When Antonia and I first decided to apply for the commission we realised that we wanted to avoid political interpretations of the theme habitat. So much of both of our works is about emotional experiences in relation to well-being. The concept of safe spaces is so important in retaining control in a world that is becoming increasingly demanding. We wanted to think about what safe space means today in our fast paced society, not just for people with mental health difficulties, but for all of us. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs security is cited as one of the fundamental human needs, required before humans can move on to secondary or higher level needs.
As someone that has been living with mental health difficulties, a safe space has been crucial not just in times of crises but in day to day life. During my first hospitalisation in 2004 I took refuge in sleeping in the bathroom under the sink. As a child contained spaces have always felt safe to me and I would find myself hiding in wardrobes and cupboards to self-soothe. Water has also played a huge impact on safety and security for me. Whether being by the sea or listening to the sound of the shower running, water has a transformative and soothing effect on my psyche. It is as much about my relationship to the physicality of water (ironically I am scared of being in water) as it is about the sound that water creates. With running water it is something about the continuity of the sound that is repetitive and becomes meditative, and in return soothing for me.
I tend to think that as I get older I am more in touch with what is a safe space for me. I no longer rely on my instincts to find safety (back to those cupboards etc), but to carve how what is safe for me and go to safety. The more I become in touch with how I feel, what is helpful for me and what is not, the more I feel I am able to provide safety and security to myself in those times of need. As someone that grew up with a lack of effective self-soothing techniques I am often left wondering what other people do to self-soothe, at all ages. How do children learn where to go for security and how to cope with difficult emotions? How do adults continue to carve out their safe spaces in the world?
The first part of our research for the residency was to enquire about what safe spaces meant to other people. We created an online form for anyone to fill out, anonymously, asking about the following in relation to safe spaces:
- What are the first words that come to mind when you think of ‘safe space’?
- What sounds do you find soothing?
- What sounds do you find jarring?
- Do you have a specific place you like to go to feel safe?
- How does light impact your well-being? Do you feel safer in bright or darker spaces?
- Are there any specific objects you associate with comfort?
We had an excellent response that gave us a diverse range of information to work with. In the studio we started to collate that information and think about not just our own relationship to safe spaces, but what others do and where they go to feel safe.
I was surprised at the responses that we got. Not only did people connect safe spaces to place: in nature, at home etc. But they also connected it to people: with a partner, children etc. There was a huge range in the amount of sounds that people found soothing. Anything from running water to the calm breathing of a sleeping horse.
We spent the next few days brainstorming the structure of the exhibition itself. We both want to create an immersive exhibition experience by combining stills, video, sound and installations. As a photographer I find that most of my work ends up at 2D works on a wall and I’m recently excited with this commission to create something 3D that is a very sensory experience. We also started with some initial filming and shooting to get the visual side of things going.
Now that our initial research period is over we’re looking at how to visually and sonically interpret some of our ideas around safe space. Watch this (safe) space!