Dust, vacuum cleaners, (war) machines and the disappearance of the interior

Teresa Stoppani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Working on the ambiguity and circularity intrinsic to the operation of 'dusting', this paper explores the role of dust in the definition, organisation and dissolution of the domestic interior in its 20th century representations. An analysis of images from the visual arts, film, and advertising, shows how their readings of dusting offer contradictory interpretations of space that blur the distinction of interior and exterior and expose the permeability of their boundaries. In Richard Hamilton’s iconic collage of 1956, 'what makes today's homes so different, so appealing' (as its title recites), is the fact that, behind the exposed bodies of the inhabitants of the modern home and besides the pervasive presence of telecommunication media, the act of dusting is here performed by an alter-ego of the female inhabitant reduced to a diminutive appendage of the vacuum cleaner. The new dusting appliance not only removes dust but, participating in the dynamics of the mediatic and machinic centre-less interior, it sucks up (together with dust), all familiar connotations of domesticity. Vacuumed, the interior is fragmented, multiplied and centrifugally dispersed; made permeable and exposed it is no longer separable from world events. Other examples follow, from literary divertissement (Graham Greene's facetious political satire), to tongue-in-cheek high art (Jeff Koons's vacuum cleaner taxonomies), to consumerism and advertising (Dyson's 1990s high-tech commercials), to show that while dust continues to return, invincible, the enclosures and (false) security of the 20th century interior are, more than vacuumed, literally and lightly laughed away.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-59
Number of pages10
JournalIDEA / Interior Design/Interior Architecture Educators Association
Issue number2011
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2012

Bibliographical note

© IDEA (Interior Design/Interior Architecture Educators Association) 2011


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