The Filthy Reality Of Everyday Life: The Wellcome Collection On Dirt

Dirt: The filthy reality of everyday life

Wellcome Collection 183 Euston Road London NW1 2BE

Thursday 24 March – 31 August 2011


Following its last immensely popular exhibit on drugs and culture, tomorrow the Wellcome Collection opens their new exhibition Dirt, taking a closer look at something that surrounds us but that we are often reluctant to confront.

Fresh Kills landfill, Staten Island, New York, 1992. Photo: Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Dirt travels across centuries and continents to explore our ambivalent relationship with dirt. Bringing together around 200 artefacts spanning visual art, documentary photography, cultural ephemera, scientific artefacts, film and literature, the exhibition uncovers a rich history of disgust and delight in the grimy truths and dirty secrets of our past. The show also points to the uncertain future of filth, which poses a significant risk to our health but is also vital to our existence.

There’s also a full schedule of events, film screenings, discussions, activities and walking tours, so make sure you have a look at the programme.

Deutsches Hygiene-Museum, Dresden, 1930

Following anthropologist Mary Douglas’s observation that dirt is ‘matter out of place’, the exhibition introduces six very different places as a starting point for exploring attitudes towards dirt and cleanliness: a home in 17th-century Delft in Holland, a street in Victorian London, a hospital in Glasgow in the 1860s, a museum in Dresden in the early 20th century, a community in present day New Delhi and a New York landfill site in 2030.

EH Dixon, The Great Dust Heap at King’s Cross, 1837

Serena Korda, The Brick-Keepers

Highlights include paintings by Pieter de Hooch, the earliest sketches of bacteria, John Snow’s ‘ghost map’ of cholera, beautifully crafted delftware, Joseph Lister’s scientific paraphernalia and a wide range of contemporary art, from Igor Eskinja’s dust carpet, Susan Collis’s bejewelled broom and James Croak’s dirt window, to video pieces by Bruce Nauman and Mierle Ukeles and a specially commissioned work by Serena Korda.

For more details, visit