Work Conducted With: The Bauhaus Foundation, Dessau
How can the sensory environment of heritage sites bring us closer to a historical evocation of the past? Is the xity of heritage, especially the preservation of architectural heritage, a problem, and can artistic methods help us to think critically and di erently about heritage? In cultural terms, what is cleaning and what does it do?
The Bauhaus Foundation in Dessau is holding an international exhibition in 2015 which will think through some of the problems of the contemporary household and contemporary design, particularly in the wake of the modernist legacy. With this in mind, the Bauhaus held a Summer workshop in 2014, at which postgraduate groups from three Universities developed installations
to think critically about modern households. With this project, our group of anthropologists researched and thought critically about modernism, heritage and the Bauhaus speci cally, and developed three possible avenues to explore. We decided to look at cleaning practices. Cleaning is routinised, rhythmic,
and very mundane. When it comes to buildings, and particularly public ones,
it is collectively organised by teams of people, and has a very social element. The act of cleaning is also, in some instances, an act of preservation, by which buildings and things are maintained in a certain kind of state. Cleaning comes to be a signi cant act aimed to prevent change, prevent decay, and hold heritage forms in a state of stasis.
For some months, the we worked on di erent installation possibilities. We researched modernism in a literary sense, others cleaning. We interviewed cleaners, and collected audio samples from cleaning work. Recording was done in selected environments, and in a participatory framework, as cleaning was happening, rather than as an interview. Acoustically, the audio samples collected were made as ‘situated’ as possible using binaural microphones and recording.

In Dessau, sounds were installed in one of the Meisterhäuser, in the large, echoed concrete upstairs rooms. The doors were closed, such that the sounds emerging from behind them were the signs of cleaning going on. Downstairs, in the cellar space, alongside of various cleaning paraphernalia and objects, interviews were played with cleaners. The interviews acted in one way to ‘demystify’ the acts of cleaning, specifying chemicals, amounts, and physical activities required, and how they were organised and conducted.

At the same time, the quantity of specialist cleaning information and expertise, and what was required for these speci c surfaces, room sizes and materials, was striking; such that the interviews were in themselves a technically “enchanting” device. The installation as a whole attempted to oscillate between acts of enchanting imagination, of demysti cation, and of re-enchantment.
Importantly, cleaning here creates a sense of heritage, because it creates a sense of which elements in life receive special attention, are elevated above the status of the everyday, by means of a set of practices so mundane that they are often actively hidden from view.