National Trust Croome, Worcestershire
Soul to Sole was a residency and commission that invited artists to draw on archive material to tell stories of loss and survival of the property’s past through a pair of shoes. The resulting new artworks are featured in a permanent display in the basement.
From 1949 to 1979 Croome was owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham and operated as St Joseph’s School, a boarding school for disadvantaged boys. The shoe racks in the basement where the Soul to Sole works are now installed was originally made to store the boys shoes whilst they washed in the adjacent room.
For the installation, I created a multi-sensory, ephemeral sculpture that reflected on the themes of presence and absence within the history of Croome through the imprint of a pair of children’s shoes cast within a block of clear, scented soap. The absent void viewed within the centre of the piece draws attention to the often ‘invisible’ status of children in the care system and the traces of the boy’s lives that are still present in the building. The use of soap as a sculptural material references the domestic chores the boys undertook as well as the huge task of keeping a building like Croome clean. Our sense of smell has strong associations with memory so this soap sculpture has been fragranced with beeswax, linseed oil and pine oil in reference to the traditional floor polishes of the past used by the boys in their cleaning duties. As both the scent and soap are finite, over time they may deteriorate; yet this temporality serves to reflect the fleeting nature of Croome’s different identities over the years.