How would it feel if you, the people you love and the place you live were constantly described as dirty?
Visible Dirt is a socially engaged art project which draws attention to the drip-drip effect of language that links the poorest people and places in society to dirt, and the impact this has on the way we treat others.
To make a difference we need to make an impact, so to launch the Visible Dirt campaign we plan to create a large scale pop up art installation in the form of an army of customised cleaning in progress signs, with slogans including “social cleansing in progress”, “linking inequality to morality distracts from inequality”, “dirt is a social construct” and “I am more than the dirt I clean”.
New slogans will be generated through workshops with groups of women from council estates in Bolton and Oldham, starting with the question "tell me about a time you were treated like dirt?". Our stories and experiences along with text and images from advertising, politics and the media will determine the final form of the installation - because we are not invisible and our voices will be heard!
The first wave of workshops will take place in November and December 2019 (look out for photos from these over the next few months) and the installation will be ready to tour in January 2020 - taking in galleries, public buildings and streets, with and without permission, across the UK throughout 2020. But this is just the start of a bigger project, we want to do so much more to make the language of dirt visible... if it can be seen it can be challenged! And that's where you come in, we are hoping this Kickstarter campaign will activate new collaborators all over the UK and the rest of the world to start the fightback. Together we can change the conversation around class, poverty and stigma.
I am really excited about the potential of Kickstarter as a platform for collaboration, money makes the world go round but people make a movement! In fact just by reading this far you are already part of the campaign, because next time you see or hear the language of dirt in relation to a person, group or place – benefit scum, dregs of humanity, sink estates – you are more likely to notice. And once you have noticed, you won’t stop noticing.
I'm hoping the project rewards are a real reflection of this, they aren't ONLY special or handmade or "limited edition" artworks (although obviously they are all those things), they are also another way for us to work together to spread the message and grow the campaign.
For a £2 pledge you will receive, as if by magic, the ability to see the language of dirt all around you. If you're after something a little more tangible, for a £5 pledge you can choose one of these badges, or for £10 become the proud owner of the whole set:
Pledge £15 and you will receive a handmade zine which contains DIY instructions for how to make dirt visible along with other treats.
For a £25 pledge you can adopt an artwork - for a full year one of the customised signs will email you with updates and photographs of its progress, it's the perfect Christmas gift you didn't know you needed!
For a £50 pledge you will receive this limited edition A3 riso print series - exclusively available to supporters of the Visible Dirt campaign:
A £100 pledge will get you the Full Works - the badges, zine, print series AND adopt an artwork.
For arts organisations and beyond, there is a new £250 reward in the form of a performance, workshop or artists talk at a venue of your choice. Lets work together to develop this project!
If you're an art collector with limited wall space, a pledge of £300 will earn you a unique piece of contemporary art in the form of a customised cleaning in progress sign.
And finally, and particularly aimed at galleries, festivals and events, for £1000 the whole installation will come to you. A visually striking, politically relevant and thought provoking piece (with minimal technical requirements), put your organisation at the heart of this movement and be the change.
Who is involved?
I have been collaborating with the Foxes, a women's group from the Johnson Fold estate in Bolton, since 2017 - together we have eaten from the floor to think about the psychology of dirt, performed the metaphor 'clean is up and dirt is down' by walking together from the estate at the bottom of the hill to the open moors at the top, created a dollshouse to reflect the vicious cycle of depression and domestic drudgery, and planted a community garden full of flowers and herbs which can be used in natural cleaning products. This group of women are amazing and, as is typical in social practice, it is through the long term relationship that we have built that the project has flourished.
The second series of workshops will take place on the Limeside estate in Oldham with an equally important and amazing group of collaborators, the Crafty Lasses, who I have been working with on projects since 2016 - although this will be the first time we have addressed dirt together. I know from previous conversations that the stigma and stereotypes associated with 'deprived' communities have had an impact on their lives and they are well up for the challenge of fighting back!
In total there will be around twenty women involved in the workshops from across the two groups, ranging in age from 18 to 'mind your own business'. They will take a key role in determining the form of the installation and any other creative/activist interventions that come out of this project.
Why is this important?
Since I started making artwork about the language of dirt in 2016, I have found examples of it EVERYWHERE, from the mainstream media and politicians, to everyday conversations on the streets and across the internet. Why does this matter? Because language influences the way we think and the way we behave, and to constantly repeat and reinforce an association between working class communities and dirt (both physical and moral) becomes a justification to treat people like dirt.
Long before dirt was associated with disease, having a clean house was a status symbol because it represented wealth - either the money to afford servants or the leisure time to clean. To have a dirty house was to be poor and, it was assumed, to be poor was to be dirty. This narrative turns up again and again, from Victorian committee reports to modern newspaper headlines. The language of dirt has become a way to divide and stigmatise, without us even noticing.
"By far the worst feature of social housing is what other people think of tenants, giving them a negative image of themselves." (From the See the Person campaign)
The thing that really excites me about Kickstarter is the potential to realise a project that is unashamedly political, without having to dilute the message to avoid scaring the (often state sponsored) arts funders or getting lost in red tape. The nature of the installation means that even as a guerrilla intervention it causes no damage, other than the challenge to the status quo.
Where did the idea come from?
I have making artwork about the language of dirt since 2016, inspired by Mierle Laderman Ukeles and her Maintenance Art Manifesto. This has taken many forms, but always collaborative, usually performative, and often combining humour, anger and defiance.
I created the first cleaning in progress sign for a performance in 2017, followed by another two for an exhibition in 2018, and three more in 2019. I liked the idea of taking a visual language so familiar that it is almost invisible, and using it to communicate the message that the pervasive narrative 'poor equals dirty' is also going unnoticed. I also wanted to reference the language I was hearing from politicians and public officials around 'cleaning up' estates and communities - which almost never refers to a good wash.
Since 2017 the cleaning in progress signs have appeared up and down the country, from Leeds to Brighton, sometimes as part of a scheduled exhibition or event, sometimes unannounced and uninvited. Up until now the signs have only ever been used singularly or in small groups, but I have a vision for an installation that includes rows upon rows of these messages, so that they cannot be ignored (but are still portable enough for a guerrilla intervention when needed!). Imagine the impact of a gallery, a street, a waiting room filled to the brim with cleaning in progress signs…
Where will the money go?
If the £1800 target is reached (don't forget it's all or nothing!) it will cover:
- The purchase of at least 30 cleaning in progress in signs and the materials to customise them
- Time and materials to deliver at least two workshops with two women's groups in Oldham and Bolton
- Transport and all other expenses to take the installation on tour in 2020
- Time and materials to create the rewards
- Kickstarter fees
Who do you think you are?
Hi there! I'm Shonagh Short. I've been working in the arts as a creative producer and artist - mostly on social housing and regeneration projects - for the last fifteen years. I graduated with a Masters in Fine Art from the University of Central Lancashire in 2018 and I have been involved in exhibitions, residencies and projects across the UK and Ireland. If you'd like to know more about my work please check out my website here or look at this lovely book I made here or find me on Instagram here ... but don't forget to come back!
If you've made it this far... well done and thank you. This project is part of a Kickstarter initiative supporting social practice artists in the UK. You'll find the other fantastic projects supported through the collaboration between Kickstarter and the Social Art Network here. If you liked this project then you should definitely check them out!
I'll be updating this page regularly throughout the month, and of course the best way to ensure you don't miss an update is to pledge now. If you have any questions about the project please don't hesitate to get in touch, I love to talk.
Thanks again for helping to make dirt visible.
Risks and challenges
For me, the biggest risk for this project is that at the moment it sits solely on my shoulders. My work is social by its very nature and that's why I'm hoping through this process to connect with a much wider network of collaborators - and to give away ownership so that the project belongs to all of us! In practical terms there is always some element of risk involved in performing this kind of protest art, but the installation causes no damage to person or property. As an experienced creative producer I meet challenges all the time, and I've learnt to be resourceful and resilient which should help us get over any bumps in the road.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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