Tumbleweed of the Discarded.

Vast is the kingdom of dust. Unlike terrestrial kingdoms, it knows no limits. No ocean marks its boundaries. No mountains hem it in. No parallels of latitude and longitude define its boundless areas, nor can the furthermost stars in the infinitudes of space serve other than as a twinkling outpost of a realm as vast as the universe itself.[1]

James Gordon Ogden, ‘The Kingdom of Dust’. Popular Mechanics. (March 1911)

Scientific Dust.


While some dust comes from biological sources (skin, bacteria, mould, pollen), most comes from dirt and rocks crushed small enough to get airborne. Only dust less than 10 μm can stay airborne for days, and dust less than 5 μm dust can travel for years. Larger dust settles out (sedimentation), while smaller dust is removed by being washed away in rain or by running into objects (impaction).[2]

Mathew Lippincott, 'Introduction to Particulate Matter.' Public Lab. (2016) Web.


[1] James Gordon Ogden, 'The Kingdom of Dust'. Popular Mechanics. (March 1911); 10

I sat at my computer immersed in words for a time longer than should be given to a Ph.D., oblivious to the accumulation and gathering of 'particulate matter' in every surrounding crevice and corner, quietly recording an inventory of the everyday. There is a beauty in the fragility and vulnerability of these historical accumulations of detritus. Embedded within are archival[3] mappings of the most personal activities of living forms, molded by the habitus in which it assembles.

Philosophy of Dust.


It is not about rubbish or the discarded; it is not about a surplus, left over from something else; it is not about Waste. Indeed, Dust is the opposite thing to Waste, or at least, the opposite principle to Waste. It is about circularity, the impossibility of things disappearing, or going away, or being gone. Nothing can be destroyed. The fundamental lessons of physiology, of cell-theory, and of neurology were to do with this ceaseless making and unmaking, the movement and transmutation of one thing to another. Nothing goes away. Indeed, death of the material body was but 'a final restoration of the compounds of the Human Organism to the Inorganic Universe', and the beginning of a new 'Life of the Soul.' [4]

Carolyn Steedman, Dust. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001)

Although my thesis is submitted, I still find difficulty in defying my daily routine. After the morning chaos quietens and 8.50am rolls into place, I discover myself a victim of Watson's learned behaviour[5] , fixated by my keyboard and the formation of words on the computer screen. Yet my writing is temporarily redundant. Dust too shares my unconscious disposition as it continues to industriously stockpile the unwanted. It is unaware of my detection of its presence.


[2] Mathew Lippincott, 'Introduction to Particulate Matter.' Public Lab. (2016).

[3] In 1994 Jacques Derrida published the English version of his article of 'Mal d'archive: une impression freudienne' or'Archive Fever'. He explains that an archive should not be viewed as a merely a historical collection but a place where things begin. As Foucault proposed, archives function as 'reflection that shows us quite simply, and in the shadow, what all those in the foreground are looking at.' See Jacques Derrida, 'Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression', Diacritics. 25:2 (1995) 9-63 and Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (New York: Vintage, 1973) 15 [4] Carolyn Steedman, Dust. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001) 164

Contaminated Dust.


Dust- finer and more discrete- belongs as much to air as to earth. Dirt- bigger and clumsier- is identified with soil. When substantial quantities of animal and human excreta defile dust it becomes 'dirt […] a vector of disease. Dust and dirt become enemies to be controlled by governmental programmes of hygiene [6]

Dust is seen by those with mild misophobia as a toxin infiltrating the normative practice of cleanliness. Anxieties are overcome with the swoop of a vibrating mechanical disturbance from a vacuum cleaner or a vigorous boil in a washing machine, sucking and drowning away any trace of biographical activity. Dust averters overlook the materiality of these fragmented life depositories that embody meaning, codes and an exploration of time. Dust holds within it a conversation to be had with an unexpecting observer.


[5] Behavourist John B Watson (1878-1958) had little time for thoughts of emotions. He believed that people's reactions inn various situstaions were determined by how there overall experiences had programmed them to react. In contrast to Sigmund Freud's eugenic idea of heredity determining how one behaves. J.B. Watson, "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It". Psychological Review. 20 (1913): 158-177; Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, trans. D. McLintock. (London: Penguin, 2003)

[6] Joseph A. Amato. Dust: A History of the Small and the Invisible. (New York; London: University of California Press, 2001) ix-xii

Dust Studies.


'My dear Mr Boffin, everything wears to rags,' said Mortimer, with a light laugh. 'I won't go so far as to say everything,' returned Mr Boffin, on whom his manner seemed to grate [sic], 'because there's some things that I never found among the dust[7].

Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. Volume 1. (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866)

Eminent historians Ackerman, 1978, Steedman, 2002, Campkin and Cox, 2012[8] ; philosophers Marx, 1867 and Cooke, 1898[9] ; anthropologists Rosebury, 1969, Ackermann, 1995, Ginzburg, 1980 and Rathje, 1992[10] ; scientists Ogden, 1911 and Adler, 1958[11] ; sociologists Chadwick, 1842 and Reid, 1991[12] ; social commentator Dickens, 1865[13] ; arborist Bryant Logan, 1995[14] and inventor Helderman, 2002[15] have picked through dust formations. The intellectually curious unraveling colonies of decay. It is not my intention to attempt to reinterpret or pirate these esteemed scholars but to place them into my own relationship with dust and its fundamental role in my practice as a maker and a historian of dress and textiles. Both dust and my practice are ingrained with methods of collection, storage and processing[16]. Dust, along with dirt, pervades clothing. Artist Christian Boltanski believes that clothes hold within them traces of a life, as 'someone actually chose them, loved them, but the life in them is now dead[17],' which leads to a common empathy. Yet dust is far removed from sentimentality- it is a record of quotidian action.


[7]Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. Volume 1. (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866) 136
[8]James Ackerman, 'Leonardo's Eye'. Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 41 (1978): 108-148; Carolyn Steedman, Dust. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); Ben Campkin and Rosie Cox, Dirt: New Geographies of Cleanliness and Contamination. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012)
[9]Karl Marx, Capital. Volume 1. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, [1867] 1976); M.C. Cooke, Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould: An introduction to the Study of Microscopic Fungi. (London: W.H. Allen, 1898)
[10]Theodor Rosebury, Life on Man. (New York: Viking Press, 1969); Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995); Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and Worms: The Cosmos of a 16th Century Miller. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); William Rathje and Cullen Murphy, Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage. (New York: Harper Collins, 1992)
[11]James Gordon Ogden, 'The Kingdom of Dust'. Popular Mechanics. (March 1911): 377-38; Irving Adler, Dust. (New York: J. Day & Co., 1958)
[12]Edwin Chadwick, Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain (London: H.M.S.O., 1843); Donald Reid, Paris Sewers and Sewermen: Realities and Representations. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1991)
[13]Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. Volume 1. (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1866)
[14]William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. (New York: Riverhead books, 1995)
[15]James Franklin Helderman, Dust: A Mechanic's View of Earth. (Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co., 2002)

A Dialogue with Dust.

'Disruptive materials' continue to push boundaries, eliminate borders and continue to be a foundation of our physical world[18].

Matilda McQuaid, 'Curating Extreme Textiles', The Handbook of Textile Culture, ed. J. Jeffries et al. (London: Bloomsbury, 2016)

Dust gathers within the fibres of garments, some invisible, some with a more urgent tale to tell. Clothes are not merely vessels used in single acts of consumption. They are gatherers, transformed and invested with new meanings on their life journey. In my practice, engagement with the material is fundamental. Pushing the boundaries of expectation and possibility, drawing on both visual and narrative forms found within dress and textiles.


[16]Steedman, Dust. 158 [17]Christian Boltanski, "It's the Idea That's Important." Artspace. July 14 2017. [18]Matilda McQuaid, 'Curating Extreme Textiles', The Handbook of Textile Culture, ed. J. Jeffries et al. (London: Bloomsbury, 2016) 277

Dust: Material of Culture.


Fragmenting clothes are never the less of value because they possess a beauty and a poignancy which can be likened to human vulnerability and indeed the character who once inhabited them[19].

Amy de la Haye, Lou Taylor, Eleanor Thompson, A Family of Fashion: The Messels. (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2005)

Dust within dress holds ephemerality, transience and erosion aura. The fragility and vulnerability of dust and worn garments mirror life and hold memories, memories tightly woven into the threads and decay. This evidence is often referred to as material culture[20]. Tim Dant writes of material culture and how the traditional approach has focused on symbolic meanings from nostalgia or memory[21] . He considers the interaction with the material of a product rather than our emotional attachment. Dant reminds us that material culture has, disappointingly, largely overlooked the impact of material in contemporary culture.


[19]Amy de la Haye, Lou Taylor, Eleanor Thompson, A Family of Fashion: The Messels. (London: Philip Wilson Publishers, 2005) 24 [20]There is a plethora of academic enquiry into the material culture of clothing. A brief historical overview would include L. Taylor, Mourning Dress: A Costume and Society History. (Abingdon: Routledge, [1983] rev. ed. 2009); R. Rosaldo, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. (Boston: Beacon, 1989); S.M. Pearce, Museums, Objects and Collections: A Cultural Study. (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993); D. Roche, The Culture of Clothing: Dress and Fashion in the Ancien Régime. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); E.P. Renne, Cloth that Does Not Die: The Meaning of Cloth in Bunu Social Life. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995); E. Tarlow, Clothing Matters: Dress and Identity in India. (London: Huest, 1996); D. Miller, Clothing as Material Culture. (Oxford: Berg, 2005); A. Riberio, Fashion and Fiction:

Sense-scapes of Dust and Dress.


Materials have become willful actors and agents with artistic processes- entangling their audience in a web of connections[22].

Petra Lange-Berndt (ed.), Materiality. (Cambridge MA" MIT Press, 2015)

Dust and dress hold within them temporality. Both create a number of sense-scapes through smell, touch and almost imperceptible sound that are fundamental to their communicative role. Dust and dress are accouterments of the self, found in spaces that are not necessarily on display for others. Dust concealed in crevices, dress enclosed in wardrobes[23].


Dress in Art and Literature. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); J. Styles and A. Vickery, Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006); J. Styles, The Dress of Everyday People in Eighteenth-Century England. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007); F. Granata, 'Fashion Studies Inbetween: A Methodological Case Study and an Inquiry into the State of Fashion Studies.' Fashion Theory. 16:1 (2012): 67-81.

[21] Tim Dant considers the interaction with the material of a product rather than our emotional attachment. T. Dant, Materiality and Society. (Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2005). Where as Jonathan Chapman first proposed 'emotionally durable design' in his PhD thesis, 2008 and continued in his subsequent published texts that consumption reduction and a reduction in waste could emerge if the durability of relationships could be establishes between users and products. J. Chapman, Emotionally Durable Design: Objects, Experiences and Empathy. (London: Routledge, 2015); J. Chapman and N. Gant, eds, Designers, Visionaries & Other Stories: A Collection of Sustainable Design Essays. (London: Earthscan, 2007)

[22]Petra Lange-Berndt, ed., Materiality. (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2015) synopsis. See also Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. (North Carolina, USA: Duke University Press, 2010)

[23]Cwerner explores the sociology of the wardrobe that clothing inhabits. He labels these places of storage as intimate spaces formed by spatiality and temporality. Similar to the places of dust formation. Saulo B. Cwerner, 'Clothes at Rest: Elements for a Sociology of the Wardrobe.' Fashion Theory, 5:1 (2001): 79-92

Dead Bodies: Life 'less' Organs.


The autonomous partial objects […] are, the dimension of the undead, living dead, something which remains alive even after it is dead, and it's, in a way, immortal in its deadness itself, it goes on, insists, you cannot destroy it…[24]

Žižek, Slavoj. Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences. London: Routledge, 2012.

Dust, for many, is viewed as of no essential consequence, irrelevant and a worthless by-product of the living. Yet, the fibrous materiality and continuity of dust bring us the experience of existence. Embedded with discarded practices that form colonies of material. Dust, for a maker and historian, is not neglected it is merely waiting to be found.


[24]Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences. (London: Routledge, 2012)

Life Beyond Dust.


[Dust] is often without recognizing it, the companion of our actions, our emotions and our thoughts. [It] not only accompanies us from the cradle to the grave. [Dust] precedes us in the one and survives us in the other. Tomorrow [dust] will speak our language. But [is it] not already speaking to us, and sometimes much better than with words?[25]

S. Tisseron, Comment l'Esprit Vient aux Objects. (Paris: Aubier, 1999)


[25] S. Tisseron, Comment l'Esprit Vient aux Objects. (Paris: Aubier, 1999) 12. Dant also continues on the exploration of material interaction in Dant, Materiality and Society. 108-135

Initial Reflections.

Boltanski, Christian. Boltanski. Time. Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2006.

Boltanski, Christian. Inventory of Objects Belonging to a Young Woman of Charleston. U.S.A.: University of California, 1991.

Bryant Logan, William. Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth. New York: Riverhead books, 1995.

Campkin, Ben and Rosie Cox. Dirt: New Geographies of Cleanliness and Contamination. London: I.B. Tauris, 2012.

Cooke, M.C. Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould: An introduction to the Study of Microscopic Fungi. London: W.H. Allen, 1898.

Dant, Tim. Materiality and Society. New York: Open University Press, 2005.

de Waal, Edmund. The Hare with the Amber Eyes. London: Catto Windus, 2010.

Edelkoort, Lidewij. Fetishism in Fashion. Amsterdam: Frame Publishers, 2013.

Majerus, Michael E.N. Melanism: Evolution in Action. U.S.A.: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Ogden, James Gordon. 'The Kingdom of Dust'. Popular Mechanics. March 1911. 377-381

Ogden, James Gordon. 'The Wonders of Light: VI- The Illusions of the Eye.' Popular Mechanics. (August 2012).

Steedman, Carolyn. Dust. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

Žižek, Slavoj. Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences. London: Routledge, 2012.

Cheryl Roberts is a maker, writer and educator whose research is rooted in the material culture of objects, in particular dress and textiles, and how they acquire meaning through their relationship with specific acts in historical and cultural contexts. Her work considers how the traditional approach to material culture has focused on the symbolic meanings of objects and has overlooked the material qualities of ‘things’ and their impact on everyday life in contemporary culture. Key to Cheryl’s research are ideas of materiality and the possibilities embedded within garments and cloth. She brings together investigative methods from a range of disciplines including material process, theoretical reflection, photography, film (narrative, documentary, amateur), oral history and life-stories, along with object-based study to explore our roles in society. Both Cheryl’s practice and teaching consider contemporary cultural issues of human behaviour in social contexts with her recent work centring on frameworks of class represented through dress and textiles and how these, in turn, direct our reaction to, and place within, community. After a past life as a costume designer and stylist, Cheryl has recently completed her Ph.D. that pushed academic boundaries by drawing on areas of dress and textiles history, social studies along with manufacturing and business history.

The Archaeology of Dust is an exploration of the every day and how it captures the ephemerality of time.