Dust, Grzybowska 51
Dust, Grzybowska 51, performance, 2008, Another City, Another Life, Zacheta - National Gallery of Art, Warsaw

Dust, Grzybowska 51

The latest work to appear in the space of Warsaw as part of the exhibition Another City, Another Life is Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor’s installation Dust, Grzybowska 51. The intervention is extremely modest – just a small pile of earth by the side of a square hole filled with cement dust – and is in a location which even if you know the address is not easy to find: in a plot of wasteland behind a car-repair workshop.

However, the very modesty of the piece is crucial to its effect. For the minimal scale and ambition of this dust-filled square stands in wild contrast to the vigorous construction to be seen and heard in action all around you here in Warsaw’s Wola district. This is all the more so since to one side of the square stands a characterful, ruined old red-brick building whose blocked windows mirror the shape of the cement dust square, while on the plot of wasteland stand a couple of awkward, poetic trees, and can be heard amongst the clatter of building, the song of birds and the bustle of car repairs.

Leaving the cement on the surface of their square Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor seem to be asking what is being buried under the eagerness to build in this part of Warsaw. For another layer which cannot go unnoticed in this area of the former ghetto is that the piled earth seems reminiscent of a grave. Here the tombstone is not vertical, but lies horizontal in the soil. It is not a solid univocal whole of stone organising memory, but the fragmented particularity of dust. How many layers of city are buried in the act of building? How many distinct particles are homogenised in a construction?

Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor have been pursuing the traces of disappeared modernism, especially in Bucharest where they live and work, in a consequent way in their art for some time and are conscientious observers of the changing space of cities around them. Their work here was modest and honest: the very act of shovelling and the use of a spade in this wasteland zone of the former Jewish section of the city constitute more than just physical work with a tool. But their action was also not simply symbolic: it was also work, like the many other acts of digging and reconstruction being performed by workmen all over Warsaw (did Mona or Florin do the toughest part of the digging?). For them, dust is political, and their action was open: would the rain turn the dust into cement sealing some part of the wound in the surface of the earth of the city underneath it? This physical opening of the surface of the city in a minor location becomes a place from which to contemplate the drama of Warsaw’s various temporal rhythms in a new way.

Benjamin Cope

installation view Bak, basis voor actuele kunst Utrecht