Undusting

An online exhibition made in response to NPF 568: Analogue as Meaning

HEALTH AND SAFETY

SARAH DEVINE

Sarah Devine is an emerging creative professional based in Toronto, Canada. Spanning the industries of art, film and music, she’s worked as a curator and production assistant, bringing live events to life throughout the city. In 2021, she will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Industries from Ryerson University, specializing in visual culture.


Artist Statement

Health and Safety 

This project calls attention to the many workers who suffered immediate and acute effects of lung diseases, including cancer and other conditions named for their affiliation with dusts in working-class professions, such as Coal Miners pneumoconiosis. These conditions are exacerbated by unregulated work environments, and more severely affect labourers in jobs made precarious by illegal work and untrained contract labour positions. Factors such as language, citizenship, and education intersect with environmental factors to create a higher risk of exposure for minorities. The regulations protecting many workers today have been written in the blood and dust of those before us, and to repeal these laws (as Trump’s administration has insisted upon) is to forget the unconsenting sacrifices of these labourers in the past and present. 

The works consist of tightly-cropped archival images of occupationally-affected lungs that act as a glaze over old personal photos and press clippings of raw materials. The top mylar layer places the acute effects at the forefront, as decades of exposure obscure setting and identity, and in some cases overtake the image entirely. As supplies were limited by store closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the works (Silicosis [Quartz]) uses an image extracted from David Campany’s exhibition text for A Handful of Dust

The para-fictional narrative of these images has been based entirely on conversations with tradespeople about their experiences at work, and was used to protect their identities. Their work histories include once-innocuous locations like asbestos factories and quarries, exposures that manifest in ever-worsening coughs, wheezes, and eventually much worse.

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