You Don't Know Me From a Bar of Soap AT10 2020

19 Dec 2020 : Articulate Project Space, Sydney

You Don’t Know Me From a Bar of Soap! 2019-2020 Mixed media, carved & used soap, glass bowls, shoe polish, plywood.

“Where are you really from?” questions identity, lineage, and rights of belonging. The work started as aperformance on themes of revulsion and what we consider unclean. The point of departure was the question whether the fat of Nazi victims was rendered into soap. In this third iteration of the work it has been changed to simplify the text so that all the bars of soap are white. I have added 3 glass bowls. One contains the words “Made in Australia” shaved off the top of each bar of soap. The second contains remnants of used soap, some donated, oethers found, in different sizes and colours. The third bowl contains soap colour with black shoe polish over the text “Made in Australia”.

The overarching concern in my works is diasporic identity and the body partnered with materials/ matter. Diaspora, as a spatial concept, is a perpetual elsewhere. This work addresses questions of belonging and identity. The black soap coloured with shoe polish references the layers of identity of those “Made in Australia (born in Australia) and the complications of indigenous Aboriginal identity, layers of identity and “passing for” either white or black. The topic of soap made from human (mostly Jewish) fat during The Holocaust under the Nazi regime is one of incomprehension and a theme of revulsion. How could something made in such an abhorrent fashion be thought of as something with which to “make clean”? And in the present additional risks posed by Covid-19 this is echoed again, what is clean/ unclean? So hypothetically I ask: If we are all the same under the skin, would you use a soap rendered from unidentified human fat to clean yourself? Would you rather use a communally used bar of soap to wash your entire body? The expression “you don’t know me from a bar of soap” means that I am as inconsequential to you as a worthless piece of soap. We can often really feel this way. “Where are you really from?” contains a concealed attack on identity, questioning racial origins, ancestral lineages, and political and national notions of rights and belonging.

In the movie/book “Fight Club” the characters steal human fat from a liposuction clinic to produce soap. This thematic of human liposuction fat turned into soap was realised in an artwork: Julian Hetzel’s performance and installation Schuldfabrik (literally guilt-factory), shown at the 2019 Adelaide Festival of Arts. (I was unaware of that work at the time of conceiving of this project.) His guilt refers to the overindulgence of privileged Western society, but of course, as a German artist, it bears the imprint of guilt and knowledge of the Holocaust history.

I first employed the expression “Welcome to My Country” (one of the phrases carved into the soap) in the ensemble performance “The Bland Project” which I directed and presented at Carriageworks Sydney in 2008. Four Australian performers of Japanese, Singaporean, Australian and Jewish origins welcome the audience to their collective country. Is each individual’s sense of country actually the same place? Here I speak not only to the issue of land rights and original inhabitants, but to the overarching thematic of diasporic identity. Are Indigenous Australians who are “out of Country” to be similarly considered diasporic whilst remaining on continental Australia?

Project Details
Dates 19 Dec 2020 to 03 Jan 2021
Duration 2 weeks
Collaborators Articulate Turns Ten shows the work of Susan Andrews, Vilma Bader, Bettina Bruder, Mandy Burgess and Ro Murray, Jane Burton Taylor, Curtis Ceapa, Sue Callanan, Rox De Luca, Parris Dewhurst, Ella Dreyfus, Nicole Ellis, Bonita Ely, Steven Fasan, Sarah Fitzgerald, Juliet Fowler Smith, Beata Geyer, Simone Griffin, Philippa Hagon, Barbara Halnan, Jan Handel, Kendal Heyes, Isobel Johnston and Jude Crawford, Sonja Karl, Fiona Kemp, Michelle Ledain, Noelene Lucas, Kate Mackay, Diane McCarthy, Mahalya Middlemist, Raymond Matthews, Sue Murray, Sue Pedley and Phaptawan Suwannakudt, Renay Pepita, Anya Pesce, Elizabeth Rankin, Che Ritz, Margaret Roberts, Tamsin Salehian, Alan Schacher, Lisa Sharp, Anke Stacker, Voices of Women (Lliane Clarke), Molly Wagner, Gary Warner and Elke Wohlfahrt
Producer Articulate Project Space
Category installations