Dust is turned into wallpaper for V&A show
By Ciar Byrne, Arts and Media Correspondent
Published: 09 November 2007
For allergy sufferers it is the stuff of nightmares. The artist Catherine Bertola has taken the dust collected by the army of cleaners at the Victoria and Albert Museum and turned it into art, as part of an exhibition to mark the opening of the museum's new contemporary space next week.
Bertola has used the dust to make wallpaper, based on a design by William Morris, "Marigold", which she discovered from trawling through the V&A's archive, had hung on the walls of the gallery at the turn of the last century.
As part of her research for the work, Everything and Nothing, Bertola joined the cleaners as they did their after-hours rounds of the galleries, vacuuming the mosaic and marble floors and polishing glass cabinets. For the past eight weeks, the cleaners have posted dust from the vacuum cleaners to Bertola's home in Newcastle and she has pasted it on to paper, padding it down and brushing it, before cutting it into the intricate flower pattern. As the dust contains insects, the museum insisted the wallpaper should be covered in varnish to prevent infestation.
The piece is part of the show Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft, the first to be held in the V&A's refurbished Porter Gallery which opens on Tuesday, showcasing the works of artists who use meticulous craft techniques to produce their work.
The wallpaper has only been part installed and will growin size as Bertola adds to it throughout the exhibition. It hangs near examples of some of the oldest surviving wall-paper, from 18th-century China.
Explaining her work, Bertola said: "Dust collects over time and within it there's a history of the place, the poetic sense of what it represents. We think of museums as dusty places, but the dust is constantly removed."
It is not the first time the 31-year-old artist has used dust in her work. In her adopted home city of Newcastle (Bertola was in fact born in Rugby) she created wallpaper and a hearth rug from dust in the former office of the renowned locomotive engineer George Stephenson.
Laurie Britton Newell, the V&A's curator of contemporary programmes, said: "Catherine is an interesting example of someone who works with such ordinary materials and turns them into ornate pieces."
Other artists featured in the exhibition include Yoshihiro Suda, a Japanese artist who carves leaves and flowers from wood, Lu Shengzhong, who has a contemporary take on the Chinese folk art of paper cutting, the American artist Anne Wilson who creates installations from lace and pins and the Nigerian Olu Amoda who works with scrap metal.