“For you who would like to scream out loud but who dare not for fear of disturbing the peace, of appearing crazy, or of alarming your friends without cause”. Artist Chélanie Beaudin-Quintin thus introduces “Screaming Booth”, an installation at Toronto’s Nuit Blanche on October 4, and on display at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto from Oct 5-13.
The Screaming Booth is bright yellow, sound-proofed enclosure, a little larger than port-a-potty. Ms. Beaudin-Quintin explains that the booth provides a “dark, muffled, individual space” for an individual to scream with distress, joy, or pain and thus “at last experience complete catharsis without reservation or judgement. Free to scream (or not), with no time limit and no witnesses; just you = peace”.
Unfortunately, the Screaming Booth was locked when I visited Nathan Phillips Square at around 3:00 pm on Sunday, October 5. Another woman came and pulled at the door. “I came especially to see this exhibit, but what’s the point if it’s locked? I could have just looked at the photo online.” I agreed. “Makes me want to scream.” We screamed together in the square.
“Screaming Booth” raises many fascinating questions. First, about screaming. Is all screaming in public prohibited or inhibited? After big matches in hockey, football, or soccer, legions of fans scream freely on public streets when their team wins. Friends or family sometimes scream with joy when reunited with loved ones at the airport. I could not, however, think of a public situation where people freely scream in distress or pain. So, is screaming in distress or pain what is prohibited or inhibited in public?
If public screams of distress or pain are unacceptable, then we must be agreeing emotional pain is a private matter. However, locating the Screaming Booth in a public space suggests that individuals experience emotional pain in public places and are better off when they can express such pain. The construction of the booth – limited to one person, sound-proofed – indicates that such expression should be private and not involve others who might be nearby. As Ms. Beaudin-Quintin points out, public screams risks censure. The artist recommends stepping into the booth, so that one can leave feeling “calmer, freer, and smiling broadly. . . . ready to once again take on the city, with a renewed sense of self”. A scream of pain is thus identified as a need, a means of catharsis, and an individual, private undertaking.
I did feel better after my scream, but I screamed outside the booth. An individual screaming alone may experience catharsis, but may also feel afflicted by unique, personal suffering and thus lonely, even alien. But after I screamed in public with a person who shared my pain, I felt warmer, more connected, more sure that this exhibit should be open, not locked up while on public display. A public scream could bring people together to share feeling, catharsis, comfort, assistance, even in political action. Maybe instead of a sound-proof Screaming Booth, we need a public “Screaming Corner” or “a Screaming Hour”. The nice thing about “Screaming Booth” sitting out in the town square, locked or not, is that it gives a chance to think about these matters.
“Screaming Booth”, 8 am – 5 pm, Oct 5-13, Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. Free admission.