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


  • Teresa Stoppani University of Greenwich




Interior, Fragmented, Spatial design


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.


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Author Biography

Teresa Stoppani, University of Greenwich

Teresa Stoppani (MArch IUAV Venice, DrRic Arch&UD Florence) is Reader in Architecture at the University of Greenwich in London, where she coordinates the postgraduate Architecture History and Theory courses. She has taught at the IUAV in Venice, the Architectural Association in London, and held visiting positions at the University of Technology Sydney and at RMIT University Melbourne. Her research focuses on re-readings of the city through unorthodox approaches to urbanism and architecture. Recent publications include ‘The Architecture of the Disaster’ (Space & Culture, 15:2, 2012) and the book Paradigm Islands: Manhattan and Venice. Discourses on Architecture and the City (Routledge 2010).




How to Cite

Stoppani, Teresa. 2011. “Dust, Vacuum Cleaners, (war) Machines and the Disappearance of the Interior”. Idea Journal 11 (1):50-59. https://doi.org/10.37113/ideaj.v0i0.108.



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