Chloe Martina Salvi ’s exhibition DUST at Coburg House on 7th & 8th April in Leith in Edinburgh is a light sensory experience shifting between the personal and the universal. From tiny fragments of dust, the viewer is transported to cosmic dimensions in Salvi’s projected work Nocturne. While lounging on beanbags, the gaze is directed upward at both wall and ceiling projections. The process is in the realms of meditational. A sense of being lost in space, although the knowledge that what is projected is in fact microscopic images of dust disorientates and intrigues. At one moment, the viewer feels as if they are pressed up close, examining the minutiae of what is discarded, at other times there is the sense of being bathed by shifting lights and showered by cosmic dust much as if watching the Aurora Borealis.

With her background in photography, and picture research, light artist Salvi’s purpose is to provide ‘a platform for people in society to explore their own narratives around matter and the stories of the world at large.’ Indeed these magnified and moving images can be interpreted on an individual basis. What does the dust mean to you? How can debris appear precious? The process of looking at the discarded afresh thereby leads the viewer to consider the whole question of what gives some matter value and other materials none at all.

Drawing inspiration from the writings of French phenomenological philosopher Maurices Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961), and his idea that we do not so much see light as we see in it, Salvi’s projections displace the viewer’s sense of time and space. The experience encourages a questioning of our own material existence. This is further explored in Salvi’s sculptural work Dream, a large box of Perspex layers. Each layer contains dust and debris from the artist studios at Coburg House from wool strands of kilts, to metallic dust, to flakes of materials used by the other artists in the studios.

These arrested particles are suspended as if in time, with each layer possessing its own narrative. A light source on top of the sculpture invites the viewer to move it along the top of the box illuminating each Perspex layer of dust one at a time. This gives the work an overall sense of movement, and liquidity as if the viewer is gazing into objects suspended in water. Again, the result is displacement, as illusions of depth and space shift. Each viewer is guaranteed to see their own story within the shifting illuminations of dust. Are the particles brought together randomly? Or is there a natural order to their patterning?

Small cubes of resin display smatterings of golden metallic dust and the sprinkling of dust from butterfly wings. Both inanimate and animate become equable fragments in the end. These sculptural pieces encourage the viewer to think upon their own transience. How the sum of our human lives are ultimately reduced to dust just as an object might be. And yet the iridescent quality of Salvi’s exhibition adds a spiritual dimension. By manipulating her light projections in small sacred spaces, she transforms our perception of dust, the physical fragmentation and end of something into the visualisation of its beauty and transcendence.


Noelle Harrison

10th April 2018, Edinburgh.

Author Noelle Harrison has written extensively on visual art in Ireland, contributing to various journals and artists’ catalogues over the years, including Circa, Art Bulletin, and RTE Events Guide. In 2014, she was one of 56 Irish Writers included in the anthology and exhibition Lines of Vision Irish Writers on Art at the National Gallery of Ireland, and published by Thames & Hudson.

Her ninth novel, The Gravity of Love, will be published by Black & White Publishing in May 2018.

The Edinburgh Reporter on the Dust Collection at Gallery23 here