A City of Dust is a sort of New Topographics newspaper from Lewis Bush, that he claims is a sort of visual memory palace, compiled to aid in delivering a carefully researched speech that will never be given, “… a series of markers and fragments, guides to a greater whole which, like the past, can never be reconstituted.”
Lewis Bush begins A City of Dust with a story of Solomon Shereshevsky, a synaesthete and mnemonist and the subject of Alexander Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. In Bush’s telling, Shereshevsky involuntarily used the entire city of Moscow as a sort of “memory palace,” and became so accomplished at modeling his memory on the city, that bits of detritus from the streets intruded, obscuring the symbols he started with.*
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a memory palace, it’s a technique for to remember speeches. Imagine that the speech is a house, that each room is a paragraph or section, and that objects in the rooms symbolize various points you want to make, asides and anecdotes, and the like. Then, when you stand up to deliver the speech, take a walk through the house in your mind, and use the different symbolic artifacts to aid you.
Given that there’s no speech to accompany Bush’s photographs, we’re left to wonder what these cityscapes, flocks of pigeons, newspapermen and elderly folks in the park, fragments of buildings and street corners all add up to, and in taking Shereshevsky as a model, and looking at Bush’s other work, I think it’s more about the memory of the city, or lack thereof, and trying to hold on to some little scrap, lest the winds of profit blow it all away.
With its newspaper format, A City of Dust seemingly exists, in part, to degrade and be forgotten. Far from Will Steacy’s Deadline, which exists to memorialize what has been lost, A City of Dust seems there to disintegrate. The photography is solid, but intentionally forgettable and only really useful to Bush.
Overall, I’d give A City of Dust 4.2 stars.
Bush is really good at documenting and presenting his projects, so you can get an overview of the project and its exhibition, flip through the paper itself, and even order a copy. It sits solidly in Bush’s oeurve, and makes total sense when viewed alongside other projects, like A Model Continent and even A Treatise on the Camera Obscured.
*The truth of Shereshevsky is different and much more complicated. The Wikipedia article linked above is a good starting point, and Reed Johnson gives a far more complicated history in The New Yorker.