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Science Gallery Melbourne’s DISPOSABLE exhibition wrapped up on September 1st after a busy month. The Sewer Soaperie was one of the works in this exhibition. The team sent me lots of photos and feedback. Here is what happened and what we learned from this project:

According to co-curator Dr. Ryan Jefferies in an email to me, the exhibition received 26,504 attendees within the four weeks. The show had 150 kg of recycled fat, 12,000 plastic-eating mealworms, over 500 urine samples, and thousands of river reeds.

Having just moved to Australia, I have learned that post-event surveys are standard procedure here, which is fantastic. Here are quantitative feedback from the audience:

  • 92% of visitors were satisfied with the exploration of the theme DISPOSABLE
  • 85% think SGM is distinctive to other galleries
  • For 79% the program challenged their thinking
  • For 86% it sparked conversations they wouldn’t usually have

Dr. Jefferies also wrote that, “DISPOSABLE has also been our most sustainable season, with Science Gallery now following a Sustainability Action Plan, participating in the University of Melbourne’s Green Impact Challenge and significantly reducing our waste.”

The Sewer Soaperie at DISPOSABLE. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

It was also great to see this piece at the Parliament of Victoria for National Science Week:

The Sewer Soaperie at National Science Week, Parliament of Victoria. Image by Science Gallery Melbourne

I’ve had this work exhibited before, but Science Gallery Melbourne’s team is one of the most exuberant I have ever worked with, and I couldn’t help but feel excited as though this were the first time. It also made those long hours worth it.

More images by Science Gallery Melbourne:

DISPOSABLE by Science Gallery Melbourne. Image by Brent Edwards

Some viewers participated by washing their hands with the soap, though for those who passed, no one blames you.

Images by Brent Edwards

Among the hallmarks of Science Gallery are their mediators, who are there to help their largely young audience to connect with the works. Science Gallery audiences are, from my experience, very curious and ask a lot of excellent questions, which is why I love exhibiting with these guys.

Image by Nicole Cleary for Science Gallery Melbourne

According to Ellie Michaelides, one of Science Gallery Melbourne’s mediators, here are some feedback from the visitors:

“It feels just like normal soap! But less lather”
“I make my own soap at home, I never thought of adding my own left over cooking fat to it!”
“Sewers?! Yeah, nah…”
“Are you sure it’s really clean?”
“That’s really smart, can I buy some?”
“I thought it would smell more”

“It doesn’t smell bad”
“I wish I could buy some”
“I feel like the colour should be less clean”
“I wanted to see what the original fat looks like”

More images by Nicole Cleary:

I, too, have learned a lot as an artist who was a part of this. Back in 2016, this project seemed outlandish, almost in the realm of conceptual art. But human impact on the environment and on cities have increased over time, and so The Sewer Soaperie is in its own way now a legitimate design solution. I am happy and fascinated with how well this been received, including how it provoked many people. For me, art can have a confrontational message and propose solutions in addition to other things it can do. I think this is the strength of interdisciplinary art-science work: it can bring about new dimensions and divergent ways of thinking, and as we continue to negotiate our environmental futures, this can be among the ways by which we can transform society.

It was also inspiring to have this piece be exhibited with these amazing projects. There’s also been a lot of media coverage about DISPOSABLE; do check them out:

Thank you to the Science Gallery Melbourne team!

Hurray, SGM team! Image by Brent Edwards

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The Sewer Soaperie, part of The Apocalypse Project body of work, will be at the month-long DISPOSABLE group exhibition by Science Gallery Melbourne beginning August 1.

The Sewer Soaperie is an interactive experimental art project about turning raw sewage and used fats into soap to raise awareness on the fatbergs clogging sewer systems around the world, and how this will worsen flooding brought about by the more intense storms of the Anthropocene.

From observing the consequences of fatbergs in Manila to pursuing it as a residency project in Medellin, to being exhibited at 1335Mabini art gallery and presented at a USAID Climate-Resilient development conference in Bangkok, The Sewer Soaperie finally goes back to its interdisciplinary art/science roots with Science Gallery.

The DISPOSABLE exhibition is a month-long pop-up of installations, experiments, and events. From the programme:

The lid has been lifted on human wastefulness, but what next? Science Gallery Melbourne’s pop-up season, DISPOSABLE, takes you on a dumpster dive to find creative solutions to our throwaway culture. 

Curated with young adults for young adults, the season will be an experimental trash bag of installations, exhibits and events at sites throughout Melbourne.         

The Sewer Soaperie will be at Testing Grounds, Southbank from July 31 – August 3, and The University of Melbourne at Macfarland Court from August 5 to 18. It was also be part of the Extrasensory exhibition at the Parliament of Victoria on August 10 from 6PM to 10PM for National Science Week.

The audience will be invited to wash their hands with the soaps, but please do so at your own risk. There are three types of soaps: those made from palm oil, those made from used oils, and those made from sewage. These were all boiled and then mixed with the appropriate amount of sodium hydroxide method to create soap. If you’d rather not touch the soaps (I don’t blame you), there are other ways of perceiving the work, such as through sight (Observe the physical differences and ask what type of fats might be in these different-colored soaps?) and smell (Some have said they smell like cookies, others have said chicken. What do you think they smell like?)

Follow the hashtag #SewerSoaperie for updates!

Image credits: First image – 1335Mabini; all the rest: Studio Catherine Sarah Young (Photography by Rache Go, hair and makeup by Rori de la Cruz). Thank you to Science Gallery Melbourne curators Tilly Boleyn, Veronica Dominiak, and Ryan Jefferies, and the fantastic Science Gallery Melbourne team!