Resting Spaces

28 Oct 2022

You may have noticed there is now a Resting Space located on The Balcony in our Foyer.

It’s open to all and was created with disabled artist Raquel Meseguer Zafe.

We asked her more about this project...

What is a resting space?

A resting space is pretty much what it says on the tin: it’s a space where people are genuinely welcome to rest and to lie down; a space where you’re invited to drop public etiquette and do what you need to do to be well and comfortable. I am interested in how we use public space differently, to afford belonging to as many people as possible.

Why do you think these are so important? What are the benefits?

I’ve lived with chronic pain for over 15 years, and for a while my world got very very small. I only managed to have art and theatre in my life again when I started to lie down and rest in public. By resting after (or during) an exhibit or show, I was able to engage with art again without triggering major flare-ups. It was a game changer for me.

In 2017, I started to collect other disabled people’s stories and found that many people need to rest in public if they’re to be part of their community. I’m interested in creating a network of resting spaces that begins to shift the culture to be more welcoming of rest and of non-normative behaviour at our theatres and galleries. This will make the disabled and chronically ill communities I’m part of feel much more welcome and like we belong.

How did you first get involved with Bristol Old Vic?

My installation and performance piece, A Crash Course in Cloudspotting, was in The Weston Studio as part of Mayfest 2022. It told some of the stories about rest that I’ve been gathering, and resting spaces were set up in the foyer as part of the project. The spaces were so well used that Bristol Old Vic decided to make them permanent. I’m thrilled! It makes Bristol Old Vic only the second theatre in the UK to install permanent resting spaces.

Youve described lying down as a subversive act – can you explain that a bit more?

To lie down in public is to disrupt the unspoken rules of a space, which in our culture are that we stand or sit in public spaces. The difference between sitting and lying down is a mere 90-degree angle, but in signalling a different way of behaving in public, and different needs, it seems to unsettle people. I think we get squeamish about an individual’s needs showing up in public spaces. It’s an aversion in our culture, probably linked to how we think about and treat people who are homeless.

I was invited to give a talk about resting spaces in Brussels at a conference called Communicating the Museum a few years ago. The director of the European House of History told me they had an exhibit which included a bed, and that a homeless man had started coming to the Museum every day to sleep on the bed. The staff asked what they should do about it and the director said, “the only humane thing we can do – let the man sleep”.

What more do you think public spaces need to do to be more welcoming?

There are lots of small things (and big things) that signal care and belonging to the disabled community: from straws behind the bar to step-free access, from relaxed performances, BSL and audio description to trigger warnings for shows, from companion tickets to resting spaces, from being on stage as well as in the audience.

But even if all those things are in place, the culture of an organisation may not be welcoming. They may have the most forward-thinking access policies, but they don’t necessarily trickle down to every level – it’s often the least well-paid (and hence the least invested) people working at an organisation that move me on. To be truly welcoming takes time, commitment and training.

Lets give a shout out to those places getting it right – where have you been where youve felt truly looked after?

Arnolfini have really embraced rest as a mode of engaging with art and have put lots of great things in place: they created a resting space as part of their last exhibition with super comfy big bean bags, they have yoga mats you can unfurl in the gallery spaces and use to rest and linger with the art, you can request a bean bag to watch their performance programme and they have run horizontal events for the chronically ill community as part of my project Towards a Restful City. I think it works there, because they have invested in training their visitor services team, so everyone knows why they’re encouraging rest in the gallery spaces and how to answer questions from visitors this is new to.

I’ve also worked with Watershed to create Horizontal Cinema, which means you can ask for a bean bag or a yoga mat & pillow for any screening of any film. The staff at Watershed are amazing – they set it all up for you with such care that you feel like a VIP! Again, they’ve invested in their team which means everyone understands why they’re offering it.

Can you tell us a bit about A Crash Course in Cloudspotting?

A Crash Course in Cloudspotting is an installation and performance piece, which invites an audience of 10 to lie down together in public to listen to people’s stories about rest and navigating the world in a body that is hurt or fatigued. The piece also links a group of chronically ill people to the installation via an app, so that when they rest, they trigger lights and sound loops in the installation space. It’s an experiment in how to connect across distance and difference, and in the potential of collective acts of rest.

Anything else youd like to talk about?

Towards a Restful City is a project I’m running again which seeks to shift the culture of the city. We’ll be doing Horizontal Events and mapping Bristol for rest-friendly spaces. Our collective knowledge of the city is really precious, and I would love to know more about people’s favourite places to rest – a bench, a church pew, a corner of a bookshop or library, anywhere really! If you’d like to experience a Horizontal Event or share a favourite resting spot in Bristol, please visit my website or get in touch.