Wet wipes are the last strawTue 13 Feb
FATBERG! 9th February to 1st July 2018 at the Museum of London
I was more than a bit disappointed. I had been hoping for something along the size of a London bus, which is the usual benchmark measurement for this type of phenomenon. Instead the fatberg is like a souvenir an astronaut might have brought back from the moon. It has a similar opalescent texture.
I had also been expecting it to smell, but alas that was not to be either. It can only be apprehended through three layers of glass. In sum, it looks like a dirty, toppling trio of snowballs, or a block of soap powder that has gone soggy.
I was also hoping for something that would wash away the artists Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst forever, and make Joseph Bazalgette, the architect of the London Sewers, famous as a conceptual artist.
Never mind the art. The science behind the exhibit is undeniably fascinating. A fatberg needs two principal elements to evolve. The first is a large and regular amount of oil and grease poured down the sink; the second is a population that flushes wet wipes, tampons, sanitary towels, condoms and nappies down the toilet. Unlike Ms Emin or Mr Hirst a fatberg thrives in the dark and on no publicity.
Bazalgette’s masterpiece has survived thus far, with everything Londoners have thrown at it for over one hundred and fifty years. Who is taking bets that Ms Emin and Mr Hirst will be remembered in a hundred years other than as a type of Tulipomania? But his masterpiece is under pressure.
Back to the fatberg. It was the wet wipes that were the last straw. According to the manufacturers they are flushable, by which they mean they go round the bend. They make no mention that their product turns the fatberg into an almost indestructible mass. Even the rats are now deserting the sinking shit.
Unlike the original, which graced (and blocked) the sewer under the Whitechapel Road, its remnant has been hacked at, drilled, dissected, disinfected, and dehydrated. Like all the shit and grease that surrounds us, it has been neutered, sanctified, wiped clean.
Those of us who have bathrooms keep them spotless with hundreds of different products, and as long as we cannot see the dirt and grime that sweeps past the U bend down the waste pipe, we imagine we are clean; we occupy a state of grace. For those of us who don’t have bathrooms, or a roof over our heads, one of the major difficulties in life is keeping clean. Therefore are we to conclude that homeless people don’t occupy a state of grace?
Dirt on this level conjures such conjectures. Just getting a small sample out of the Whitechapel sewer proved that these bergs are rock solid. No amount of water, urine or disinfectant will wash it away. It needed pnuematic drills. The sewers can no longer cope with the grease, wet wipes and cotton buds carelessly sluiced down the toilet. Neither can we cope - with the idea that we might be dirty. Our homes are pressed into service to impress estate agents or readers of colour supplements.
Reductio ad absurdam: the fatberg in the London Museum is the acceptable face of shit.
Article by drif field.
drif field describes himself as “an antiquated book dealer and waste paper merchant”.