27 May – 13 June 2020
Saponification, the chemical process that forms soap, sometimes happens in unexpected places. Places where the designed intention inadvertently creates an ideal environment for material response. For example, the fat, oil, and grease build up in sewer systems also go through a process of saponification. These collectively made colossal obstructions are known as fatbergs and are dealt with on a regular basis by drainage workers. Conservationists in art museums battle an issue of metal soap formation. It causes a lumpy texture to develop under the surface of oil paintings because, over time, the oil binding reacts with the alkaline metals of certain pigments. In human body decomposition, fatty tissues react with ammonia to create what is called ‘adipocere’, a form of soap that mummifies the corpse.
Slough relates to the preventative measures taken against Covid-19 as an example of overlapping function, where the materiality of soap behaves naturally and humans benefit from sanitary habits. Soap molecules bond to fats and oils, stripping layers of dirt and dead skin cells with it. Just as our bodies are protected with a layer of skin, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is protected by a lipid membrane. Fortunately for us, that lipid membrane is susceptible to micelles of lathered soap. These bubbles rip apart the virus effectively killing it before washing its pieces down the drain.
My practice aims to reveal the intertwining of human routine and nonhuman agency by researching and creating work with common materials that have more clout than we give them credit for. These ideas follow a philosophy of new materialism that encourage questioning of dominating anthropocentric views. Our intimate relationship to the material world means we cannot keep isolating our interests. Because the physical manifestations that confront us lay bare not just our participation, but our vulnerability in larger networks of things.