Dreams of Resting Spaces: how one artist is changing the rules of public spaces and inviting cultural institutions to consider making their venues more accessible for people who need to lie down. Trish Wheatley speaks to UK artist, Raquel Meseguer.
Raquel Meseguer is a theatre maker, natural story teller and fast becoming an influential change maker, in part because she is also a Cloudspotter. This is a ‘shorthand term for the fatigue and horizontal needs that accompany chronic pain’, which basically means that she needs to lie down a lot. Through her creative work, A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality) she has amassed a collection of people’s ‘resting stories’. One such story talks of an individual trying to maintain an illusion of ‘normal’ by lying on toilet floors to both live through, and hide, pain: ‘Many times a day I would embrace the cool tiles, my body pressed against torn scraps of toilet paper, my head next to ambiguous pools of water. I clung to the foulness, because it was still the better option than finding myself horizontal in front of others. I lay there, and for a small precious moment, I was permitted to inhabit my reality.’
Raquel tells her own resting story of visiting a major London cultural venue:
“I’ve found a quiet spot up on the 6th floor, and I am lying down on my matt, with my headphones in, trying to reset my pain levels when a security guard taps me on the shoulder and tells me I can’t lie down. He tells me I’ve triggered a security alert and that I have to sit up. He can’t say why it’s ok to sit but not lie down – all he can say is that he’d been ‘alerted’. Now I can’t imagine how that alert was worded, maybe it said ‘danger – prone female on the 6th floor’. When I tell him I have a condition, he consults with the security team on the radio, and they make the first aid couch in the medical room available to me for 40 minutes. It is a solution of sorts, but I’d gone to an arts venue, and I didn’t want to be isolated in a room with no windows that smelt of antiseptic.”
A Crash Course in Cloudspotting gives Raquel the chance to ‘re-frame rest as a creative act’, it’s quietly subversive and quite compelling, with an installation in which people are invited to actively take a resting position to experience it.
“The power of the artwork is that it opens a dialogue which leads to change: When a venue has programmed the R&D installation, we’ve seen organisational buy-in and change made quickly, like the Watershed in Bristol making it possible to lie down at any film screening within a month of hosting the installation. Which shows how quick change can be.”
“The next stage of the installation will see 100+ remote participants perform in the installation using light as a medium for presence. And at this stage part of the arrangement is that venues will find 50 local participants with conditions that require them to rest to be part of the project. And that excited me, because it is the start of a relationship with a new and underserved audience who can, and will, become repeat visitors if resting spaces are made available permanently. It’s a great example of art and participation and widening access really working side-by-side.”
Organisations currently leading this work with Raquel include Attenborough Arts Centre, Watershed, Trinity Centre Bristol, South East Dance, The Depot Lewes and Ovalhouse, representing a broad mix of arts venues from cinemas to dance companies, visual art galleries and cross-arts spaces. The National Theatre, Tate, Southbank Centre and Brighton Dome are also in conversation with Raquel and the Resting Spaces Network.
Recently, Raquel took the idea internationally, presenting to a delegation of museum professionals from across the globe at the Communicating the Museum conference in Brussels. There, Raquel invited them to sign up to the Resting Spaces Network, a mapping project to identify resting spaces that will be navigated via a map and mobile phone app. The idea initially started with theatres in mind, but there is huge potential in extending this network to galleries, museums, and all cultural institutions. The hope is that Raquel’s vision of always being within twenty minutes of a resting space in cities becomes a reality for her, and the many other people for whom rest is an essential component of everyday life.
The idea of a Resting Spaces Network is backed up by evidence collected from experiences and ideas shared by people living with invisible impairments. From these stories a set of low-tech solutions have been developed which Raquel presented to the conference:
“Make some dream time to re-imagine how people use your buildings and move through your exhibits and programmes with places to rest along the way. I would argue that all art would benefit from the means to linger. I know I have a very different relationship to the pieces I have rested with, they are imprinted in me in a different way. And to use statistics as leverage, this will seriously improve your dwell time!”
“What people wanted more than anything is a clear invitation to lie down. Extend an invitation to rest or re-charge to your audience. Designate a quiet space in your building. These quiet spaces can still be artistic spaces. We can invite artists in to create rich atmospheres with a different tempo and felt sense. Extend of the idea of ‘relaxed performance’ where ideally, your audience are welcome to lie down as well as stand up / stretch / move around during the show. It’s great to announce the relaxation of etiquette to your entire audience pre-show, so everyone knows the new rules.”
“Someone wrote to us with the lovely idea of ‘back row rules’. I think this translates to most cultures, the idea that on the back row of a classroom, or bus or cinema, you can expect a little more ‘naughtiness’. So, the idea is more fluid behaviour on the back row, and I really like this sense of playfulness, that it brings to non-normative behaviour. Use appropriate communication channels and have patience. I think this benefits all audiences. But for disabled audiences, it will take time for them to find out about your offer, and then be able to take up the offer.”
Is the fact that this is growing out of an artistic practice important to the way it’s being picked up by cultural institutions? Raquel thinks so:
“Me being an artist has a novelty value and I think that’s why the BBC picked up the story and it’s why 18 venues came to the initial conversation about the Resting Network. The difficulty is getting long-term organisational commitment to acting on this idea. It’s not just about turning up for the conversation once a year. Once the work has been done to get the network in place this is a community of people who need to learn there are those resting spaces available. It’s about developing trust with venues. It’s definitely a long-term project.”
In a way, once the solutions are presented they seem so obvious it’s a wonder why resting spaces are not already common place in all public buildings. The fact is though, this network does not yet exist, but it will. Raquel ended with a quote by artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser that was displayed in the exhibition at MIMA, one of the venues visited by the conference delegation. Given Hundertwasser’s interests he may well have been a strong advocate for the Resting Spaces Network and the quote certainly resonated with Raquel: “When we dream alone it is only a dream. But when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.”