David Maisel: Library of Dust
New York City based artist David Maisel brings our attention to ethics and aesthetics in a most sublime way. His most recent project titled Library of Dust is a series of photographs of unclaimed and forgotten copper canisters containing the cremated remains of patients from a state-run psychiatric hospital.
The science behind these eery though beautifully aged canisters lies in the copper, as it goes through chemical transformation due to prolonged contact with it’s contents. The outcome is striking enough, but it’s possible that the pull between matter and spirit is what makes this series so fervent. What we’re dealing with here is a conflict of sorts. We have these colorful, blooming canisters almost calling for our visual attention; however, time was ever necessary in the process of this chemical transformation, some urns having sat unclaimed by family since 1883. Thus to the surface also rises themes of neglect, remiss, and more impatiently, our own mortality.
Maisel comments on the library in which these are canisters are numbered from 01 to 5,118: “Imagine the many separate fates that led these thousands of individuals to this room. What combination of choice and chance, of illness, of representation and misrepresentation, an infinite number of slippages multiplied more than three thousand times over, circumscribes this room, this library.”
The artist also poses the question: is it possible that some form of spirit lives on?