Safe Space vs Art Space
I recently played at a venue that hosts noise music and various fringe performance art of some form or another. It was an open mic night with several noise bands, and a few singer/songwriter types. I was playing with Queen Antifa although it was just Samara and I because Lauren was taking the month off.
I generally just scream over Lauren and Samara playing their synths and doing feedback into mixers. Just screaming over it seems kind of monotonous. I mean, it’s a lot of fun but sometimes you want to throw something else in or expand your horizons and do something a little more than just screaming into a mic.
Some of our past shows we had destroyed keyboards. I know that’s like old 90’s Nine Inch Nails stuff, but we had a few members in the audience baseball bats and called them up. I don’t know, I tried to be a little different.
Instead of destroying keyboards at this particular set, I decided to cut myself. I want to show destruction and pain in a different, less stereotypical way.
So Samara played her mixer, and I screamed. I screamed about destroying me, devouring me, and other sorts of things that express how much despair I am in on a daily basis.
It wasn’t for shock value. It was part of my art. It was me expressing my pain through performance.
Most of the time, the screaming turns into a panic attack and people always ask me if I’m okay afterwards because I’m literally on the floor with my hair covering my face screaming/crying into the microphone about painful traumatic shit that has happened to me.
But this night, I had my swiss army knife on my keychain. Near the end, I sliced myself three times. Then once it started bleeding I licked the blood from my arm.
The idea was to show my blood, show my pain, and also show my ability to take it back into myself and do something with it. The message I intended was not to just cut myself, but to also do something with that pain. I wasn’t sad about it, and I wasn’t hurting or in a bad head space. I wanted to cut myself. I wanted to feel the endorphins and feel alive from the pain. I also wanted to take that pain back into myself and use it for more passionate vocals. There is a certain tinge of release you have when you scream after cutting yourself.
For me, it was part of my art. It was therapeutic. It was a release. It was my message. Whether anyone got it or not, I still dropped it in the mailbox.
A lot of people said they really enjoyed my set. However, the next day on my way to class in the busy and bustling downtown of Seattle someone decided to approach me.
They asked me if I played. They said they really enjoyed it. Then they told me I should have put a trigger warning on my set.
I made some excuses. Then I panicked and ran through traffic to get away from the situation.
I should have apologized. I should have been more considerate. However, I don’t think I should have been sorry.
I brought it up on facebook, and had a few in-person discussions with friends about this. Most people seemed to be on my side, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m in the right.
One of the things that was consistently brought up is that while the venue aims to be safe and accepting of all people, orientations, races, classes (donate what you can!) ability, and identities it is not a designated “safe space” like you’d see at somewhere like Gay City or an Ingersoll Meetup where they are specifically designated spots to be as all inclusive as possible.
While aiming to be as safe as possible, the venue is not a designated ‘safe space.’
The world is not a safe space, and not safe place as I can attest to for sure. That’s why I don’t walk home alone anymore.
We all like to think we’re considerate. We all like to think we’re respectful.
However, the venue is an art space, not a safe space. Art isn’t always safe. Art can be a lot of things. It can be horrifying. It can be gross. It can bring up bad memories that might even trigger you. There might be loud popping noises.
The guy who has a suitcase full of police and ambulance sirens didn’t get told that the needed a trigger warning, even though police sirens trigger me and I literally had a flashback during his set. No. That didn’t happen.
I told the promoter that I was going to cut myself. We warned people there might be some adult themes on the facebook event. We mentioned it at the show that we would be doing adult themes.
As much as I want to be considerate. I’m being given an art space. That’s a space for me to explore myself and express the things inside my head without judgment. It’s safe for me, but my art might not be safe for you.
What are the expectations when going to an art space? Whether it’s a music show or an artwalk? I can’t answer that. I just always expect the unexpected and dismiss myself if I’m bored or uncomfortable.
A lot of things make me uncomfortable. I have a bevy of ridiculous triggers due to prior trauma, and I have to learn how to manage that. That’s on me, not you. However, I think there is some expectation of personal responsibility when going to an art space.
As much as I’d like to be considerate to your needs. Don’t fucking tell me to ruin my artistic expression for your own personal security. The world is not a safe place. We all have to learn how to navigate the best we can. We have to help each other when we can, but don’t put the responsibility on me when I’m in an art space making my own art. That’s my time to express myself. I enjoy others to watch and participate in my catharsis, but if it’s not for you– you can leave. I don’t blame you, and I respect the need for self-care.
But I’m going to make my art and I will not be shamed for how my art makes you feel.