The Cold Truth
A chilling evocation of child sexual exploitation, The Cold Truth opened
at Radiant Gallery on 30 January, 2016.
It is a stunning installation of fifty pairs of worn children’s shoes cast in ice and glass
and individually mounted on a “war cemetery” of plinths which record lives tragically damaged, and “unknown” children who haven’t yet been reached for help.
Image credits: Lawrence Hyne
Designed and curated by five local young people who have experienced sexual exploitation by adults, it is their hope that the show will bring to the surface the hidden fact that 72% of children who are sexually exploited don’t believe there is anyone who can help them, or that they deserve to be helped.
The following is a conversation facilitated by Sally Bell with two of the five young curators, Sonny and Chloe, along with two of Effervescent’s curators, Eloïse Malone and Tim Mills, and Barnardo’s BASE (Barnardo’s Against Sexual Exploitation) workers, Carin and Kerry.
A chilling statistic about child sexual exploitation
Eloïse: Over the last seven months Effervescent has been working in partnership with Barnardo’s to curate a show that begins a conversation about sexual exploitation of children.
Sally: Child sexual exploitation – it’s very challenging subject matter. Chloe, at the very beginning, what did you think this project was going to be?
Chloe: When I first started, I thought it would be on a much smaller scale, just a little project. I didn’t realise we’d have something so amazing to show at the end. I was really nervous, it is a big deal.
Sally: We’re getting close to the launch of the show, how are you feeling now?
Chloe: I’m feeling really positive, it’s a really good thing to be a part of, I’m really excited and proud and I can’t wait to see the end result of all our ideas. I want people to go away thinking about the subject, and thinking about our art, and I want them to be positive about it so that they start discussions about it with other people.
Sally: Eloïse, what was the intention behind the project, what did you hope to achieve?
Eloïse: This project is part of a year-long research project at Effervescent, which explores how we design services with service users. Services that are kind and gentle and that help young people who are going through sexual exploitation. We know that only 29% of children who are sexually exploited get help; the other 71% don’t tell anybody because they don’t have anyone they can trust, or they don’t feel like anyone would believe them, or they don’t think that what’s happening to them is worthy of anyone’s attention. They feel maybe they agreed to the abuse or it’s just what they deserve. So our research looks at what would happen if young people with lived experience of child sexual exploitation were to design a service and ways to work with other young people who are in danger of being sexually exploited to make things better, or to try to change the patterns. At the beginning we were working with people who had lived experiences of child sexual exploitation to find out how it happens; how people have found themselves emotionally, physically and socially vulnerable to exploitation. And so The Cold Truth is the beginning of a wider conversation with the community, with MPs, with the police, with workers, and with parents and young people about how we might all begin to put kind, gentle ways of working in place, so that people don’t have to go through it.
An ice cast of a pair of girl’s shoes
Sally: There has been some incredible work done behind the scenes for the show and I’m interested to know more about the creative process that took place. How did you get to the point when you decided to use shoes to represent how you feel about child sexual exploitation?
Eloïse: We looked at a way to represent young people being personally eroded, and falling to pieces on their own, and we came up with the idea of the children’s shoes. Sonny had the idea of using water and trying to manipulate it to say what needed to be said.
Sally: So now what we’ve got is a number of children’s shoes of varying sizes from the very small to teenage size that have been cast in glass and ice by the artist technician, Amy Whittingham. Tim, you’re one of the lead curators, could you tell me more about what they represent?
Tim: It was about being in someone else’s shoes as a conceptual idea. The glass shoes evoke ideas of delicacy and fragility, and of glass slippers within popular culture. With the ice shoes, the melting process is symbolic of the person who is slowly disappearing or being damaged.
Eloïse: All humans are made of water, so there’s something of an everyman aspect to this; we are all made of water, but also the time element is key: the idea that if you act now, this won’t get any worse. That sense of damage being done over time was really important. In our research we looked at a Department of Health report that indicates that going through this as a teenager can trigger Post-Traumatic Stress. PTSD can create cognitive pathways that are hard-wired forever. And so there is a sense that once the shoe has melted, it’s not going to be able to just pull itself back together, there’s damage done. And so we wanted to be really clear and very hard-hitting about the urgency of this issue.
Sally: Sonny, you’ve had the opportunity to work with the technicians making the glass and ice shoes, how have you found that experience, what have you enjoyed?
Sonny: I’ve enjoyed it all because it’s a whole new thing I’ve never done before. I would never have thought I’d be able to do something like this, now I know the entire process and I can do it all by myself if I have the materials. The best part for me was looking at an everyday object like a shoe, and you watch it going from being just a shoe to a piece of art, that’s going to be used over and over and seen by hundreds of people, it just amazed me. I couldn’t have imagined something so simple could become so amazing.
Sally: We’re now not that far away from the launch of the installation, if people come down to the Gallery, what are they going to experience?
Eloïse: They’re going to experience more than just looking. We are working with Cornish composer Phil Innes on a soundtrack that is part of the installation, and Sonny and young curator Char have been doing a lot of work with him to really be very clear about what should go with the installation. In terms of the visual experience, it will be almost like walking into a war cemetery, there’s a sense of woundedness and poignancy and waste, a sense of completely wasted years. We’ll be using silent disco technology so that the audience will be given the sense of isolation and a moment to really consider what experience without any background noise. That feeling of isolation is very prevalent in our group of young people, but it doesn’t end when you do get help. It’s not a quick and easy recovery; it’s a massive fight back from that extraordinary loneliness.
Sally: Chloe, how do you think you’ll feel when you see it on the preview night?
Chloe: Proud, and overwhelmed. I have an idea in my head of what it will be, and I’ve been imagining it for so long, and it’s actually going to be real. And I can’t wait to see people’s reactions when they come into the room and hear them talking about it, and the buzz of the conversation that it will generate.
Sonny and technician Toni Fairhead create the moulds for the shoes
A pair of glass shoes
Sally: From Barnardo’s point of view, what do you want the legacy of this project to be?
Carin: It’s about raising awareness, child sexual exploitation has always been quite hidden and people think it happens in other areas but it doesn’t happen near them. We want to let people know it’s here, it’s happening and young people do need support. There is support available but everyone needs to be aware, everyone needs to be on board. Child sexual exploitation is genderless, it’s classless, it’s raceless, anyone can become vulnerable to child sexual exploitation and I think that’s the message that needs to be heard.
Sally: What kind of action would you like to see take place as a result of this project?
Carin: Our project works with people who are at extreme risk or already being exploited and it would be really good if there was somewhere people could go and get support at an earlier stage of child sexual exploitation.
Sally: So would you say child sexual exploitation is preventable?
Carin: It would be great to work towards that as a group of multi-agency professionals.
Eloïse: With the young curators, we are testing ways to protect young people from being vulnerable right now.
The Cold Truth is a partnership between Effervescent and Barnardo’s and is supported by Radiant Gallery, Children In Need, Plymouth University, Arts Council England, the Big Lottery Fund and Plymouth City Council.
Young curators: Char C, Shannon Price, Sonny B, Chlöe W and Romana.
The Cold Truth opens at Radiant Gallery, 12 Derry’s Cross, Plymouth on 30 January and runs until 29 April, 2016.