published in G18 DAE, Eindhoven, 2018

You come in the morning, very early, open all the doors to let in some fresh air, make coffee, play music (mostly something calm, but it doesn’t matter, it will be overshadowed by the sound of vacuum cleaner anyway) and start. First collect the trash left on the counter and the tables, wipe all the flat surfaces using a wet cloth, vacuum the floor and mop it with a rotary mop. I saw a meme calling it a fidget spinner for women. There is an element of truth in it: the stick is designed especially for women, short, smaller scaled. Everything is where it should be — your position is cleaning lady and you are a woman. Once the floor is done, move outside: swipe the terrace and water the plants. Then come the toilets: trash, sinks, reservoirs, urinals, then the floors. Now fill in the paper and the soap dispenser, bring the dirty rugs to the laundry (there is a special basket for them), return all the cleaning equipment to the shelf and you are done. On your way out, take the trash to the containers outside. You will probably meet a waiter or a chef, but sometimes you’ll leave so early that no one is there yet; you are invisible. You found this place dirty and leave it clean so everything can start again, like everyday.

In its essence, cleaning is about taking care of things, looking after, maintaining. It is gentle, quiet and beneficial; it requires patience and time. It ennobles a cleaned object and, since cleanliness is hierarchically superior to dirtiness, it instantly rises the object’s status. Cleaning is about collecting dirt that has settled on one surface, by means of another surface. The dirt does not disappear, it just changes place from one object to another, from a floor to a cleaning cloth, which we rinse immediately in order to hide it. It is washed out from dirty rag, swallowed by the abyss of a vacuum cleaner, or emptied out from a scoop into a garbage bag. This might be the reason why there is something uncomfortable about cleaning. Not only for a cleaner, who doesn’t feel it anymore and simply does the job, but — more intriguingly — for the observers. They try not to step on the wet floor, apologizing excessively, or ignore it completely and walk through, making the cleaner invisible: the cleaner is unnoticed as long as she leaves the place clean. What matters here is the end-result.

The idea of change is a fundamental part of cleaning: from dirty to clean. The action lies between these two states, a pragmatic transition from an object with a layer of dirt, to an object that is clean, ready for interaction once again. Again is significant — another characteristic of cleaning is its repeatability. After two years working as a cleaning lady, I have an impression that life is a constant and eternal cycle of cleanliness and dirt. The factor of time continually makes things dirty, thus purity is temporary — and we need to renew it if we want things to stay clean. This very pragmatic, perpetual action of cleaning can also be seen as a metaphor of change — removing old dirt, ideas or beliefs to make the space for something new, to create a new order. Some religions which, by means of various rituals, even enable their believers to clean their souls from sin.

Cleaning can be seen as a stereotypically female occupation: there ae many visible signs of this condition, like the aforementioned mop as a fidget spinner for women or the unambiguously gendered occupation of cleaning lady. Once my male friend saw me mopping the floor in our shared kitchen and remarked: “Finally, a woman in her rightful place.” Well, she is in her right place if she decides so. Since 2016 in Poland there have been marches against the actions of the contry’s conservative government. The marches called Black Protests are protests against the notion of patriarchy that still dominates Polish society, against the violation of women's rights in Poland. During these protests, objects related to the so-called traditional housewives women understood through a patriarchal and conservative lens — were used by protesters as the tools of resistance, from kitchen equipment to cleaning tools. A clenched fist wearing a yellow rubber glove or a frying pan engraved with words “enough is enough” could be seen on the streets alongside with banners and slogans. Simply by changing the context in which these objects appear, from domestic to public, their status in the hierarchy of things is immediately raised: they become weapons, powerful tools of struggle, symbols of strength. The very act of cleaning, then, has a potential to be a political manifesto or even a form of protest itself.

Project begins with a cleaning rag, a familiar, basic tool for cleaning, almost an archetype. It is a simple object, just a piece of fabric used to collect dirt from other objects. In Polish, the word szmata literally means rag, but in colloquial language it can also be used to offend a woman — calling her slut. The act of cleaning becomes a part of a making process: by scouring of the surfaces I collect dirt to expose a message displayed on banners. Domestic action turns into a performance located in a city. I chose public spaces loaded with significance, such as the city square, a place of social gatherings, celebrations and protests, the gate of a Catholic church, a governmental building. I singled them out as the places responsible for women’s current situation and the symbols of patriarchy and power. As in the domestic objects used in women’s protests in Poland, relocating (and thus recontextualising) the act of cleaning from household to public space can emphasize the women’s existence in society: she becomes visible, present, important. While filming one of the videos for the project, cleaning a monument in the city center, a police car stopped and stood by, observing. After a while, they moved on without a word. Is cleaning public space illegal, a violation, if in its essence it is all about taking care, the very opposite of damaging? Cleaning these places became performative act that I call agentle protest — gentle because the action itself is harmless, even beneficial, yet ironically it is an act of resistance.