If you read my last blog “Dreams of Resting Spaces and a Resting Network”, you’ll know I have an invisible impairment (chronic pain) and that I need to lie down (a lot).
I spent 8 years trying to cure myself, lost in a terrain I didn’t know how to navigate. When it slowly dawned on me things weren’t about to change, I would lie in bed, inspired by the writings of Audrey Lourde & Johanna Hedva, thinking:
I want to light a beacon for every person, who like me is resting & isolated.
I want the world to see us: we exist in counterpoint to the rushing and doing and living of the world.
I want my life to have meaning and dignity, even in illness.
It’s been a 3 year journey from those first scribbled post it notes on the wall by my bed, with many conversations about shame and what stops us from resting and in particular lying down in public. To now be on the threshold of sharing our R&D A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality) @ Ovalhouse from 29th Jan.
This installation is a resting space, within a larger public space, and aims to challenge the etiquette of shared spaces: most of the time it isn’t the hardware that lets me down (I can normally find somewhere suitable to be horizontal), it’s the reactions of other people using (and sometimes policing) public space.
True to those first scribbled musings, the installation could be described as:
Counterpoint (to ‘normative’ behaviour & spaces)
Suspension (of norms)
Becoming (moving towards difference)
Agency (in illness)
Unifying (through a permission field)
At the centre of the installation is a light choir: a choir of people across the UK, who each control a lamp in the installation, and who turn their lamp on when they rest. Each member of the choir has a long term health condition which requires periods of rest / recharge / reset throughout the day. Some days more, some days less.
By linking these individuals remotely to a lamp in the installation, their personal act of rest contributes directly to a public piece of art many miles away; the choir have agency and influence beyond their immediate space; and those of us at Ovalhouse can partake in the subversive act of horizontality, among resting friends. In this way we play with ‘distant performance’ & ‘absent presence’, and the same act that makes us invisible, makes us visible in this space.
Since this idea emerged in December, my light has been in our designer’s studio, next to a sign that reads “Raquel is resting”. I control the lamp via an app on my phone, and turn it on whenever and wherever I rest.
Everyone in her workshop knows this is my lamp and what is means when it’s on, which has led to some beautiful connections: people have popped their head into her studio on days when I’ve rested a lot, just to acknowledge it; and our designer, also a dear friend of mine, now has a very tangible sense of how I navigate my days. As someone who’s spent years stumbling over ways to explain what it’s like, and to connect with others when the pain is so bad that it naturally isolates, this is nothing short of a small miracle.
After spending time with the 100+ stories and anecdotes people sent in response to our survey, it’s clear rest is a difficult and vulnerable thing to enact in public, especially if you have a hidden condition that gives people no hint as to the context of your actions. And the grimm truth is if we don’t provide resting spaces, many people will continue to feel unsafe about resting in public; use public toilets or stay at home. We retell some of these stories in the installation, verbatim, so people can hear the stories firsthand.
This project has totally shifted the way I think about rest. I now understand it to be many things: for many of us it is a necessary act; it is also a political act (when I rest I resist capitalist structures and working modes, and I insist upon a different context); a creative act (conducive to reflection and creative thinking), and above all a very brave act (especially carving out public resting spaces as so many of us do).
If revalidation begins with language, symbols and stories, we hope the light choir can be such a symbol and story. And we hope the piece inspires a re-imagining of public spaces: offering resting spaces would signify to a whole score of people, not only are you welcome, but you belong here, in the public realm.
For info on how to reach the installation and on how we can support your access needs visit The Ovalhouse website
For info on the project visit Unchartered Collective.com
Tune into Radio 4 Four Thought on Wed 31st Jan
We thank Tobacco Factory Theatre, the team at Minirig, Ovahouse & Shape for their support.