Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust
Tianzhuo Chen, The Dust (2021). Image credit Ren Xingxing.
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In the beginning / there is dust // no generations / no future / no past

Taking place this summer, Dust to Dust is a programme of installations, workshops, and live music events, featuring works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Zander Porter and Tianzhuo Chen.

Dust to Dust positions Wolfgang Tillmans’ collection work, Lights (Body) (2002) in dialogue with two more recent works, Zander Porter’s Emoji-bot and Tianzhuo Chen’s The Dust (both 2021). Installed across three galleries, each artist’s work alludes to a space of human interaction, of sociality and gathering: the rooms journey from the nightclub, through online space and into the spiritual realm. Yet, the human body is noticeably absent from each work; literally in the case of Tillmans and Chen, and appearing as a speculative avatar for Porter. As a trio, the works push against definitions of liveness, temporality, and the performative.

Known for his photographic work, Lights (Body) is one of the earlier moving-image pieces by Wolfgang Tillmans. Filmed in two crowded clubs but focused on the automated movements of the lighting systems, the only indication of the bodies below are dust moats floating in beams of light. The mechanical movement, the captured light, and the pulsating soundtrack transforms a dense corporeal environment into an abstract experience. Presented large-scale on the altar of the former Methodist chapel, the work takes on a dramatic and reverent quality, alluding to the shared aspects of community, spirituality and ritual in the church and club.

In the middle gallery, Emoji-bot by Zander Porter creates a simulation of liveness; three performers on three screens cycle through a choreographic score that syncs them in a ‘live’ digital temporality. The dramaturgy of the installation carries a theatricality that further blurs the boundaries between virtual and physical performance.

In Tianzhuo Chen’s The Dust, presented in the back gallery, tools and relics are the primary protagonists. From prayer wheels to a celestial burial ground, the work tells a story from the beginning of life, through evolution and into death. Conceived by the artist as a performance without the presence of human figures, the work could be understood as therefore free from social order; its events derive from whatever we understand as the world’s ‘original source’.

Across the three works, the physical body becomes felt through suggestion, flesh as an abstract notion. The body of the viewer therefore becomes the body in equation with the work, inhabiting the visceral space of the dancefloor, confronting the digital body onscreen, sensing the mortality of the corporeal. Locating these works within a specific moment becomes difficult, prompting the viewer to ask, where are we in time’s chronology?

The analogue nature of Tillman’s work suggests a twentieth-century experience, but the music is generic enough to speak to an ongoing experience of club culture. In the twenty years that have passed between Tillmans work, and Porter and Chen’s, the world experienced the boom of the internet, which allows us to build communities and engage with each other across time and geography, and a global pandemic, which forced us to physically distance ourselves from one and other, pushing us into these digital spaces. This simultaneous enforced and embraced alienation and isolation can be keenly felt in these works. Viewed in 2023, it is difficult to see them as either celebration or critique, instead we are left to consider; what brings us together and what still pulls us apart? In the short time we have, how do we confront this fleeting presence in the world?

In parallel, live events take place at the gallery across the month, providing a space to bring bodies together. Zander Porter leads a movement workshop, and a programme of performances feature music and interdisciplinary collaborations, taking place on Thursday evenings. See individual listings below for all the details. Regular Families Create workshops will take place every Saturday from 2 - 5pm, and introductory Taster Tours on Sundays at 4pm.