Ben Gritt - Child's Sneaker

Arts Access Victoria presents The Museum of Us

When schools became empty voids rather than places of inspiration and potential during lockdown, Ben Gritt experienced a true sense of loss and deep sadness.

Photograph of a ceramic sculpture of a child’s hiking boot, shown from the front. It is entirely matte grey, aside from small the laces and a few embellishments, which are shiny and yellow-green. It sits on a slightly mottled white floor

About the work

When posed the questions ‘What could an accessible future be for Victoria?’ and ‘What sort of future do you want to emerge?’, my mind went in a million different directions, as I imagine was common amongst everyone approached to participate within this amazing platform.

However, due to time restrictions I found myself drawing inspiration from the life-changing events we’ve all experienced during 2020, namely the recognition of the fragility of the considered norm, whilst ensuring our collective experiences and reflections resonate for the betterment of all; progression is key to recovery.

Due to my vision, or rather the lack there of, I use a guide dog for safe mobility.

As a part of ongoing training/fitness requirements, I walk every day, and during these excursions I pass a couple of schools.

Normally, these are simply background acknowledgments without any real significance during my outing. During lockdown, however – when schools became empty voids rather than places of inspiration and potential – I experienced a true sense of loss and deep sadness.

Upon considering this profound reaction, during a time when so many tragedies were occurring worldwide, I realised the absence of something as simple as the sound of children laughing whilst at play was a chilling symbol of existence during this time.

A true sense of separation and or detachment from the norm; as though existence itself were holding its breath...However, as we all know, after a fire there is always regrowth, life continues and the future remains full of potential.

It is this notion of hope and perseverance I wish to portray in my piece.

I have deliberately chosen to produce a single sneaker, as opposed to a pair, because I felt it to be a more symbolic representation of the individual while remaining an item commonly found in everyday life. That is – a unique individual, at once separate and yet a significant factor within a collective society.

I also wished to capture the essence of youth within the piece, as I feel it’s important to consider our own adolescence and what has influenced the person we have grown to be.

The grey tone of the background in this piece represents the loss and despair we’ve all experienced during 2020.

However, there is also an element of negativity which preceded this time: I allude to stigma and bias.

In a world where unfounded prejudice and criticism remains prevalent, it is my hope that individuals will consider their own values and reflect upon those instilled within each of us by influences such as media perspective, peer contemplation and generationally-influenced teachings by kin.

The pandemic has offered a unique opportunity in which individuals can glimpse how it can feel, comparatively, to live within society yet remain separate, seeing the world whilst not being able to participate, through no choice of your own.

Whilst this period of isolation will be short-lived for most, it is important to note that this state of existence is, to varying degrees, commonplace for many living with a disability or disorder.

For these individuals, returning to a non-Covid-19 world will not affect their day to day life – that is unless societal preconceptions and widespread stigmas change, and allow for greater understanding, acceptance and inclusion.

To illustrate my hope of a more accepting future, I have highlighted this piece with green to signify growth – a hope that this generation and generations to come will learn from the experiences obtained during 2020.

To recognise just how valuable every single individual life truly is; acknowledge the strengths of others; to be forthcoming when another is in need of aid; and to accept that while we all have unique assets, we all also possess flaws.

It is when we strive united towards a holistic outcome that humanity truly shines.

My hope for Victoria...?

To become a state in which differences are seen to be assets, and where the individual is accepted before all else.

Process and technique

Working within a fairly tight timeframe to have a piece completed, I opted to use a reliable clay body to create this work (LGH, for those with some knowledge of ceramics).

I created the form using a combination of slab building, coil building, and pinch potting techniques. The laces are formed from a single thin coil which I did indeed lace through the sneaker, by far the most painstaking and difficult element of the build: imagine lacing your shoes with bread dough, and you’ll gain a glimpse into the challenge this posed.

I am happy with the finished result, however, because it’s genuine rather than sculpted.

I wanted to add some colour to the work, as it’s supposed to represent a child’s sneaker and I wanted to imbue the piece with a sense of youth and hope, but I also wished to use natural finishing techniques.

To achieve this, the piece was lightly burnished where I wanted the form to take on a slight lustre, and left raw where I wanted a matte finish.

The green glaze is an earthenware glaze, a low temperature glaze, which was fired within a black firing – a low temperature method of firing in which carbon from burnt materials surrounding the piece creates a natural finish.

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