he year 2020 has completely redefined our experience of ‘cleaning’. Facing down an invisible virus, one wonders: how clean is ‘clean’? How much cleaning and liquid does it require to achieve total sanitation? Ubiquitous and yet, inexplicable, fear spirals into anxiety, comforted only by the process of cleaning – as though the act of ironing out the wrinkles in our shirts would, in parallel, rid our minds of insecurity.
At the heart of MUJI’s design philosophy is an emphasis on “the intrinsic appeal of an object – through rationalisation and meticulous elimination of excess.” Building on the brand’s tenet to elevate simple processes, MUJI has this year aptly launched a photobook titled “CLEANING”. In pre-coronavirus 2019, MUJI went around the globe photographing scenes of people cleaning. The book features 16 categories of cleaning activities worldwide, including wiping, scrubbing and removal, amongst others. Therein lies the very essence of national culture, traditional wisdom, and technology as people embrace a rhythm of life that perpetually resonates in the depth of the body: cleaning.
Iranians prepare their homes for Nowrouz, Perisan New Year, with a meticulous cleansing of rugs. Reflecting the history and craftsmanship of Iran, Persian rugs are an essential part of Persian family culture. High rise window cleaning in Tianjin, China; spray cleaning of ships in Innoshima Island, Japan; the cleansing of the Great Buddha Statue in Tōdai-ji Temple in Nara, Japan – these are but some of the rituals documented in “CLEANING”, the effect of which is rather one of meditative catharsis. Warm though at the same time alarming and stately, these images privilege the repetitive labour of cleaning in pursuit of a better life, or rather a better experience of life.
As the book seems to suggest, cleaning, ultimately, is not about spotless housekeeping. Clean out the debris from the flowerbeds in your garden – but leave a golden leaf here and there. Lightly prune the shrubs and let them grow in fine fettle. The meaning of cleaning, as such, tends toward the poetic, as balance evokes a kind of “moderate comfort”.