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Standing alone as monument

Catalogue text 

Grace Wood

Like a Hasselblad on the moon 

West Space, Melbourne

February 17 – March 25, 2017

View exhibition here

On the 21st of April, 2015, The Guardian reported the discovery and removal of a ten-tonne fatberg in a West London sewer. The forty-meter long congealment of lard and wet wipes was so heavy that it forced the internal pipework below the street to collapse. The combined effort of sanitation and maintenance workers resulted in a two-month endeavour before the mass was officially removed from below the Thames.

Two years prior, a fatburg the size of a bus—and made up of the same concoction of wet wipes and food fat—was discovered in the sewage system under London Road. Then, in September of 2014 a collection of waste, fat, wet wipes, food, tennis balls and wooden planks the size of a Boeing 747 airplane was discovered and cleared by sanitation workers in an additional drain in West London.

Three days later, the sewage system beneath Melbourne was clogged by a large mass of lard and waste, the second last fatberg sighting since that of the first mention. This is so, because in January 2016, the Eleebana sewage pumping station in Newcastle, New South Wales, was damaged due to a blockage caused by a one-tonne fatberg; and as it happens, now subsequently stands as the last reported fatberg to date.

The freeing up of space created by the crane that worked for two hours to remove the fatberg from the Eleebana sewage station could be thought of from two angles. The first pertains to a logic developed above the earth. It stems from an accumulation of individual moments of disposal, the conglomeration of varying relationships to hygiene, superfluity and capacity.

Such relationships could arguably be seen as a result of convenience, preference, ignorance, or, in opposition, neglect. This was the argument Thames Water waged when they conducted a survey following the discovery of an aforementioned fatberg, its ‘nasty mass’ brought into fruition by incorrect usage of the sewage system. The irony of which is made all the more pertinent by the bulging waste threatening to burst out of any infrastructural seam, attempting to find its way back to where it was, in the first instance, not meant to enter.

The second angle pertains to a logic housed below the earth. With the drain being the portal between these two layers, it seems perhaps possible to think of the act of disposal as also one of suppression. The weight of the earth above is reassuring. It implies a covering up. Yet inherent in this very act is the channel between. It is then the mediation of locations above and below the earth, intertwined through a complex system of plumbing and the realisation that nothing is every really left behind.

The fact that one process of removal can result in a blockage of another kind is not usually factored in when something is already deemed to be waste. Yet the contraction of what lays below the earth—this system built entirely in response to things produced above it—results in a flattening out of all these individual moments of disposal, which from passing through the same treatment, result in a looming monumental mass.

The moral of this story is not necessarily one concerned with sustainability of the environmental kind, but instead one absorbed by circulation. While the disposal of tennis balls, wet wipes and deep-fried oil may be an off the cuff attempt at making room, maintaining an ordered and hygienic relationship to space, the persistence of this routine now stands as an example of the lack of any real finality. The point then, is that everything is always contained; it is just the container that shifts.

This is the allegory of the transfiguring fatberg. The one that never disappears, but instead just ruptures, reorganises, relocates, reproduces and which will, eventually, resurface. The conditions of where and when are varying, it is the blockage that is constant and inevitable. It is from moments of stabilising this build up that the contained circulation may be eventually disrupted.

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