Accepted Paper:

Involving the future: compounding the composition of the fatberg  


Mike Michael (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

Enactments of fatbergs are discussed in terms of various compound actors who contribute to the fatbergs' solution-oriented futures. Drawing on the idea of 'bond', the paper explores the more open futures involved in two artworks each enacting different fatberg ontologies.

Paper long abstract:

As a compounded mixture of domestic and commercial fats that are said to congeal by bonding with discarded prophylactic and sanitary products, fatbergs have posed major problems for various urban sewerage systems. This ontology has been mediated by a series of metaphors and narratives that enact the fatberg in terms of, for example, monumentality, responsibility, identity, and courage, as well as disgust. In the process museums, sewerage workers, citizens, local authorities, and the media (amongst others), have become 'involved'. Contrasted against this solution-oriented rendering of the fatberg as a problem, are enactments that open up the opportunities for invention. Two such enactments are compared. Victoria Jones's exhibition 'Smell of the City' displayed fatberg lumps apparently derived from different parts of city sewerage systems. Visitors were invited to smell the lumps and were subsequently interviewed as a way of exploring the relation of smell to memory and locality. The Dutch design research project 'Fatberg' aims to construct and float an island of fat, though the designers themselves claim they are not sure why they are building it (e.g. archiving their times; amassing a strategic reserve for the hard times ahead; constructing 'an autonomous space where fat can express itself'). These fatberg ontologies are discussed in terms of the sorts of affect they invite and the more or less 'open' futures that they 'involve'. Central here will be the notion of the 'bond'.

Panel A04
Involving compounds