“We invite you to leave your belongings on your chair and to take your shoes off. When you’re ready, please enter the installation space, and find a place to rest.”
So begins A Crash Course in Cloudspotting, with rest very much at the forefront of the experience. A circular space is patterned with beds, which audience members lie down on. Beautiful ambient drone music plays, sinking participants down into the earth, and then a voice comes through a speaker hidden underneath the pillows.
In 2016, Raquel Meseguer Zafe lay down on the top floor of the Southbank Centre in London and accidentally set off a security alert. Since then, she has collected over 250 stories about people’s attempts to rest in public. Zafe’s voice guides the audience through a collection of these stories, narrating the experience like a guided meditation – a disembodied, depersonalised voice which is soothing.
The voices tell stories by The Resters, a group of people with hidden disabilities or chronic conditions who need to rest throughout the day to manage pain or fatigue. Some of the acts of rest seem commonplace, such as sitting at a bus stop or leaning against a lamppost. Others are more harrowing or darkly humourous – cowering under a hedge during a storm and hoping not to be seen, or lying down at the front of a cinema while staff put hazard tape around your prone body in case it is a trip hazard for others.
It is a show which is both disarming and deeply relaxing. The act of lying down is unexpected, and completely changes the way your body experiences external stimuli. It puts you into a similar position as some of The Resters, a position of empathy, albeit one much more comfortable than a toilet floor, mentioned by more than one of the voices. Lying down in such a way is also reminiscent of a yogic savasana, a position of total body release, and I seemed to be far from the only audience member who struggled to engage in getting up afterwards, with most people stretching and rising very slowly.
A Crash Course in Cloudspotting is a beautiful, enchanting show which serves as an important reminder that acts which many people find easy – walking, standing, sitting in a chair – can be a huge struggle for others. It presents these stories in an unusual way which breathes space into them, and commands the audience to pause, listen and engage.