The Ethics of Dust

Jorge Otero-Pailos

Westminster Hall, Palace of Westminster, London
29 June 2016 - 01 September 2016 is exquisite timing on the part of the creative agency Artangel to open its latest commission, The Ethics of Dust, in Westminster Hall, striking a chord of memory that makes its walls speak of the past. – Robert Hewison, Apollo Magazine

★★★★★ the Guardian

★★★★★ Time Out

★★★★★ London Evening Standard

The Ethics of Dust was installed in the oldest existing building in the Houses of Parliament. Over 50 metres long, this cast of Westminster Hall's east wall contained hundreds of years of surface pollution and dust held captive in translucent latex.

Suspended from the roof and hung parallel to the east wall, the work was the result of a cleaning process in which latex was sprayed onto the walls of this UNESCO world heritage site, then peeled off, gently lifting dirt from the surface. Backlit and further illuminated by natural light from the hall's high windows, the amber glow of this sculptural installation commanded a moment of consideration for the what John Ruskin once called “that golden stain of time.”

This time-lapse video shows the installation of The Ethics of Dust at Westminster Hall.

Also available to view on Vimeo and YouTube.

Image: Installation view of The Ethics of Dust at Westminster Hall, London (2016). Photograph: Marcus J Leith

Conservation and John Ruskin

Why "The Ethics of Dust"?
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Conservation and John Ruskin: Why "The Ethics of Dust"?

Using this methodology of cleaning walls with latex Otero-Pailos has previously made casts of the walls of other heritage monuments, including the 14th-century Doge’s Palace in Venice at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009.

Westminster Hall and the Doge’s Palace share a history that runs deep in the British and European cultural consciousness: both were seats of governments ruling vast naval empires, threatened with demolition by over-enthusiastic classical architects (Andrea Palladio and Sir John Soane), and ultimately saved by restorations in the original Gothic style.

The Ethics of Dust takes its name from John Ruskin’s 1908 publication The Ethics of The Dust. Ruskin’s great admiration for these two Gothic structures led him to lay the intellectual foundations of modern conservation. Anticipating concerns over pollution, he recognised its damaging effects on buildings, but argued against surface cleaning, fearing 19th-century architects would do more damage than good with the blunt instruments available to them at the time. Conservation technology has now advanced to the point where cleaning can be safely and sensitively carried out without damaging the stone.

Image: Installation view of The Ethics of Dust at Westminster Hall, London (2016). Photograph: Marcus J Leith

About Westminster Hall

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Westminster Hall

The Houses of Parliament are home to one of the world’s busiest parliaments, with more than a million visitors, including 70,000 school children, passing through its doors each year. Visitors are welcome to watch debates and committee hearings or take an audio or guided tour throughout the year. For more information on visiting click here.

Designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, the Houses of Parliament are considered to be one of the finest examples of 19th century neo-gothic Victorian architecture in the world. Westminster Hall is the oldest part of the Houses of Parliament and was commissioned by William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror. Its hammer beam roof, the largest in Northern Europe, was installed during the reign of Richard II. The Hall survived the 1834 fire that destroyed the medieval Palace, as well as Deathwatch beetles and the Blitz.

Completed in 1099, Westminster Hall’s limestone walls may well hold the dust, soot and dirt generated by events including the Second World War blitz and the Great Smog of 1952. Among its many uses, the hall has housed the coronation banquet of King George IV in 1821, the trials of Guy Fawkes in 1606 and King Charles I in 1649. Westminster Hall is still used for public ceremonies and lyings-in-state, most recently the Queen Mother in 2002. 

Image: The Trial of Henry Lord Viscount Melville in Westminster Hall, print by J. Hill after a drawing by Augustus Charles Pugin and John Claude Nattes, published 1806 © Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 0747

Talk: Jorge Otero-Pailos and Adam Phillips in Conversation

39 minutes 24 seconds
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Talk: Jorge Otero-Pailos and Adam Phillips in Conversation

Jorge Otero-Pailos in conversation with psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips on the interconnections between Ruskin and Freud, conservation and identity, ethics and aesthetics, the art of preservation and need for self-preservation.

This talk is also available to listen to on Soundcloud

Image: People in front of  The Ethics of Dust at the opening event in Westminster Hall, London (2016). Photograph: William Eckersley

About Jorge Otero-Pailos

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Jorge Otero-Pailos

Jorge Otero-Pailos (b. 1971, Madrid, Spain) works at the intersection of art, architecture and preservation. He is Associate Professor and Director of Historic Preservation at Columbia University. His work has been exhibited at major museums, festivals, galleries and foundations, notably, the 53rd Venice Biennale, Italy, the V&A, London and the Louis Vuitton Galerie Museum.

Otero-Pailos is the founder and editor of the journal Future Anterior, the author of Architecture’s Historical Turn (2010) and a contributor to scholarly journals and books including the Oxford Encyclopaedia of Aesthetics and Rem Koolhaas’ Preservation Is Overtaking Us (2014). He is a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Puerto Rico and the recipient of awards from art, architecture and preservation organisations including the UNESCO Eminent Professional Award.

Images: Jorge Otero-Pailos (left) during the casting process for The Ethics of Dust (2015). Photograph: Nick Chapman; (above) Jorge Otero-Pailos introducing his work The Ethics of Dust at the opening event in Westminster Hall, London (2016). Photograph: Will Eckersley

Video: Behind the Scenes

4 minutes 46 seconds
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Video: Behind the Scenes

Art in historic places has been a way of focusing your attention and helping you frame where you are. – Jorge Otero-Pailos

Showing how the work was conceived and made, this video explores Otero-Pailos's interest in centuries of dust and the techniques used to remove it from these ancient walls. Dr Michael Collins FSA and Malcom Hay give a history of the building and its survival through fire and bombs, Artangel's co-director Michael Morris gives context on producing site-specific art, and the artist takes us through the lengthy process of creating this illuminating project.

This video aims, like the work, to help people rethink what dirt is.

Also available to view on Vimeo and YouTube.

Image: Detail of latex cast, The Ethics of Dust (2016). Photograph: Marcus J Leith


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At such a cataclysmic, troubling moment in British life, this lyrical pause for thought, about time and history, about human life — and death, of course — is hugely welcome. – Ben Luke, London Evening Standard

Selected Press

At such a cataclysmic, troubling moment in British life, this lyrical pause for thought, about time and history, about human life — and death, of course — is hugely welcome. – Ben Luke, London Evening Standard, 30 June 2016
But what is in the collected dust and smears of dirt? Given the age and history of the building, and the thousands upon thousands who have walked through here, appeared on trial (including Guy Fawkes and Charles I), and lain in state (all those monarchs, and Winston Churchill), one asks if the dead shed skin, if anger and anxiety somehow permeate first the air and then the stone. – Adrian Searle, the Guardian, 29 June 2016
Hanging there, glowing, it looks like some ancient parchment or a lost religious artefact, Westminster’s own Turin Shroud. – Eddy Frankel, Time Out, 29 June 2016
as the politicians scurry through Westminster Hall on their ephemeral pursuits, the golden stain of time remains, suspended opposite the stones from which they have been lifted, and preserved in Otero-Pailos’s creation. – Robert Hewson, Apollo magazine, 29 June 2016
Obviously I did not create the work as a comment on the referendum – it’s been a long process lasting several years – but anything that happens here is linked to the present and past history of the building. Works such as this pick up meaning along the way – Jorge Otero-Pailos quoted in Jack Hutchinson, A-N, 29 June 2016

Production Credits

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Production Credits

Producer – Michael Morris
Head of Production – Sam Collins
Production Co-ordinator – Marina Doritis and Sinéad McCarthy
Lead Technician – John Robertson
Technicians – Alice May Williams, Andrew Mealor, Lyndsey Macleod and Woody Morris
Rigging – Unusual Rigging
Lighting Design – Jonathan Samuels
Lighting supplied by Whitelight
Front of House Team – Rupert Acton-Thompson, Ruth Brennan, Adam Fenton, John Harrington (Manager), Laura Hindmarsh, Sui Kim, Sophie Nibbs (Manager), John Petrie, Tashi Petter, Maeve Pook-Post, Sarah Thacker, John Tsang, Lucy Williams, Chris Woodcock-Stewart and Samantha Wolf
With special thanks to Malcolm Hay, and staff at Westminster Hall

Image: Jorge Otero-Pailos, John Robertson, Alice May Williams and Andrew Mealor in the basement of The Rose Lipman Building, London preparing The Ethics of Dust (2016). Photograph: Margarita Louca


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Who made this possible?


Commissioned and produced by Artangel with the kind cooperation of the Palace of Westminster.

The Ethics of Dust is made possible with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Arte Mundit natural latex, manufactured and supplied by Remmers UK. Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.

A composite logo for Cockanye and the London Community Foundation