"I don't think most of us spend a whole heck of a lot of time thinking about sex work," says Jessica Hunter Larsen of Colorado College's I.D.E.A. Space. "It's not a profession we recognize, it's extremely unsafe, and it operates under the radar."
And yet, says Larsen, "The whole economics of it is controlled, usually by someone else."
The risks and the fallout of a globalizing economy are seldom put into human terms, but Exchange Economies, the latest exhibit to occupy the InterDisciplinary Experimental Arts (I.D.E.A.) Space at CC, aims to do just that. It includes artists' talks, film showings and more. But perhaps most striking is a set of "social sculptures" created by Norene Leddy, Andrew Milmoe, Ed Lepow and Melissa Gira Grant of the Aphrodite Project, a New York City-based group that combines art and technology for a practical purpose: among them, a pair of platform shoes equipped with an LED screen, an alarm button, 911-call capability and rhinestone buckles.
The shoes are inspired by sandals of the ancient world; in the ruins of ancient Pompeii, guides tell of the shoes worn by denizens of the lupanaria, which were carved so that they would stamp an invitation to "sequi me" into the mud with every step. But the platforms were created after extensive interviews with active members of the sex trade.
"The shoes are about harm reduction," says Leddy. She adds: "I think there's some really good questions about who gets technology and when. Who decides this stuff, and why are [sex workers'] lives so much less important than the lives of other people?"
The shoes are meant to provoke discussion of prostitution and its place in the global economy. And the exhibit is interactive, a boutique-like environment in which visitors will be able to handle the sculptures to "literally walk in the shoes of the women for whom they were designed," in Larsen's words.
"Their lives are what they are, and they're in very difficult positions," says Leddy. "If you have a kid and your choice is between giving blow jobs for a hundred dollars an hour or working at McDonald's for $8 an hour, if you decide to go with the blow jobs, who am I to tell you that's really the wrong decision?"