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Clean

by on May 20, 2013

During the three month period in 2003, leading up to and following the invasion of Iraq, the vacuum cleaner cleaned urban space, including Wall Street in New York, various Virgin Megastores (provoked by a Virgin press release announcing the opening of a Virgin Megastore in Kuwait City, and stating a desire to open a store in Baghdad), the commercial heart of London, and also the streets of the many protest marches happening around that time. He wore a bright yellow cleaning contractor vest with the text ‘cleaning up after capitalism’ printed on the back, and commented to passers-by to ‘watch where you’re standing, there’s a lot of dirt and filth round here’. This gesture of cleaning obeys its own strapline to ‘never allow the dirt to settle’ – the repeated, durational performance calls crisis into appearance. Where possible, an upright model vacuum cleaner from the 1950s was used (bought for a pound in a second hand shop) – an old model is recycled, evoking a critique of a consumer-driven, throwaway society and anxieties about environmental damage. The performance revitalises a mundane gesture and the message on the back of the vacuum cleaner’s vest calls on the passer-by to look again at an economic and political system that supports war and crisis. At the same time, the visual motif of a man engaged in domestic cleaning, together with the traditional model of the vacuum cleaner used, lightly dresses the whole performance with a layer of camp.

The vacuum cleaner in his own words … in response to my comment that I liked the way he was very thorough in his cleaning …

“there’s just something about the physical embodiment, of actually engaging in the action properly … actually spending the time doing it and getting in all the corners and I think that’s where the humour comes in as well …

… you walk down Wall Street and it’s like this guy is actually doing it as if he would be actually doing it, and it becomes more than just a visual thing, maybe in the reading of it you can see something about the psychology of actually doing something properly, or with a real genuine intention, or, I don’t know, I think that kind of makes sense to me …

… I think it works in different ways and that depends on where you do it, when you do it on antiwar demonstrations it’s what I call entertaining the troops … and then you go into a shop and that can be about reclaiming that space, and subverting that space and hijacking that space or whatever …

… a lot of corporate spaces, especially consumer corporate spaces, I often feel that they are about providing answers, so your desires are answered or your need to fit in is answered … it’s about finding the answer to your problems, so by going in there maybe this act of cleaning is a question to that answer …

… you take it to somewhere like Wall Street which you could consider to be the very centre of the capitalist system … you go to a place like that which is very very tight security and very capitalistic and I don’t imagine that there’s very much protesting that’s allowed in that space at all, so you actually go into that space and because you’re doing something that isn’t immediately understood, I think it can be understood that it isn’t violent, which I think can be quite useful tactically … You can actually get away with it for quite a while, and one of the things I’m interested in is actually looking at soft target … 2 million people went on the antiwar demonstration which is a phenomenal phenomenal thing … but if 2 million people did their own creative acts of resistance, whatever you want to call it, theatre, political theatre, for some reason I get the feeling that that would be much more effective … maybe if you actually engage in your own creative act you know something is going to change because it will change for you personally and I think if you are challenging the form as much as anything else, that is going to work in a way, so, that’s quite a long answer isn’t it?”

cleaning

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