It is the 17th of December, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, I am on a tram on my way to a rally when I get a text that begins “Hi Jane sorry to bother you if you know this already and if you don’t warning that its about Cromwell…”
It contains a link to a site called ‘Slate’ and mentions interior photos of Cromwell.
But the short version is that a Victorian sex industry workplace was closed with workers records and belongings inside, re-opened as an art gallery (with records and belongings still there), and then the exhibition cancelled after workers protests. It’s been a highly traumatising process for the workers involved – compounded by persistent failures to communicate with workers, to treat their records/belongings or their work as anything other than some sort of sideshow.
This is probably why I react so strongly to the Slate article. It includes so much stigmatizing language I don’t know where to start. I am mystified that Christian Pearson (the photographer) is talking like this. Did StrEAT not contact this person and explain the situation after the exhibition closed?
Pearson begins the article by mentioning (& linking to) an Arts Hub interview suggesting that Cromwell was “abandoned”. Actually that’s a LIE, workers were locked out. But I guess that’s not as interesting as suggesting that Cromwell is the Marie Celeste of brothels? Also interesting is the fact that Arts Hub have removed my original comment on their article pointing to my Blog posts on the subject…
Pearson continues the Marie Celeste motif saying Cromwell is “frozen in time”. Talking about “cigarettes..left in ashtrays”, “sheets..dormant in dryers”. Holy cow! You can find both of those things in my house at the moment but it’s in no way “abandoned”.
There’s an extended bit about how freaked out Pearson is to be in alone in the building, that they “felt a sense of dislocation from my own reality”. Seriously? I’d get that checked out if I was you.
Apparently “the rooms were full of easy-to-make gratuitous images”. Is that a reference to the fact that sex used to happen there, for money? Subtle.
But I think my least favourite bit is Pearson stating “he was determined to photograph the brothel in a way that did not place any judgment on the space” – well you know what? That’s a FAIL.
Talking about my ex-workplace as some weird, scary fucked up place – divorced from the reality of what actually happened – which has now been brought to the attention of both StrEAT (the current lease holders) and RMIT (who were involved in the art exhibition) is actually extremely stigmatising.
I would seriously invite Christian Pearson to take the time to meet with some of the Cromwell workers and other Victorian sex workers who have been supporting us in dealing with this.
As usual I will report back to let you know whether I get taken up on this offer (& also on what StrEAT have to say about this…)
- Eerie Photos Inside an Abandoned Australian Brothel (slate.com)
- Photos of an Abandoned Aussie Brothel (lost at e minor)
- Ex-brothel turns temporary gallery (artshub.com.au)