Article Title

Dust and the Avant-Garde


In his paper, "Dust and the Avant-Garde," Jake Kennedy presents an interdisciplinary exploration of experimental modernism in the work of visual artist Marcel Duchamp and writer Gertrude Stein. Kennedy focuses on the strange presence of dust in the work of these two artists and argues that as an abject object -- it is literally the unwanted of domestic space -- the idea of dust engages radically modernism on a material level. Dust is also the unwanted of modernity itself, as it represents a potentially subversive sister-part to urban, masculine modernity's valorisation of machinery, glass, and steel. Transmuted into the metaphysical stuff of avant-garde experimentation, the powdery "residue" of the bourgeois household evidences Peter Bürger's claim in his Theory of the Avant-Garde that the historical avant-gardistes did not so much seek to destroy the bourgeois institution of art as to transfer it (fuse it) more fully to the "praxis of life." Steinian and Duchampian dust thus works to confirm the radical presence of art-in-life, but it also marks multiple, ambiguous sites of gender struggle and self-construction. Their highlighting of dust's liminal aesthetic qualities makes possible a dynamic interrogation of the state and spaces of modernist gender politics, aesthetic "propriety," and the vital place of the bourgeois domestic in the avant-garde project.