Between the years 2000 and 2010 many children died in Ireland. Of them, 196 died while in the care of the HSE. This body of work is about acknowledgement, it is not about blame or even about pointing a finger. It is simply about acknowledging those who came into this world but due to their circumstances didn't have the same opportunities as you and I, and hence left this world prematurely.
Bernadette quotes, 'On a beautiful sunny afternoon I was driving home from Dublin and was listening to a news bulletin. It was confirming the statistics that 196 children had died from both natural and unnatural causes between 2000 and 2010. These children were in care.
I found this horrendous and I got to thinking, I put myself in their shoes as best I could. I tend to do this, the visualisation helps me understand or at least brings me to a place of understanding.
Firstly, I was a child once just like all the adults I pass every day. Secondly, I am a daughter and third, I am a parent. While I cannot speak for what it must be like for a child in care, I do know what it was like for me growing up within a family unit. Not all units are perfect and, to be honest, I don’t believe there is a ‘Perfect’ family unit. But I do know what it felt like to be loved, cared for, fed, protected, challenged, disciplined and yet encouraged.
This was my childhood and any 'blips' along the way have moulded me into the person I am today. Today, I am a parent and I am now responsible for my children. To encourage, protect, love, shepherd etc. After hearing the report and after many hours of contemplating what life would have been like for these unfortunate children, it made me reflect and be thankful for what I have. Not the material things, but the stuff you cannot buy.
I felt the need to do something about it but what could I do? I realised as an artist I bring awareness through my art. I got to thinking once more.
Spoons! Why spoons? Spoons represent nurture for me. We use them to feed ourselves. We feed our children as they are growing. We use them to administer medicine when our children are sick. Why do we do this when they are in need? Because we have unconditional love for them.
There is a saying, to be “born with a silver spoon in your mouth”. But what if you are not that lucky?
In my piece there are 196 spoons. Each to represent every child who died within this time period. Each spoon is unique and individual, just like every child born into this world. I feel we should all have the same opportunities available or at the very least we should have the best start to help us grow and allow us take our place in the world as adults.
The spoons are made with Porcelain and natural branches. I chose Porcelain as it is very fragile yet extremely strong. This highlights the vulnerability and strength of these children. The spoons are imprinted with words. These words are relevant to every human being coming into the world – a birthright. We are all the same starting out. I have chosen words like mother and father, through to grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends, carers, teachers and mentors - all the people who culminate to play an integral part in a young and precious life. I have also used descriptive words such as nurture, love, compassion, laughter, happiness, safety, support and so on.
The handle of the spoon is made of branches of trees. These are in their most natural state, showing the beauty and life of the tree. This also portrays how each one of us is individual and unique with all our lumps and bumps. Our perfect imperfections. The branches also show their vulnerabilities but also represent the potential to grow into strong specimens. The spoon head and handle are bound or connected by a fine red thread.
The reason for the red thread; the Chinese believe we are all connected by an invisible red thread. I like this significance because you just don’t know the significance of relationships or chance meetings. There are many times in my life where somebody significant will come into my life and when we trace back we might have been at the same party, worked in the same place or restaurant and yet never met each other at that particular time. Or is it that this later meeting is what was meant to be right here, right now? At some point our paths might cross. This red thread for me in this body of work is relevant to the community aspect. What if we were more connected, if communities were more involved, could these children have had a better start in life, a future even? The fine thread also being very fragile, yet when it is entwined in layers it can be an integral part in holding it all together. Just like the tapestry of family, friends and solid role models in our lives.
I need to stress however this body of work is absolutely not about blame. There is no finger pointing or blame game engaged here. The HSE for example, I’m sure do a wonderful job with the resources they have. Nor is there blame being attributed to the families or the circumstances that occurred, that led these children to need intervention. This work is about acknowledging each and every soul that came into this world but due to circumstances beyond any single individuals control, they never got to live past 18 years.
The reality is after the age of 18 they are no longer children. They are another statistic.