The Origins of Chim↑Pom’s Drunk Pandemic

Written by Contact’s Young Curators.

Around two years ago, MIF and Contact invited five Manchester-based young creatives – that’s us – to choose any artist in the world to create a piece of work for MIF19.

With complete freedom and almost finite options, we decided to focus on three questions. What would stand out in the MIF programme? What would surprise the MIF team? And what would appeal to people who don’t currently engage with the Festival?

We began to explore East Asia, and particularly Japan. After trawling through Japanese art websites (and discovering how terrible online translations could be), we stumbled on a very naturalistic Pikachu, which turned out to be Chim↑Pom’s Super Rat. It soon became evident that the wildness, humour and honesty of Chim↑Pom’s work felt very Mancunian.

In September 2018, Chim↑Pom visited Manchester for the first time. We took them to places they might and interesting, sharing our knowledge of the city. After returning to Japan, Chim↑Pom chose to explore the links between cholera, public sanitation – and beer. We loved the fact that they had identified themes that were of cultural and historical significance while still remaining playful. And out of these themes, over the course of many months, A Drunk Pandemic has emerged… 

We have opened a brewery in the tunnels under Manchester Victoria Station, where many cholera victims are buried, and have brewed our original beer A Drop of Pandemic here in both EH-approved and EH-unapproved editions.

During cholera and plague outbreaks in the past, people drank beer instead of water. The water used in the brewing process was boiled, making beer safer – it’s why Trappist monks brewed beer in their monasteries, for example, and why people at the time debated whether they should drink water or beer. Beer was and still is an essential part of many people’s lives: Chim↑Pom all love beer and enjoy our happy and drunken lives.

We have built our own Pub Pandemic within public and temporary toilets outside the tunnels, and are selling our beer in it. The pub functions both as a toilet and as a fun place where everyone can watch TV, listen to music and generally have a good time. Because the symptoms of cholera include severe diarrhoea and dehydration, the relationship between cholera and toilets is a strong one. Poor sanitation caused by rapid urbanisation at the time of the Industrial Revolution was one of the main causes of the cholera pandemic, which in turn led to improvements in building infrastructure, sewage and sanitation. Many cholera sufferers came from poorer communities: they were often older, more unhealthy, working-class or drunk. Richer people regarded cholera sufferers as morally inferior and cholera itself as immoral – and so in order to eliminate this ‘immoral disease’, the quality of life of these so-called ‘immoral people’ needed to be improved. It is said that the revolution in urban hygiene and sanitation started with this kind of thinking, and led to the construction of public toilets in order to discourage people from urinating on the streets. The word ‘pub’ is short for ‘public house’, a place where communities come together to socialise, and people who come to pubs use their public toilets. In this sense, we hope that Pub Pandemic serves as a social platform for everyone who visits. 

We have extended a sewage pipe from our public toilets (and our pub) outside the tunnels – and at the end of the pipe, we have installed a brick factory, or ‘Piss Building’. The sewage infrastructure links the brewery, the pub, the toilets and the brick factory, where we are making bricks from cement mixed with urine and then loading them on to crates as if to deliver them to building sites. This cycle of brewing, beer drinking and urinating thus spreads into the outside world in the forms of beer and bricks. 

Several special events are taking place inside the tunnels during the Festival alongside the exhibition, which is open only to people attending brewery tours and beer tastings. The tours are designed to inspire discussions between audiences, exhibitors and tour guides – and in this way, we hope they will serve as ‘public’ occasions. 

Chim↑Pom raise questions about the public realm by creating artworks from urban elements such as streets and buildings. A Drunk Pandemic is inspired by urban infrastructure, hygiene and sanitation – and in this sense, it is an embodiment of our ideas about cities. The history of urban sanitation involved sacrifices made by a huge number of people, most of whom suffered through poverty and bad working conditions and were – as mentioned above – regarded as immoral. In Tokyo, Chim↑Pom have a reputation as artists with little morality, and so we greatly sympathise with these workers. This project therefore uses not only urban materials but also humanity, human beings, and human actions and behaviours, such as excrement, drinking and morality. 

The bioprocesses of brewing show how cholera viruses and bacteria have coexisted and fought with humans throughout history. Nicknamed the ‘Blue Fear’, cholera existed in South Asia, but set in motion a pandemic across 19th-century Europe and then spread all over the world. Rapid urbanisation, increased poverty and the Industrial Revolution undoubtedly contributed to the pandemic. But can’t we also compare its outbreak to global industrialisation, capitalism and urbanisation, which have spread explosively like cholera viruses around the world? 

A Drunk Pandemic uses comic materials – toilets, beer, urine, bricks – as motifs, along with puns and wordplay (pub, public, brick). However, the work is also based in a ‘factory’ in an abandoned underground location where about 40,000 poor victims were buried. This dark and eerie reality embodies a kind of graveyard containing victims of the Industrial Revolution, which began in Manchester; capitalism, which spread as a pandemic; social systems, based on hard work; and urbanisation. The beer, bricks and drunkards that have stealthily grown underground during the making of A Drunk Pandemic are already spreading, like pandemics, into the outside world. 

Created by Chim↑Pom

Ryuta Ushiro, Yasutaka Hayashi, Ellie, Masataka Okada, Motomu Inaoka 

Curated by Contact Young Curators

Adam Ali, Elmi Ali, Gráinne Flynn, Ayesha Gwilt, Wez Thistlethwaite 


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