Do you like your art calming and reflective, or maybe you enjoy the challenge of something complex and abstract? For thousands of years, artists have used their work to comment on the human condition, and to explore ideas of power, truth, and reality. Nevertheless, you might be thinking, “but what can art tell us about child to parent violence?”
What I like about any new way of looking at things is that the questions are slightly different, the insights often trip us up and change the direction of our thoughts, and we can be left with new questions that we hadn’t even thought of before! So I was excited to come across artist, Sophie Cero on twitter and to hear about her work exploring child and adolescent violence towards parents. Sophie kindly agreed to be interviewed for Holes in the Wall.
First, could you tell us a little about the background to your work?
My practice stems from the home. I am interested in how to articulate the intangible elements that coalesce to create a uniquely individual experience of living within a space. I commonly use untraditional art materials and objects such as discarded clothing and other domestic ephemera, the everyday trappings of home, to make my work. Within these I hope to capture evidence of presence within these things and to express things that are fundamentally inexpressible and mostly hidden from view.
This is a PhD you are undertaking. What does that mean in terms of the work you are doing?
The research I am undertaking examines the experience of child-to-parent violence from the subjectivity of the birth mother. The bond between a mother and child creates a specific and unique dynamic and it is my feeling that to experience violence from a child who has originated from within your own body, is especially traumatic. The particular intensity of this bond makes reporting of CPV all the more difficult. I am interested in how this issue could be addressed. My project is practice based and I am hoping to work with mothers who have experienced violence from their child as part of my research. According to my research so far, the subject of child-to-parent violence does not appear to figure in art apart from in a couple of tenuous forms and I am interested in why this subject still appears to be one of the last taboos in both art and life in general.
We often assume ‘painter’ when someone calls themselves an artist. You have already said that you like to use untraditional materials in your work. How do you choose what to use?
Although I occasionally use paint in my work, I tend to find that other materials are more appropriate when thinking about the nature and events of the home. Materials will often ‘self-assign’ themselves to a project and using anything else would not make sense. As my work is conceptually based, ideas will frequently stem from the materials themselves (see ‘The Smell of Home’). The overarching theme that characterises my work is a seemingly unavoidable tendency to highly laborious and repetitive activities (coincidentally a characteristic of both child birth and rearing) – everything I do seems to take a momentous amount of time to create. This may be a reflection of how mundane and recurring acts of hostility and frustration accrue over time to culminate in extreme events. My work seeks to make pictures of the enormity of these pivotal moments within the confined spaces of a home.
© Sophie Cero
This is quite an emotive subject. How do people respond when you talk about what you are doing?
When telling people about my project I have had many interesting reactions, ranging from disbelief that a child could be violent to their parent, to open-mouthed shock. With such an emotive subject it is not possible to give a concise explanation and it can be an inappropriate occasion for a detailed explanation and so I have had to develop a sliding scale of description to explain my project starting at ‘film and photography’, through ‘domestic dysfunction’ before finally getting to a more fulsome discussion of what CPV is. When I have had the chance to discuss my research fully I have been amazed at how many people have personal experiences of CPV in some form. I have also had a lot of support and encouragement from staff and other students at the art school where I am studying which has been really heartening and reinforces my conviction that it is important to be looking at this now.
Are there particular aspects that you want to explore in your work?
There are so many aspects to this subject that it is hard to know what should be prioritised. I am currently directing my main focus towards defining the most appropriate way to artistically articulate these complexities. I am particularly interested in how the fabric of the home itself often bears sole witness to the violent incidents playing out within it.
What can you teach us about the questions we should ask when we look at a picture, or a piece of artwork?
I often find it helpful to consider not what is being shown but what is not shown (literally what is ‘outside the box’) as every presented image is a subjective window. Violent events between child and parent tend to occur inside the home, out of sight. It is not that events are completely invisible, but the details, the nuances that define what is actually happening, take place in the periphery. Things that are actually in sight, or within earshot, can be prone to misinterpretation and misrepresentation. As the experience of CPV is outside general understanding it is easier to ignore or to jump to the wrong conclusions about what is happening inside the home. For a mother, it is increasingly dangerous and isolating to experience and keep the violence firmly located inside, out of sight.
Additionally, the tendency to assign members of a family to fixed positions as ‘victim’, ‘perpetrator’ or ‘offender’, does not necessarily help in understanding how and why violence occurs within a family or how it may be alleviated. Labeling in this way negates complexities and reduces experiences to a single voice that cannot possibly describe a holistic experience of long durational events that are accumulative and multifaceted.
Can you link that to how we could better understand or work with families experiencing violence from their children?
If experiences of CPV were more visible in everyday life, it would to be much less of a taboo for parents to reveal, which would help to address problematic issues at an earlier stage in childhood before escalation occurs. Sustained patterns of behaviour do not occur overnight, often having their origin in early years of a child’s life, accumulating over time and making it hard to pinpoint an isolated cause or reason. CPV is a learning and conditioning process for both parent and child which develops into an abusive relationship stuck in the domestic space.
When the parent and child have become so conditioned to each other in their existence within the confines of the home, it may be hard to evaluate from inside, what actually is abuse as everything has been normalized into the everyday, making it even harder to reveal outside of the ‘safe space’ of the home. The problem is more likely to be acknowledged when the behaviour of the child, now adolescent and taller than the parent, becomes literally ‘too big for the home’.
I hope that by using artistic practice as a methodology to look, I may be able to create a situation whereby it is possible to make it easier at least, to peak through the windows.
Is there somewhere people can go to see your work?
I’m on Instagram as sophie_cero
Thank you very much Sophie for sharing your insights and experience with us. I found your comments about the need to consider what is happening just out of sight particularly interesting and thought provoking; as well as your observation that the home itself may be the sole witness to what is happening. There is a message for all of us here, I suspect, in the way we make assumptions, and in the need to be more curious.
I welcome contributions from many people to this blog. If you think you have something interesting to contribute to the debate, and to our understanding of child to parent violence, please do get in touch.