7 June – 3 September 2017, Galleries 9 & 8
Free Entry

In June 2017 Whitechapel Gallery presents A Handful of Dust. Bringing together artworks and documents, the exhibition traces a visual journey through the motif of dust from aerial reconnaissance, wartime destruction and natural disasters to domestic dirt and forensics. Conceived by curator and writer David Campany as a speculative history of the 20th century, the exhibition features works by over 30 artists and photographers including Robert Filliou, Mona Kuhn, Gerhard Richter, Sophie Ristelhueber, Jeff Wall and Nick Waplington alongside magazine spreads, press photos, postcards and film clips.

The starting point of the exhibition is a 1920 photograph taken by American artist Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp’s work in progress The Large Glass (1915–23) deliberately left to gather dust in his New York studio. First published in the seminal Surrealist journal, Littérature in 1922 and captioned as a ‘view from an aeroplane’, the photograph went on to appear in various journals, books and magazines, cropped and contextualized differently each time, before being formally titled Élevage de poussière (Dust Breeding) (1920) in 1964. The year 1922 was also marked the publication of T S Eliot’s The Waste Land, the great poem reflecting on the modern era in the wake of the First World War. The poem includes the line ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’ from which the title of this exhibition is drawn.

Highlights include Robert Burley’s photograph Demolition of Buildings 64 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester, New York (2007) of the headquarters of the analogue film manufacturer being flattened after the company ceased to produce film. Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu’s image titled Bottle Melted and Deformed by Atomic Bomb Heat, Radiation and Fire, Nagasaki (1961) is part of a group of photographs commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, and depicts a glass bottle mutated by an atomic bomb.  Walker Evans’ Erosion Mississippi (1938) documents the rural landscape in the United States during the Depression, while Aaron Siskind’s images of scarred urban walls recall abstract expressionist painting.

Works by these renowned photographers are on display alongside examples of photojournalism, such an image of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s car. A mechanic is shown with dirty hands from the thickly dust-laden automobile, which was abandoned in a Milan garage after it carried Mussolini to his death. He was riding in it when captured by Italian partisans and shot on 28 April 1945.

A Handful of Dust was originally conceived for Le Bal, Paris  in 2015. A version was presented at the Pratt Institute, New York in 2016 and it will travel on to Moderna Museet, Stockholm in September-December 2018.


Notes to Editors

David Campany is a curator and writer. His books include The Open Road: photography and the American Road Trip (Aperture, 2014), Jeff Wall: Picture for Women (Afterall, 2012) and Art and Photography (Phaidon 2003).  He teaches at the University of Westminster.

List of artists
Artists and photographers featured: Laure Albin Guillot, Rut Bees Luxemburg, Jacques-André Boiffard, Brassai, Robert Burley, John Divola, Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Robert Filliou, John Gerrard, Mona Kuhn, Bruce Nauman, Louise Oates, Kirk Palmer, Man Ray, Jeff Mermelstein,  Alan Resnais, Xavier Ribas, Gerhard Richter, Sophie Ristelheuber, Edward Ruscha, Aaron Siskind, Giorgio Sommer, Eva Stenram, Shomei Tomatsu, Jeff Wall, Nick Waplington, Wols, Tereza Zelenkova.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated book published by MACK, £30.

Events Programme

A number of events expand on the themes explored in the exhibition including a tour led by the exhibition curator David Campany  (20 July, 6.30pm, Free); the exhibition’s curator David Campany is joined by writer and critic Brian Dillon, artists Xavier Ribas and Eva Stenram for a symposium discussing notions of time, perception and the history of photography (17 June, 2-6pm, £15/£12.50 concs); and award-winning essay film-maker Grant Gee presents his study of the late German writer W.G. Sebald which is a multi-layered exploration of place, memory, longing and dust (29 June, 7pm, £9.50 / £7.50 concs).

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