Far and Near; The Macro and Micro of Detritus

Hmmmm, ok, having had a few ups and downs (and it has to be said some were expected, internet and wifi being one) during my time here in Spain. Another of which I could have seen coming, based on either sods law or the law of averages, was a breakdown in the plumbing. And sparing you the graphics, confronted me literally with the drain-end of this thing called hygiene. Now being a reasonably tidy person who likes to shower and keep scrubbed-up etc., this personal confrontation with a detritus-not-going-away-problem was indeed not to be sniffed at. Plumbers called in and majorly street level… ahem… clearing of apparently years of this. I was left in peace with a clean slate.

It did prompt an idea in my head that out of sight out of mind has become very much a part of my life, if not of most of us?. Of course this being a connected but still fairly rural place in Spain, with added nuances of hill top geology dictating the expedition of drain and bin waste ( it has to be said they do a bloody good job considering). And, with it sometimes being a very particular and inexact science, I think the term is, no mean feat.

So my inner city sensibilities, suitably jarred,  I began to ponder the historical context of the current exhibition ‘Dirt: the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life’: 24 March-31 August 2011at the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

“Following anthropologist Mary Douglas’ observation that dirt is “matter out of place”, the exhibition introduces six very different places as a starting point for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in seventeenth century Delft in Holland; a street in Victorian London; a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s; a museum in Dresden in the early twentieth century; a community in present-day New Delhi; and a New York landfill site in 2030.”

The history of how we deal with it, the evolution of the industry and indeed cleanliness snobbery associated. Have all added to a hyper sensitivity to its existence and our attitude toward it. Cultural differences also with our different geographical and atmospheric conditions dictating.

A Tpping Point

A Tipping Point

All in all though the one seemingly overriding factor that shapes us today is the fact that disposal is still a taboo subject, no one really wants to deal with waste although money can be made from it.

From the rag and bone men of old to street cleaners in their nifty broom-mobiles, bin men, sewage cleaners to industrial sized shipping containers; the collectors, cleaners and transporters of waste. It is all *sorted* by people and things, and belongs in a place we don’t want to see.

And yet it comes back to haunt us with toxic land fills, mountains of plastic permanence, illness and adversity.

With toxic waste spillages at sea, vast floating Islands of detritus (as with an article here last year on the vortex of plastic collecting in mid Atlantic).

Sea of Plastic

Future Sea of Plastic?

From the kid who chucks a Maccy D’s carton on the high street to the waste being dumped out of sight on the coastlines of fiscally poor countries: As with the Trafigura case the waste ship and the legal battle over its dumping of highly toxic crude oil detritus in a port on the Ivory Coast of Africa causing, (contested by the Oil and waste companies involved) untold long term illness for the people who live nearby and those who also *work* the waste tip it was dumped on.

The permanence and toxic nature of waste is the problem and the industry that has grown up around, for want of a better word, hiding it.

The idea that it is has yet to be shifted in the direction of a clear view as to how to deal with it.The real distance between us and it.

And, hopefully the start of the new project to confront the largely unregulated half century strong Fresh Kills Land Fill in New York and turn it into a park by 2030 is going to be a long overdue and highly visible address to that fact.

In the meantime don’t mention plumbing to me… for a while at least!


‘Dirt: the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life’: 24 March-31 August 2011
Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

‘Dirt: the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life’ is part of the DIRT season from Wellcome Trust. Look out for online games and events at special dirty locations, including Eden Project, Glastonbury and other summer festivals.

“Highlights from ‘Dirt’ include paintings by Pieter de Hooch, John Snow’s “ghost map” of cholera and Joseph Lister’s scientific paraphernalia. ‘Dirt’ also includes a wide range of contemporary art, from Igor Eskinja’s dust carpet, Susan Collis’s bejewelled broom and James Croak’s dirt window to video pieces by Bruce Nauman and Mierle Ukeles and a specially commissioned work by Serena Korda

A publication, also entitled ‘Dirt: the Filthy Reality of Everyday Life’, featuring essays by Rosie Cox, Virginia Smith, Elizabeth Pisani, Rose George, Robin Nagle, RH Horne and Brian Ralphwill accompany the exhibition, published by Profile Books, £20, 256pp.”

…..Back in a couple !