An Evening of Dust

Date: Friday, 17 October 2008, 7 pm
Location: St Paul’s Pavilion, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
FREE. No RSVP necessary

Dust is everywhere: a perennial presence in the corners of culture, the sign and substance of decay. Dust is the stuff of which we are made – ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust’, says The Book of Common Prayer – and, in the form of tiny meteorites, the space-borne remnant of the birth of the universe. Dust can be deathly – domestic dust is made of desiccated human skin – or deadly: poisonous dust is the product of industry and war. But dust is also beautiful: the dusty matte surface of make-up, a light dusting applied by the confectioner, glittering motes caught in a sunbeam. Rain-clouds are made partly of dust, and so are sunsets. Dust (in British English) is another name for dirt: that is, for ‘matter in the wrong place’, which implies that dust can be moved from one spot to another but never (as matter or metaphor) got rid of completely. Join us for an evening of shifting the meanings of dust around with Cabinet magazine.

The event, introduced by Cabinet editors Brian Dillon & Sina Najafi, will include three dust-laden lectures, some scintillating films and photographs, and a few sneeze-inducing surprises.

Carolyn Steedman, Professor of History at the University of Warwick, will talk about the social, cultural and private meanings dust has acquired since the nineteenth century, when it first began to signify materially what we know, or claim to know, about the past.

Steven Connor, Professor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck College, London, will discuss the manifold forms of magic and supernatural dust, from Peter Pan and William James to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

Helen Lloyd, Deputy Head Conservator at the National Trust, will describe the problem of dealing with dust in historic properties, where retaining a patina of age and use can be just as important as physically cleaning and preserving the artifacts.