Dirt is just about the most permanent thing around - except at the Museum of Temporary Art (MOTA), where it's on display temporarily.

Outside the gallery door at 1206 G St. NW stands an upended push broom, a monument to our daily and futile battle to get rid of dirt.

One of the storefront windows displays other weapons in the fight: feather dusters, mops, sponges, paper towels.

At first, MOTA director Janet Schmuckal had intended to do a show on house cleaning. But through collaboration with artist Deborah Jensen, the idea grew to encompass other aspects of dirt, an element Jensen calls "a common denominator for mankind."

Most of us either rent or own a little D.C. dirt. In the show, D.C. dirt is catalogued and bottled by neighborhood, with grass from the White House, newspaper and other scraps from Georgetown and soil from Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill and such spots as the Tidal Basin and the Watergate, already famous for political dirt.

Local dirt is broken down into its component parts - plastics, aluminum, wood and bone - courtesy of a recycling project of the D.C. Department of Environmental Services.

Finally, D.C. dirt is analyzed geologically, with four-feet-deep soil samples extracted from Rock Creek Park and Kenilworth landfill by the U.S. Department of Interior.

The Museum of Temporary Art opened on Halloween 1947 and is a non-profit organization, sustained by renting out the top three floors as studio space.

As for the name, chmuckal explains: "All art is temporary. But 'temporary' draws your attention to the word 'art.' It makes you think, whatdoes 'art' mean?"

The Museum of Temporary Art, says Schmuckal, allows artists to explore themes and techniques not usually found in traditional galleries and museums - at least, not on display.

Thus, at MOTA, a map of the United States is painted on the wall in muddy water; vacuum cleaners make music; laundry and pornographic magazines represent other kinds of dirt, and the Museum of Modern Art and the National Collection of Fine Art are represented by sweepings from their floor.

"We try to show ingenious use of media," said Schmuckal. Artists interested in preparing an exhibit can present their ideas at the monthly meeting of the MOTA Planning Committee. That is, as long as the artist is ready to hang, publicize and guard the exhibit, too.

Themes for previous exhibits have included rocket-powered motorcycles, matchbook covers, postcards, the Supremes and Little Lulu.

What's next? More dirt. Schmuckal envisions a series, with subsequent shows growing from ideas and works contirbuted by viewers of the current show.

"Dirt" can be seen at the Museum of Temporary Art from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 27.

Or you can simply vacuum your apartment . . . plant some potatoes . . . gossip about your neighbor . . . curb your dog . . . or think about where you will be in 100 years.