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Jorge Otero-Pailos – The Ethics of Dust

Commission as part of All of This Belongs to You

‘Trajan’s Column is a composite object: part modern replica, part ancient artifact and part industrial chimney. This work brings the chimney to light for the first time as an integral part of the object and its value.’ – Jorge Otero-Pailos

Trajan’s Column was built in Rome in the year AD 150. In the 1860s, artisans made a copy of the column in plaster sections, which were shipped here to be assembled in the newly built museum. These plaster sections were fixed to a hollow brick chimney, not unlike the chimneys of the industrial revolution of the same period.

New York-based artist, architect and academic Jorge Otero-Pailos views this chimney as an unacknowledged V&A object, hidden in plain sight. Otero-Pailos has used conservation latex to ‘clean’ the hollow brick inside surface, removing dust and dirt accumulated over decades.

The resulting material is exhibited here adjacent to its source, turning the plaster column inside-out, displaying the passage of time, and revealing this otherwise invisible object.

Otero-Pailos describes this work as ‘experimental preservation’, conserving the column both materially and conceptually. The project reveals the museum’s duty of care to its collection and illustrates how efforts to maintain objects participate in reinterpreting their value.

Jorge Otero-Pailos, The Ethics of Dust: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015.

Jorge Otero-Pailos, The Ethics of Dust: Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015. Photo: Peter Kelleher, V&A.


Documentary of the making of The Ethics of Dust by Alex Emslie.