To the undiscerning passer-by, SELF Human Soap at 29 King William Street is just another ephemeral pop-up shop but behind the seemingly sterile pristine set up, something else is going on entirely. This shop front is the fourth wall and beyond this there is no further barrier to this performance installation. Arguable, not since Piero Manzoni’s conceptual artwork Artist’s Shit, has one personally experienced an idea as transgressive as the transformation of a human waste or by-product (human adipose tissue or fat in this case) via art into commercial product. Whether Manzoni’s idea was more conceptual than actual may never be widely known, and Julian Hetzel has taken the idea much further, exploring and investigating the idea and to provoke hopefully continuing discourse long after the factory “tour” has been completed by the participants. I deliberately describe this as a tour because it is a momentary excursion before we return to our relatively safe and comfortable existence.
Hopefully I am not giving too much away, but the tour consists of being lead from SELF Human Soap to a mystery location where there are a series of numbered rooms (but no Room 101) in which we learn and experience more about the manufacturing process from beginning to end. We start with the meditative experience of psychological cleansing and a whispered train of confessional echolalia before being lead through the actually harvesting and processing of the adipose tissue including an introduction to the legal issues surrounding human tissue collection and donation. There is a sweatshop set up in which occurs some audience participation before we enter a room in which we encounter what it would be appropriate to call an actual Soap Opera. Before returning to SELF, we meet the CEO in his office behind what is the closest there is to a fourth wall of see-through plexiglass which is used to good effect. The CEO’s explanation of his company reinforces our guilt by giving us the hard sell in order to make us buy the soap at the end. Interestingly and I don’t know if this was deliberate but he very loosely paraphrases Gordon Gecko from Wall Street with “Greed, gluttony, excess… Guilt is fat”.
This mediation on western excess and providing us a way to trade away our guilt is a fascinating experience that I would recommend in order for us all to continue to have the conversations we need to have regarding our excesses and waste and our place in the world.
Adelaide Festival Review By Jason Leigh