*I will continue collecting soap indefinitely after the official
ending of this project in September. If you are interested
in contributing soap or stories to my continued efforts, please
or mail slivers to the address at the bottom of this text.
I Looking Back
In the final months of the project I found myself reflecting
on what this unusual endeavor has manifested in my life, and
though I risk sounding tastelessly irreverent, as I mentally
review the kindness, humor, generosity and just plain indulgence
that people have shown for me and my oddball request, I keep
returning to the words of Anne Frank, out of context as they
are: “… I believe that people are really good
at heart.” And it’s essential to express how healing
it has been to relish the warmth of the simple gifts that
so many people have given me this year: slivers of selves
in the form of well wishes, shared stories, hand-written notes,
photographs, fresh perspectives, compliments, encouragement,
energy, recognition, appreciation, congratulations, opportunities,
small abstract forms in all shapes, sizes, colors and scents,
and–oh yeah—soap! I’ve known practically
from the start that I will continue this project on my own
after the official Accumulation Project ends.
Another thing I learned is that most people cling vigorously
to their personal washing practices. If a person says, “Oh,
I use my bar until it’s all gone,” or “…but
I fuse the sliver onto a new bar,” no amount of cajoling
or goading will get them to give up the goods. Likewise, no
soft soap user will switch to bars even if I promise to include
their slivers in a mosaic on the altar of St. Peters! And
don’t get me started on my buddy Dave Bastian who wouldn’t
consider even a temporary switch from white to pink Dove,
(which makes a beautifully shaped and colored sliver) because
“pink is for girls.” All I can do is spread the
word, and the soap slivers will come from whomever, whenever,
and wherever they come. My job is to be patient and grateful,
like a Buddhist monk walking the village in the morning bearing
his empty bowl, awaiting sustenance in whatever form it appears.
II Last Call
That said, I put considerable energy into getting the word
out. This month I sent out a couple of “Last Call”
emails to everyone whose address I had, and, as a result,
there was a prodigious flurry of contributions in August.
My friend LaShinda Clark of Trainor, PA didn’t consider
that the US Post Office’s cancellation machines subject
an envelope to a merciless pulverizing when she sent her delicate
white slivers without any padding, and as a result I received
two tiny baggies of Ivory Snow that had a street value of…
Another friend, Galen Warden sent a 29-year-old bar of soap
in its original wrapper, a souvenir from her less-than-perfect
honeymoon. I am not sure what to do with it—on one hand,
it seems so invested with negative memories, that I hardly
want to touch it, let alone wash with it, but on the other
hand I’m fine with including the soap of Milwaukee County
Jail’s finest hardcore criminals in my artwork. Go figure.
While in London, Galen procured my only international slivers
while wandering amidst some ruins by the old Roman wall. She
“two halves of a bar of soap in two little nooks of
an ancient, roofless cathedral. Right there on the ground
was a hose connected to a faucet, perhaps used to care for
the gardens that decorated the chapel ruins. I could only
conclude that the homeless of London are sanitary folks and
enjoy their outdoor shower among stone columns and flowers.
I only slightly regretted pilfering one of their soaps, content
that they were still left with the twin to keep themselves
with the dignity of cleanliness.”
Though Galen’s theory that the soap was shared by vagrants
is colorful, I am inclined to believe it belonged to the site’s
charming, ruddy-faced elderly caretaker, to whom I’ve
assigned the name Bertram.
III Pseudo Slivers
Earlier in the summer, I had been invited to participate in
a show in DC featuring installation and performance artists
whose work defies being sold as a commodity. Each artist was
given small transparent vinyl boxes and instructed to use
the leftover materials from previous installations or performances
to represent their work in a saleable form. Of course I would
make a piece using soap slivers, but, since this piece was
intended for sale, I could not risk using my official Accumulation
Project soap slivers. In shopping for new soap in an appealing
array of colors, I became acquainted with “Dial for
Men,” a line of deodorant soaps available in “Full
Force” or “Recharge” strength. It had a
deep Yves Klein blue color I had never seen in soap before
starting this project. Early on, when I saw the scarcity of
slivers in a true pink color and the relative abundance and
variety of greens, I realized that color schemes of soap change
with the times just as in fashion, only not as quickly. I
remember pink being a common color for soap in my childhood,
but now, with the exception of pink Dove, peachy tones have
become the norm. Back in the 70s, I remember TV ads heralding
the advent of green soap with a campaign for Irish Spring
that featured a saucy lass wearing a dress with a cleavage-enhancing
bodice that she obviously borrowed from the closet of the
St. Pauli Girl. She and her mate, a Chad Everett look-alike
wearing tweed knickers and cap romped through a verdant pasture
while our gal, a product of the sexual revolution, snatched
the bar from his hand and asserted her entitlement to equality
of sexual pleasure in the thin guise of comments lauding the
soap’s fresh masculine scent and deodorizing merits
(“Manly yes, but I like it too!”).
Left with the task of making believable-looking soap slivers
from whole bars, I tried in vain to slice them thin using
every kind of hand saw I had before resorting to the band
saw at my workplace (shhhhhhh!) I snuck into the sculpture
studio during the deserted dinner-hour and proceeded to gum
up the blade with a waxy soap coating, simultaneously distributing
a cacophony of perfumes into the air that caused the guy in
the next studio over to poke his head in and ask who was messing
with potpourri. After sweeping up all my “soapdust”
and diligently scraping as much goo as possible off of the
blade, I slunk out of the studio, feeling guilty as any abuser
of power tools should.
That evening was August 31st, the 365th day of The Accumulation
Project’s run, and I found myself around 10 PM bent
over my sud-filled bathroom sink soaking dozens of 1⁄4
inch slices of soap in warm water and attacking their telltale
uniformly thick edges with a veggie peeler. I had tried once,
months before to manufacture “pseudo slivers”
by chopping up a bar with a knife and wearing the pieces down
with wet hands, but the results were too chunky—not
convincing. The edges must be worn thin, and a veggie peeler,
manipulated over the edge at a 35º angle was the way to get
the job done. When I got to the batch of yellow dial slices,
my sink looked like a bowl of shredded cheese at a taco bar.
After all this work, there was NO WAY I was going to sell
the piece I made out of these pseudo slivers in the DC show.
I would keep them separate from the real slivers that people
contributed, however, and decided to reserve a section of
my piece for the final Accumulation Project show to be interactive—so
that gallery visitors might arrange the artificially created
slivers in a composition of their own, that might change and
even grow if visitors decided to bring their own slivers to
the gallery. I like this idea since the endeavor literally
has, all along, been the work of many hands.
IV Cosmic Contacts
Another product I made for the show in DC, intended to commodify
work that, in its original form is not practical for sale,
was a collection of note cards featuring images of the soap
sliver work in progress from my two previous shows. On the
front of each card was an image of the installation and on
the back was an explanation of the Accumulation Project with
contact information for would-be soap contributors to reach
me as I continue the project on my own. I will give sets of
these cards to family and friends and see if their distribution
generates any contributions.
In addition to the abundance of snail mail I received in August
there were several interesting developments on the email front.
Among these was a message from Ellensue Spicer, a nutrition
educator from Bala Cynwyd, PA who has a website that features
cooking, nutrition, health, and lifestyle articles intended
to foster “midlife women’s physical, mental, and
spiritual growth.” She named the site—dig this—“Menupause”!
Ellensue mentioned that her site regularly profiles “…interesting
women in all fields of life,” and would like to interview
me. We plan to get together in late December, so it looks
like I might be the January cover girl for Menupause; that’ll
be a hot news flash alright! Ellensue kindly offered to include
a link to the Accumulation Project in the interview, and since
women of middle age and beyond seem to be my most prolific
contributors, this exposure might prove to be a great generator
of sliver donations. Cosmic forces also decreed that the week
she initially emailed me, her site featured recipes using
mango, so I was able to share with her the Hindu myth about
Hanuman, the monkey god and the mango, that was the inspiration
for the paisley motif in the two more recent incarnations
of my soap sliver mosaic (see statement 4/06.)
Early this month I got an email from a charming 18 year old
Jill Greenberg who answered the invitation I gave to Jill
Greenbergs everywhere to contact me and share some bits of
their identities (see statement 1/06.)
Hello! I stumbled upon your soap sliver website while googling
"The Manipulator" Jill Greenberg. I myself am actually
a Jill Greenberg, I've known about "The Manipulator"
Jill for awhile, I found her while googling myself. I find
it a little crazy that all of us Jill Greenbergs seem to be
artists of some sort! …I'll be a freshman at SUNY New
Paltz where I will be majoring in Art History. Thus far my
plan is to work at an art gallery/museum, and hopefully one
day be the director of one. Who knows, maybe then I can curate
a show of the works of Jill Greenbergs around the world....
In a later email, she astutely observed:
I love the idea of the soap sliver collecting, I've always
been intriqued by personal effects and the imagined history
behind them. There is something about witnessing an item so
intimate, so private.
And yes, I'd love to contribute some special Jill G soap slivers
to your collection. And I don't even use bar soap. But I will,
just for a fellow Jill G.
Ahhh the comfort of a kindred spirit! And to top it off, this
Jill Greenberg, in her willingness to temporarily change her
washing habits for the sake of collaborating in this project,
disproved my aforementioned assertion that a liquid soap user
won’t switch to bar soap just to have his/her possessions
immortalized in a work of art. A true pal. She hasn’t
produced a sliver yet, so she has missed the deadline for
inclusion in the OFFICIAL Accumulation Project show, but I
trust her to come up with the goods sooner or later.
Doppelganger Jill, on the other hand, (see statements 1/06,
3/06, 6/06, 7/06) has not been so forthcoming. The friendly
letter of introduction I sent her in late June has gone unanswered.
Because she does not publish her email address online and
I do, I continue to get fan mail of a variety of types intended
for her. I happen to have an email address for her, but do
not give it out. Rather, I explain the mix-up to the senders,
tell them a little about my project, encourage them to send
soap (awww what the heck!) and let them know that I will forward
their emails. The first time I forwarded fan mail to her I
got a polite one-word response: “thanks!” Since
then, she does not respond. There could be many reasons for
her silence, and I will not speculate about them here. But
I hope she finds some amusement in the situation, and someday
steps forth with a friendly “hello.”
The tally of misaddressed messages I have received so far
(today’s date being December 4th) is eight: three emails
from guys who find her work amazing, two emails from female
high school students desperately requesting information about
her for school projects involving artist biographies, one
Austrian girl, also of high school age, asking permission
to use some of her photos of in the graphics of an online
role playing game, an old friend of Doppelganger’s from
her school days at RISD, and the publisher of a magazine called
Blend, produced in the Netherlands. Among these, the last
two were of the greatest interest to me. On November 17, the
publisher of Blend magazine emailed merely to see if he had
the correct email address for Jill Greenberg. It was a long
shot, but since I had recently sent images of my soap sliver
work to Europe for consideration for the Szpilman Award for
Ephemeral Art www.szpilman.de,
I was hoping that he might have been involved in the jurying
of the competition and, though I wasn’t chosen as a
finalist, perhaps he took an interest in my work. It was worth
a try, so I responded with a cheery email stating that he
might have the right email address if he was seeking a talented
mixed media/installation artist with a penchant for used soap.
I took advantage of the opportunity by sending him a few jpgs
of my work, giving him permission to pass them along as he
wished to anyone who might be interested, should he instead,
be seeking my doppelganger. In closing, I mentioned that at
his request, I would forward his email to Doppelganger Jill.
He never responded. Lame.
On 11:55 PM on September 1, literally during what I considered
the final 5 minutes of the year-long Accumulation Project
(for some reason I view the official project dates from September
1 through the following September 1, rather than just until
August 31) an email with the heading, “Hi Jill-greetings
from a friend of your past” was sent to my address.
The sender, Suzette, was a college friend of Doppelganger
Jill’s who had apparently opened a shop of some sort
in Soho called Lemon Grass, where Doppelganger Jill made some
photographs of a display of candles. Suzette mentioned that
she had relocated her store and manufacturing to Florida,
and encouraged Jill to drop her a line sometime. I made my
usual response, explaining the mix-up and referring her to
the Accumulation Project website. The next day, she responded:
“Bizarre and interesting. Well you aren't the Jill that
i went to school with but i do have more soap slivers then
anyone you probably know as i am a soap and candle manufacturer.
There is a reason for everything. You may email me, as when
I saw the soap slivers it gripped me with so many emotions.
I think I’ll be emailing her again soon!
And the Beat Goes On and On and On…
Though the accumulation project is officially over, cosmic
forces with a damn fine sense of the uncanny have set this
crazy train in motion and it just keeps rollin’ on!
On September 25th I got an email from the widely acclaimed
artist Donald Lipski, who had seen, and for some reason saved
a listing I had posted in the Yahoo Public Arts Forum waaaaay
back in February. He merely asked: “are you the jill
greenberg who was sisters with gayle greenberg?”
Little did Donald Lipski know that this was not the first
time our paths had crossed in this life. Way back in the mid-nineties,
when I was a shooter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, I had
photographed him working on a project that involved rolling
fabric printed with the American flag into large, spheres
or balls. At the time, I didn’t know him from a hole
in the ground, but I found his work striking and elemental.
Today, he remains one of my favorite artists.
When I finally got around to grad school twelve years later,
I found myself discussing Lipski’s work with critic
in residence, John Yau, who years before had written the exhibition
catalog essay for Lipski’s flag balls.
After explaining this and more in a lengthy email responding
to Mr. Lipski, I proceeded to verbally morph into a full fledged
“Oh--did I mention, I'm the President and full membership
of the East Baltimore Chapter of the Donald Lipski Fan Club.
Should you feel inclined to become one of the many contributor/collaborators
to my accumulation project, I'd be overjoyed to receive a
Lipskian soap sliver. I have no idea whether you have looked
at my page on the Accumulation Project website, but your serendipitous
introduction to the story is yet a further addition to the
bizarre series of coincidences that this endeavor has manifested
since its inception a year ago. The inclusion of a famous
artist's soap sliver would grant it an undeniable cachet.
I hope you will consider participating...”
Mr. Lipski responded promptly a day later:
“Nice….I have full brand new bars of soap, both
at home and at the studio, but I'm confident that they will
become slivers in time…
…Nice to be in touch. How do you attach soap--wax?
All the best,
So Mr. Lipski I will patiently await your “celebrity
Joy Berenfield, Jan Evans, Cincinnati, OH; Arlington, MA;
Donna H, Philadelphia, PA; Sarah Rothman, Silver Spring, MD;
Cherie Nelson, Arlington, VA; Dave Bastian, Glendale, CA;
Galen Warden, Rockaway, NJ; Leena Kwon, Lathrop, CA; Joab
Jackson, Laurel, MD; Jim Burger, Baltimore, MD; Brad Stapleton,
Cincinnati, OH; David M Warren, Collingswood, NJ; Stephanie
Robbins, Martinsburg W. VA; LaShinda Clark, Trainor, PA; Nancy
Winchester, Rockville, MD; Jill Greenberg, Buffalo, NY; Suzette,
FL; Ellensue Spicer, Bala Cynwyd, PA; Donald Lipski (address
To contribute soap, you may mail it to:
1440 E. Baltimore St. Apt. 3A
Baltimore, MD 21231
Padding or a small box is suggested for thin or delicate slivers.
to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
if you wish to contribute soap slivers to the project or to
send a comment.
Washington Post article available here.
I will be accumulating remnants of used bars of soap by soliciting
contributions through networks of friends and acquaintances.
I am also looking into receiving donations through local hotels
and collection boxes set up in various locales.