Why do we preserve buildings?


Laura Raskin on the ethics of dust, dirt, and preservation @ Design Observer. Jorge Otero-Pailos desperately needed a wall to clean. It was January 2009, and he had been invited to participate in the 53rd Venice Biennale, the flashy and prestigious art fair opening later that year, in May. Instead of contributing, say, a painting, or a video installation or sculpture or room-sized light exhibit, Otero-Pailos intended to clean the wall of a gothic monument with a high-tech latex solution; to wait for the latex to dry and peel it off; and then to display the gauze-like material that results — a 40-by-23-foot pelt — as a work of art with an unintentional aesthetic. Dirt settles where it wants.

But the building where Otero-Pailos thought he had identified an ideal wall — the early 17th-century Procuratie Nuove, one of three connected buildings on Piazza San Marco — proved unworkable. At best that site would have posed a formidable logistical challenge. The three-story classical building incorporates an intricate design: on the first floor, half-round pilasters are built into square columns, a motif repeated with varying levels of detail and additional flourishes as the floors rise. So instead of cleaning a vertical wall and displaying a flat pane or panes of latex, as he had done once before, Otero-Pailos would have had to contend with a meter-and-a-half of sculptural depth. And then how would he have hung the latex?

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