Dust Square

Dust Square, installation, 2008, view from the exhibition Dada East? Romanian Context of Dadaism, Zacheta - National Gallery of Art, Warsaw
Dust Square, installation, 2014, view from the exhibition Ravaged: Art and Culture in Times of Conflict, M - Museum, Leuven
Sigmund Freud once remarked, quoting Lord Palmerston, that dirt is 'matter in the wrong place'. By the strict standards of museum conservation and decorum, Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor's Dust Square, 2008 is precisely that: a disturbing, rectangular accretion of dirt in the white cube, neither sanitized, nor symbolically elevated. To the same extent that we cannot imagine an incandescent grey, dust resists metaphorical transposition, and the work makes full use of the matter-of-fact insensitivity of its material. The Square is – to the same extent that it pictures – dust, rather than dust as a stand-in for something else. If a 'story' can be wrested from this strange, tangible after-image, it might either be that a now-indiscernible object has been pulverized against the wall, in an operation whose vehemence was strangely proportional with its methodical nature, or that an object has been removed from sight, revealing the dust that had been breeding behind it: a layer by whose density the duration of that withdrawn presence can be measured. The 'story' might just as well be the anamorphic co-presence of these distinct figures of imagination invited by the work. Dust Square is a remnant, metonym or euphemism for an equation of tensions, obstructions and violent dislocations that museum space cannot accommodate as such: its contaminated detritus, the registration of an unknown object as entropic process, of not knowing as breakdown.
I would like to describe Dust Square as an almost-contact image, drawing upon – and making abstract – a crucial tradition in the European theory of pictures. A contact image is the unmediated impression of an object onto a receptive surface, such as the sweat and blood-soaked face of Jesus on Veronica's Veil – the first, non-manufactured icon, and the foil by which icons were more than representations, endowed with the preternatural capacity to affect the viewer in ways other than visually. The Turin Shroud is another contact image – so disputed it earned the name of 'fifth gospel'. Experiments in early or recent photography dispense with the camera and test the capacity of objects to transfer their shapes directly to paper, to impregnate a surface with a kind of visual kinetic energy. Fusing resemblance and identity, what they show and what they are, these images arise through physical continuity between model and support, and the support into a figure. Unlike simple mimesis, the model in contact images is not depicted but imprinted – etched, in a sense – into the picture plane. These are diaphanously sculptural marks, as the surface records the three-dimensional pressure of the model, its live, mobile, messy immediacy.
If the contact image corresponds to the plenitude of its object and circulates – between picture plane and viewer or worshipper – an energetic charge, the almost-contact image in Dust Square has wreckage and convulsion as correlates. This close-range quasi-imprint corresponds to its object's vulnerability, its erosion and curtailed history: it arises in an interstitial space delimited by ruined object and wall, with the migration of dust as conjunctive tissue. This story of collapse – told in such generic terms that any metaphorical link to the disasters and ruins of the modern and contemporary is both allowed and voided – is recounted in the accumulation of minuscule, foul particles, clinging to the wall as a shadow, without light source and without object.

excerpt from A Trace of an Imprint of a Ruin by Mihnea Mircan, Ravaged: Art and Culture in Times of Conflict published by M - Museum Leuven, 2014