Fatbergs, another recurring theme here on Edible Geography, are sewer-blocking lumps of congealed cooking oil and wet wipes that can grow to the size of a double decker bus beneath the streets of London, with disastrous consequences for local drainage.
IMAGE: London sewer flusher Danny Brackley shovels out a fatberg under Leicester Square. Photo via Thames Water.
A 2011 conversation with Rob Smith, head flusher at Thames Water, indicated something of the fascinating way subterranean fatberg geography reflects the city above: Smith notes that “one of the worst areas for fatbergs, for example, is Leicester Square, where cheap restaurants illegally dump used cooking oil,” and that sewer fat from different areas of London “retains distinctive smells.”
Inspired, artist Victoria Jones created a mini-exhibition mapping the olfactory geography of fatbergs, which was on display last month at The Albany pub in Cardiff as part of the citywide Made in Roath arts festival.
IMAGE: Smell the City, by Victoria Jones. All installation photos from Jones’ blog.
IMAGE: Jones smelling one of the sewer fat samples.
Sadly (or thankfully, depending on your sensitivity level on the disgust scale), the yellowish “samples,” housed under bell jars for sniff-sampling, were not genuine sewer fat, but rather supermarket-bought lard mixed with scents created by a specialist museum supply company. Jones’ elaborate back story of an artist residency with the wonderfully named South London Underground Department of Geopotation and Effluence (S.L.U.D.G.E.) was also made up. “Collectively,” Jones writes on her blog, “we made a story about a pub hosting an exhibition of sewer fat.[…] Without you it would have been just 8 lumps of lard in a pub!”
IMAGE: A sewer fat sample from Brick Lane, known for its many curry houses.
IMAGE: Geoff, the landlord of The Albany pub, which hosted the exhibition.
A collaborative story-telling project about urban infrastructure combined with a speculative olfactory geography of London’s fatbergs, and all installed in a Cardiff pub: this should happen more often!
Jones is currently a PhD candidate at Cardiff Metropolitan University examining the sense of place and simulation, as well as an artist whose pieces often involves both olfactory triggers and participatory narrative creation. You can find more of her work here, including an immersive simulation of a care home day room, complete with olfactory and auditory stimuli, and a recurring installation of waiting room areas, framed as a daydream launchpad.