Kristel Birgit Potsepp: Extraordinary soap and guilt show Schuldfabrik

Julian Hetzel’s production Schuldfabrik is an integrated project that focuses on the soap called Self that is made from human fat derived from liposuction. The story behind this is truly interesting and has created ethical conflicts.

The show began in a confessional and the groups with a maximum of six members were directed to different chambers based on the answers they gave to the questions. In the confessional everyone confessed their sins and dirty hands and were granted forgiveness. In the next room, a plastic surgeon introduced the soap making process more closely, talking about the ideals of beauty throughout the history and demonstrating the liposuction on the covered patient. Next, the members of the group were led in a hall where they could see the “behind-the-scenes” of the soap making: there were surgical instruments and fat in different shapes on the table and framed licenses on the walls. In the next room, there were two men – one of them did a workout and the other one made Self (i.e. soap company) bags. The fifth chamber was a visually beautiful room where a soap foam romped in the dim light. In the last room, the man talked about the entire process and the conception and explained the economic and psychological aspects of the matter.

The idea of Self soap lies in the fact that human fat soap is produced to reduce the contrast between the overweight West and the starving Third World, with the outputs going to Malawi for drinking water. This is a very practical and imaginative idea, and all in all, it is wise to use people as a resource.

The motif of guilt goes through the whole show and is directly related to the fat and fatness, which is psychologically quite true. The Western culture has its own problems, for example, various eating disorders, so nagging in a situation where an equal sign is placed between any fat percentage and the guilt, is not appropriate. Although the idea is pleasing, the process can feed unhealthy ideals of beauty created by the society, like Twiggy or Kim Kardashian, for example. On the other hand, obesity is a major problem, and the Self project involves both a possible solution and an art. In addition, the project is very convenient for the comfortable and lazy western world – the liposuction is definitely easier than diets and training process. The sin could also be understood as a dirt that you can never wash off. Washing with a Self soap is quite meta – wash with the guilt-feelings to get rid of the guilt.

The whole process has been laid out in the form of art and as such has succeeded. The project fluctuated between being a psychological advertisement, social engagement, and artwork, and the boundaries were extremely interesting to examine. Exquisite dramaturgy and audience engagement were so captivating that it made viewers feel like part of the project. The confessional was a bit inconvenient for me as an Estonian at the beginning (we are not very happy to tell others about our problems), but the discomfort disappeared quite quickly. It was also interesting to follow my own natural and quick answers to the questions that I haven’t consciously asked myself. The process was also psychologically very effective and induced different reactions. I felt some discomfort in the meantime, but after thinking about it, this feeling was rather contextual – similar to guilt.

Schuldfabrik was a completely unique and surprising concept for me, the idea and multilayeredness of the production are amazing. I can only agree with the idea of the soap. The author’s style is undoubtedly very exciting. And the soap itself smelled fine, and it looked like an ordinary soap!