Journey: day four

The rain has stopped. Straggles of sunshine dazzle the autumn leaves. Today we are to be graced by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Everyone scrubs nicely but those of us who went clubbing in Amsterdam last night crawl into work a lighter shade of pale. Various royal flunkies have pre-visited JOURNEY to ensure its suitability. They don’t mind the electronically self-fucking bed, neither do they mind the condom curtain, they don’t even mind the explicit auto-porno-pose-brothel-Polaroids, but they are having a problem with the smell in THE BEDROOM; a container that conjures up the sleazy bedsits where trafficked woman are forced to fuck their customers. The odour is a congealing cocktail of nasty perfume, intimate lubricants, rotting mattresses, filthy bedsheets, decaying sling-backs and festering knickers. An emergency meeting is convened to discuss smell reduction tactics but our stink consultants from Quiet Storm say you can’t just un-smell a smell and we have been ramping up the volume for days. Our lack of action incurs the wrath of the gods and one hour before Her Majesty’s arrival, the generator that powers all the lights, sound, vision – and the bonking bed – breaks down. The crew does everything humanly possible to restore the juice but the generator hire company craps out and fails to deliver an emergency replacement. So Helen, Michael and Emma guide Queen Beatrice through by flashlight and explain the thinking behind each interior. She is moved to tears. JOURNEY proves itself to be even more powerful with no power.

This Den Haag JOURNEY is so extra special because of the team who is making it happen. I ask some of the unsung heroes what being here means to them.

It’s good to be part of the Helen Bamber Foundation because we can change things for the better. Although I had worked with trafficked women for years, the mirrored corridor and the prostitutes’ costumes was the bit that really got to me. We had a visit from a schoolteacher who found out about JOURNEY on the internet and invited his pupils to make something related. One made a video game, others made coins. He was so proud of them. This is the best kind of teaching; giving kids opportunities to explore themselves. The legal language around trafficking has become so meaningless. JOURNEY makes you feel it.

Under-age trafficking in London is a huge problem and JOURNEY is all about the realities. The most moving memorable experience is watching the school kids coming through. At first they are giggling with giddiness around sexuality and prostitution, but they come out of the show, ashen, sobered and informed.

It’s the closest thing a regular person will have to the experience of being sex trafficked. You get a visceral sensation, the filth of The Bedroom, the abuse, the horror of a broken system I was invisible to. The last container about the way Elena was treated by the authorities left me with a feeling of outrage.

It’s really nice to be doing something meaningful. The advertising we normally do is fun, but not making the world a better place. It’s been really interesting seeing the containers right from the beginning. I had an idea what it would look like, but it was so much more moving when I walked through for the first time. In the final container – Resurrection – hearing Elena’s voice and then reading the words was a final blow on top of everything she has gone through.

JOURNEY is important because it is an art installation. People’s response not only comes from the subject but from the way it is portrayed. The first time I saw it I felt a massive mixed emotion, revolted and upset but impressed how cleverly JOURNEY communicated it. Two elderly ladies were thinking of coming in and I warned them about its frankness; the stinking bed, the brutality of trafficking. They decided that they did not want to see and left. But they obviously thought about it, reconsidered, came back and went through.

It’s so interesting to be part of JOURNEY, deal with the practical challenges, and meet people on the way. Like opening a big Christmas present. I have a little boy and seeing the school kids on a jolly become much more focused was amazing. It really steadied them. Every container in JOURNEY is an onslaught on the senses and that’s worth more than a 1000 words in a leaflet.

JOURNEY makes me realise how limited choices are for some people, and how plentiful for others. I am so lucky. Anything is possible – travel, meeting people, when I sleep, whom I chose to work with, and when I see my loved ones. Some children become wage earners at such tender ages, and when they are offered a new life they leap at the chance to send money home to family. Going abroad for us is a luxurious experience. For so many others it is a necessity. They are driven to provide, which is so hard-wired into them it makes them easy to exploit. The containers force me to engage with confinement, the narrow options and dimmed horizons that I don’t have to experience.

JOURNEY is like a great film you can watch again and again but experience something different every time. I feel a real sense of achievement seeing her in The Hague, in pride of place on the Plein, at the centre of business and human rights legislation. She gives people a tiny window into what these poor women go through and how it makes them feel. If this project saves just one more person from this evil trade then we have done our jobs. I feel so lucky to be part of this amazing installation and to put my weird fascination with smells to good use. As time goes by she looks better with age and I hope she will travel with Elena’s story to many more cities. If only I knew her secret I could bottle it!

JOURNEY has allowed me to use my design skills to give voice to this inhuman form of slavery. I feel ashamed of being a man. It’s such a male driven industry. You don’t really want to know about it, but feel a morbid fascination. JOURNEY triggers a wide range of emotions that have the accumulative effect of making you think much harder about life.

I do policy and advocacy work in the UK and sit in meetings talking about trafficking. Most of the time it’s difficult to get through to people or make things actually happen, but the Helen Bamber Foundation is so unique in treating victims. A flurry of organisations do a lot of talking about trafficking but JOURNEY makes it really real. It inspires people to do something about it. I get 17-year olds coming up with incredibly mature insights that I don’t really get in meetings with NGOs and agencies in UK.

JOURNEY means family, and the Helen Bamber Foundation, and coming together, and meeting people united by passion and love and belief. We stand in freezing tents and talk to thousand of visitors. We don’t get much sleep and it’s very demanding. Every time I walk through JOURNEY I have a different experience. It makes me feel so proud to be involved. The Stigma container by Anish Kapoor gets me every time. Approaching that space, standing in front of the void, I block everything out and all I can see is black. My chest tightens and I feel alone, sad and desperate.


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