Tuesday, 28 April 2020

'Street Exit,' 2019, A Pot from And The Door Opened

'Street Exit,' 2019, 60 h x 28 w cm 

Hand built earthenware pot, slip-painted inside and out with sgraffito drawing through the slip. The bisque fired pot was then smashed with a hammer - an uncomfortable process - avoiding hitting any of the women, just going for the bits in between. Shards collected up and glazed, then fired, and the pieces reassembled with some left out so the viewer can glimpse the images inside. Broken edges gilded in gold leaf.

About the pot
'Street Exit,' is based on an account given to me by Women @the Well. The images inside the pot show the living places of a homeless woman who met W@W outreach workers in Hackney. She describes 'sofa surfing' with friends who were 'heavy substance users.' She wanted to get away from them so she moved to a tent in a 'green area in Hackney.' She was being exploited in prostitution in both these situations.W@W helped find a place in a hostel and set in motion a support system to help her to reduce and eventually cease her substance use and also to find a way to exit prostitution with the ultimate aim of finding safe, permanent accommodation. The latter is a longer term and probably more difficult goal to achieve given the extreme shortage of safe housing for women in London - particularly those with such complex range of vulnerabilities.

The outside of the pot shows the progress of a woman from street to hostel based on details from the above account and some others along with my own encounters with street homeless women on public transport. Homeless women often avoid hostels because they are heavily male dominated and pose a real threat of sexual violence from the men there. They also avoid the street, if they can, for the same reasons - and also because of the cold, the wet and the sheer exhaustion of never really sleeping -  so public transport, being both public, rather than hidden, and a bit warmer and dryer is potentially a better option. The images above show a woman begging in the underground both at the station and on a train, sleeping - or trying to - in the station and on a bus and, finally, in a hostel sitting at table with a cup of tea contemplating the long and difficult process ahead. Like many of the accounts W@W have asked me to work with, this woman's life is very 'in process.' She has not yet reached a safe conclusion.

'Street Exit,' like 'Women @the Well,' the pot posted earlier, is a broken and mended pot. The images inside are visible through the gaps but only just. You do need to see the pot, 'in person,' to be able to see them. The shattering of the pot is a metaphor the broken feelings the woman expresses and her process of slowly piecing her life back together. It is an imperfect process. She is unlikely to reach a state of complete 'restoration,' but she can continue to live and may be able to thrive, in time. Memories and images of her past will impinge on her present from time to time, however. She may well not live in the past but the past, to some extent, will probably live in her, in her 'emotional muscle memory,' if I may put it that way, and it may be expressed through her emotional responses to things and to situations. I frame the fissures and and gaps in gold leaf to honour her survival and her struggle to proceed through life.

Photo credit: Sylvain Deleu.

Women @the Well, (W@W,) is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected, or at risk of being affected, by prostitution. It also provides support to exit prostitution. 

‘And The Door Opened, is a series of events with displays of Claudia’s pots, with talks and demonstrations that illustrate the lives of the women supported by W@W.

The aim is to enhance the public’s understanding of what prostitution is, to name the abuse and exploitation, and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.