A Handful of Dust: from the Cosmic to the Domestic

2021.03.25 - 07.11
Taipei National Center of Photography and Images
David Campany
Exhibiting Artist(s)
Tereza Zelenkova
Nick Waplington
Bill Vazan
Shomei Tomatsu
Eva Stenram
Georgio Sommer
Aaron Siskind
Edward Ruscha
Sophie Ristelhueber
Gerhard Richter
Xavier Ribas
Man Ray
Kirk Palmer
Louise Oates
Scott McFarland
Jeff Mermelstein
Rut Blees Luxemburg
Mona Kuhn
Walker Evans
John Divola
Marcel Duchamp
Robert Burley
Laura Albin-Guillot
National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, National Center of Photography and Images
Exhibition Overview

An enigmatic photograph made by Man Ray serves as a point of departure for the exhibition A Handful of Dust: from the Cosmic to the Domestic, organized by British curator and renowned image researcher, David Campany. The exhibition explores the complexities of the relationship between photography and art in the past century, and contemplates the various allegories represented by dust throughout the development of human civilization on scales as varied as the minutiae of domesticity and the grandeur of the universal, as well as examines ways in which these metaphors are explored and presented in the expression of photography and visual art.

Radiating from the life (or the mysterious identity) of May Ray’s enigmatic photo of dust as a main axis, the 66 sets of work displayed at the National Center of Photography and Images encompass aerial reconnaissance photos, news photography, postcards, and avant-garde publications from the first half of the 20th century; as well as photographic representations of conceptual art, works of the dialectics between painting and photography, and images of modern warfare and the aftermath of natural disasters. More recent works included in the exhibition highlight artistic interpretations of urgent propositions that confront our time, as well as point out major transformations in the practice and technological advancements of photography.

In addition to works by Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp, A Handful of Dust also features works by major figures throughout the history of photography: including Walker Evans’s works depicting drought-stricken panoramas in the American Midwest during the Dust Bowl, and Shōmei Tōmatsu’s photos of the Japanese landscape in the aftermath of the atomic bomb. Works by Edward Ruscha and John Divola further introduce photography into the realm of artistic performance. Sophie Ristelhueber pays homage to Man Ray’s iconic Dust Breeding through her aerial photograph of the Kuwaiti desert, which at the same time reveals a burgeoning transformation in the 1990s when war photography pivoted from images taken “at” the war to the “aftermath” and “remnants” of the war; while video artist Kirk Palmer and celebrated French filmmaker Alain Resnais present the language of post-war trauma through poetic imagery. The exhibition also includes works by a younger generation of artists such as Xavier Ribas and Louise Oates, who explore changes in the natural and cultural landscapes as a result of political or economic behavior; as well as Eva Stenram’s transformations of photos of Mars by intentionally accumulating dust on the image surface to create a juxtaposition of vastly varied distances.

In the same year that Dust Breeding was first published, T.S. Eliot penned the The Waste Land, a poem which reflected the general public’s sentiment in the aftermath of World War I; a line from the poem “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” is referenced in the exhibition title. Man Ray’s photograph resembled aerial surveillance photos of World War I, and was captioned “Vue prise en aéroplane [view from an airplane] …” when first published. The landscape below is vast, unknown, distant, and exposed to view. David Campany has uncovered the key to all of this: The increasing ubiquity of photography in the 20th century not only documents but portends the progress and destruction of human civilization. In this light, he posits the question: “What if that strange photograph, taken so long ago, really does signal the dawn of the modern age, with all its complications? Can a history be assembled from the perspective of dust?”

Selected Works




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