Venice Biennale-featured Jorge Otero-Pailos was trained as an architect and specializes in experimental forms of preservation. In his projects, preservation enables a powerful rethinking of our worlds heritage. His series of installation works, titled The Ethics of Dust, commissioned for the Manifesta Biennale 2008 and the Venice Bienniale 2009 caught the attention of art critics and collectors alike.
As conservators know all too well, no work of art lasts forever. The Ethics of Dust is a project to preserve the world’s pollution, a material that I see as emblematic of modernity, but which we know only obliquely through its effects on other objects.
Paradoxically, even though conservation was formed in the effort to deal with the advent of pollution, we really don’t know very much about it politically, culturally, historically, and aesthetically. We also know very little about its own long-term behavior, or how to preserve it. But without it, a major part of our cultural history will be lost.
Conservators are becoming participants in the creative process. More and more, they are collaborating with architects and artists in the production of works. It used to be that conservators were operating like consultants, simply trying to solve whatever problems the architects or artists wanted solved. Today, I see the tables turning a bit. Conservators are raising questions about art that are challenging artists to rethink what it means to make art. For instance, conservators used to conserve only works made by artists. Now artists are trying to make art out of the work of conservators.
Let me explain: What happens when we start conserving things that were not made by artists? Even more, what if we conserve things that no one “intended” to make? I’m thinking, as you can probably guess, about conserving pollution. Then something very interesting happens. If it is true that conservators only work on art, then whatever conservators conserve is turned into art. But the conservator does not necessarily become an artist. Art is created without an artist as it were; it is a new sort of unintentional art.