is to dust that the complex decays.

From the beginning to the end, dust underlies all existence. It is the species of light one sees flickering in a sunbeam, the molecules of gas dashing randomly in all directions. It is the atoms and molecules of matter that can be recombined and reshaped into something new such as the ordered array of atoms in  crystal or in a living cell, and it is the dusts of interstellar space that condensed to produce the sun and its planets and all the galaxies.

Everything that we understand as consistent, the living creature, the machine, the tree, are dust in its coherent phase, part of its continuous evolutionary cycle from order to disorder, from growth to decay repeated in seemingly endless variations ...

Most dust particles have crystalline interiors, but the microcrystal in one speck of dust cannot coordinate its order with that of another grain, and the dust remains chaotic. Yet it is from these dusts that the complexities of our civilisation are built. Dust on one level is chaotic, and orderly and precise on another.

As the universe evolves it creates new dusts for its various eras ... The dusts of our era, though but a transitory formation in an evolving universe, will persist for many trillions of years. Its great miracle, life, is a cycle of ordered dust that strives to perpetuate itself. The great by-product of life, intelligence, is also like dust, with bits and fragments of coherence being produced out of disorder, but all too often lapses back into chaos again'.

(Agnes Denes, extract from The Book of Dust: The Beginning and the End of Time and Thereafter, Rochester NY: Visual Studies Workshop, 1989: quoted in Graham Gusin & Ele Carpenter (eds), Nothing, London: August, 2001, 84-6).

‘Quick: why aren't you dusting? On every continent, we sweep floors and wipe tabletops not only to shine the place, but to forestall burial.

It is interesting, the debris in the air. A surprising portion of it is spider legs, and bits thereof. Spider legs are flimsy … because they are hollow. They lack muscles; compressed air moves them. Consequently, the snap off easily, and go blowing about.  Another unexpected source of aerial detritus is tires. Eroding tires shed latex shreds at a brisk clip, say the folk who train their microscopes on air. Farm dust joins sulfuric acid droplets (from burned fossil fuels) and sand from the Sahara Desert to produce the summer haze that blurs and dims valleys and coasts.

We inhale “many hundreds of particles in each breath we take” … Air routinely carries intimate fragments of rug, dung, carcasses, leaves and leaf hairs, coral, coal, skin, sweat, soap, silt, pollen, algae, bacteria, spores, soot, ammonia, and spit, as well as “salt crystals from ocean white-caps, dust scraped off distant mountains, micro bits of cooled magma blown from volcanoes and charred micro-fragments from tropical forest fires”. These sorts of things can add up.

At dusk, the particles meet rising water vapor, stick together, and fall; that is when they will bury you. Soil bacteria eat what they can, and the rest of it stays put if there’s no wind. After thirty years, there is a new inch of topsoil ...

We live on dead people's heads’

(Annie Dillard, For The Time Being, New York: Vintage, 1999, 123-4).

Photo at top (Professor Larry Taylor): lunar dust, including volcanic glass beads and agglutinate, viewed under a microscope.

P.S. Some years ago, an artist friend in England (who shall remain nameless here) told me that he had been invited to set a piece of moon rock in a ring; the owner had worked at NASA, I think. One evening at home, in a moment of alcohol-induced lunacy, he decided to crush the rock fragment, roll it in a spliff, and smoke it. Disappointingly, it seems it didn't help him achieve 'escape velocity'. The following morning, he found a piece of rock of similar size and colour on a local building site and used that for the commissioned ring.

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