I have chronic pain, I need to lie down: Private Acts in Public Spaces

A woman lies on a mattress with red patterned bed sheet. Next to her, a microphone.
BOV Ferment July 2017 - Someone Should Start Laughing by Unchartered Collective - Photographer Jack Offord

How do you rest? Unlimited-awarded artist Raquel Meseguer asks the public to help inform her audio visual installation A Crash Course in Cloudspotting (the subversive act of horizontality).

After a decade of living with chronic pain, I have become bolder about lying down when I need to: on trains, in galleries, on benches… Sometimes I get kick back, and sometimes I get moved on.

Only last week I was at a theatre who is supporting my Unlimited commission. In the past, they have invited me to lie on the sofas and use their theatre bar as ‘office space’, so I took up the offer and lay down between meetings. This was the first time I have laid down at this venue, and with comedic timing: it also happened to be a posh funders’ event I was not aware of. I did notice the staff were wearing particularly nice dresses and heels. I did notice most people arriving at the theatre bar were given a big glass of wine. I did have a sense that something was up, so I checked in with the bar staff who said it was a private function.

I left the theatre bar, and thought I’d continue working on a sofa outside the studio space. Picture this: I had made myself comfortable, laid down with my shoes off, legs up and crossed, wearing particularly bright striped socks, on the phone to my designer, when a large group came round the corner (with their big glasses of wine)!

I’d like to freeze frame this moment, because although comedic, I was shame-ridden:

  • I knew I looked like I was taking the piss
  • I knew I looked like a loafer
  • I knew there was no way in that moment to explain myself with any dignity (interrupting the proceedings felt like digging a deeper hole), and because my impairment is invisible, there was no context for my actions.
  • But I also knew I didn’t want to pretend. When a second tour group came round the corner, and I finally cottoned on, I felt a little defiant about not wanting to act differently and hide my needs from the funders: as an artist in residence, in a public building, am I welcome or not?

 

I know people with physical challenges who don’t identity as disabled, but I felt hugely empowered when I learned about the Social Model of Disability: I was relieved to realise I myself am able, but I am also disabled by a society, built environment and vertical culture simply not designed for me (this is why I identify as a Cloudspotter, my euphemism for the fatigue and horizontal needs of someone with chronic pain). A fellow Coudspotter recently told me “there is literally nowhere I can go to socialise when I am in a flare-up: all social activities involve sitting down, and it is just too painful. So I am confined to lying down at home or in other people’s homes”.

Wouldn’t it be neat if there were resting spaces around the city, we could use as pit stops or places to socialise? A network of public spaces that welcome horizontality, I could map my city and my days by? This is what my Unlimited commission calls for. If this is something you would welcome, please fill out our survey here.

Watching children in venues, or performance at festivals, I am struck by the different rules for different groups and different contexts. It reminds me that they are made up, fluid and changeable. Theatres are spaces busy at night, but often virtually empty for much of the day. Could these be the perfect spaces to co-opt for a public resting network? So far, we have a great group of theatres signed up for a conversation – National Theatre, Ovalhouse, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Trinity Centre – we need to know what to ask for so please do fill in the survey!

A Crash Course in Cloudspotting is an Unlimited commission. The audio visual installation will run at Ovalhouse, London from 29 January to 9 February 2018, more information available here. To share any thoughts with Raquel on this article, email uncharteredcollective@gmail.com.

 If you would like to help Raquel find survey participants, you can also tweet:

“Do you have #chronicpain? Take part in @unchartereduk’s survey to inform their new access-led @weareunltd artwork! > uncharteredcollective.com”

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