Academic journal article Afterimage

Envisioning a Culture of Consent: A Conversation with FORCE

Academic journal article Afterimage

Envisioning a Culture of Consent: A Conversation with FORCE

Article excerpt

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is a collective co-directed by artist/activists Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle. FORCE was formed in Baltimore in 2010 and today organizes actions and events in the Baltimore/DC area, in public spaces, and on college campuses around the country. FORCE uses the internet as an extension of the public space in which art can be made or presented, as a communication broadcast tool in opposition to mainstream media, and as a forum for suggesting alternative, positive visions of sex, gender, and consent in culture.

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I spoke to Hannah Brancato at FORCE'S temporary headquarters and studio, housed in the labyrinthine corridors of Area 405, a former factory turned artist studio warren, on September 18, 2015. FORCE had recently moved into an enormous space in the building, and their Alonument Quilt (2013-present) production tables, literature, and other materials staked out a central area that was surrounded by the hulking shapes of old machinery and furniture in storage around them. I met with Hannah at a folding table, where she was seated on a folding chair, surrounded by sewing machines, storage bins holding fabric, and literature about sexual assault and rape. We discussed several projects produced by FORCE since the group's inception, as well as artistic influences and some works-in-progress.

LIZ FLYNTZ: What is FORCE?

HANNAH BRANCATO: FORCE is an artist and activist collaborative working to upset the culture of rape and promote a counterculture based on consent. We are doing that in two main ways. One is by creating immersive public art events that promote public healing spaces by and for survivors. And the other is to use social media and web-based platforms to promote consent--to popularize the idea of consent, and also to break down more about what consent is. We are working generally in the public domain, whether that is in physical space or online; we kind of go back and forth between the two.

LF: What do you mean by "healing spaces"?

HB: Because this is a project about sexual assault, domestic violence, and rape culture more generally, one of the things we are doing is envisioning the alternative to living in a rape culture. That alternative is living in a culture of consent. Another important aspect of realizing that vision is recognizing the number of survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence that are living in the US today--it's a huge number.

The statistics are something like one in four women, one in six men, and something like sixty-five percent of trans people have experienced sexual violence. A lot of times the number that's quoted for men is one in thirty-three, but that doesn't account for childhood sexual abuse.

So to come back to what do you mean about "healing space," the models that we have in our country are that you go to therapy or you go to a crisis center and then you're good. But when you're a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, it's a lifelong process of healing.

Which is why we always talk about the childhood statistics. Healing isn't just going to a therapist. Healing is reconnecting with your community, healing is having public space where your story is validated, where you can even tell your story. We have a layered and complex conception of what healing can be, but I think it necessary to combat rape culture because--again--so many people are survivors. Many people haven't even named their experience. That's a common thing that we see and hear.

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LF: What do you mean by "consent" and "culture of consent"? I think it is helpful to define a few words that are often used in the activist community around combatting sexual assault, such as "rape culture."

HB: Consent is a verbal agreement between people who are going to engage in any sexual activity about what they're comfortable doing--how and when they are comfortable engaging in a sexual activity. …

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