For eight hours on a Saturday in November, performance artist Mirabelle Jones subjected herself to an ongoing loop of catcalling and street harassment in a piece called "To Skin a Catcaller." In a gallery window facing a busy San Francisco sidewalk, Jones paced back and forth in just her underwear, to an ongoing loop of her voice reciting 200 real catcalls drawn from an online survey.
Amongst these catcalls included "I like that ass," "Hey girl, get in my car," and "Bitch, I said come here."
On her website, Jones wrote about the "exhausting" endurance performance, and dealing with the ongoing stream of both empathetic and hostile passerby:
Throughout the day, there are men who enticed by my lack of clothing stand and stare at me. When they realize through the audio loop and visual cues that they are watching a performance about catcalling, some take off... Another group of men stand, point, laugh and make comments about my body, especially my breasts and ass, as if weighing their value. There are groups of men who argue on the sidewalk about whether or not I as a woman have the right to object to catcalling. “Those are just compliments,” one says. “Women should be grateful they get that kind of attention,” says another.
Jones not only listened to the ongoing loop of harassment, but also had to navigate a physical space wherein razor blades hung from balloons above her, and were strewn across the floor. "Like people do everyday on the streets," Jones explained, "I [had] to make decisions about what spaces in the gallery are still safe for me to move in without coming too close to violence to escape it."
Jones works with the anti-harassment group Hollaback LA!, and her own organization, Art Against Assault. Her confronting performance piece is yet another reminder that catcalling, while largely viewed as "harmless," can be an act of violence against women, making them feel unsafe and exposed in public spaces. And it's never OK.
Correction: An earlier version of this stated the location of the gallery as Los Angeles. The Artists' Television Access gallery is located in San Francisco.
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