Among the vibrant murals and playful sculptures of ArtStreet, one installation at the temporary museum near Broadway confronts an especially cringe-worthy aspect of modern life.
Participants enter a small, dark hallway where they hear the ambient sounds of cars whooshing by and the bustle of sidewalk traffic. A pair of headphones beckon next to a mirror. Once they’re put on, the voices become loud and clear: “How are you sweetie? … Lemme see you smile. …What, you don’t speak? … Where’s your boyfriend? … Hey, I’m talking to you! …You look like a stuck up (expletive)!”
The looping audio captured in the installation, “This Is What It Feels Like,” escalates from the annoyingly obnoxious to the depressingly vulgar to the verbally abusive. And they’re all examples of real-life catcalls creator Terra Lopez has documented from the streets of Sacramento and elsewhere.
Lopez is best known as the co-founder and singer from Rituals of Mine, the electronic duo that formed in Sacramento and signed in 2016 to Warner Bros. “This Is What It Feels Like” marks her debut art installation, and its emphasis on audio seems like a natural choice for the acclaimed musician. But instead of working with instruments and melody, she uses taunting male voices to create mood and inspire discussion about sexual harassment and its effect on women.
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“My hope is to educate people, especially men, and change the culture and perceptions in how we treat women,” Lopez said on a recent afternoon at ArtStreet. “It’s sadly something that happens every day. I just want to have the conversation and question their actions.”
The idea for the installation sprung from a book club that Lopez attends and a conversation that developed around comments the women had received. She started by interviewing friends, family and even strangers about their experiences with verbal harassment, and documented the phrases directed their way. Lopez also asked women via social media to participate in the project.
Lopez ultimately compiled the experiences from more than 100 women. She then arranged time in the Sacramento studio of Ira Skinner, her former bandmate in The Evening Episode, to record 10 men calling out the lines Lopez had documented. The studio sessions produced about 90 minutes of audio, which were edited to a 30 minute loop that plays in the installation.
Lopez said the recording session had unintended consequences for several of the voice actors. “For the most part, I think they were stunned,” she said. “Some were fathers and were scared for their daughters. I was blown away by how affected these men were.”
With ArtStreet’s emphasis on urbanism and public spaces, Lopez’s installation makes sense among the other exhibits, and “This Is What It Feels Like” has generated plenty of visitor traffic at ArtStreet since its early February opening. Participants have included Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who looked shaken after removing the headphones.
“I think every man, especially young men, should experience that exhibit,” Steinberg said later in an email. “To hear those words is to understand why violence and misogyny against women is never acceptable. It breaks my heart. It is never acceptable and affects me as a father to a daughter, a husband, and a public official. I thank Terra Lopez for putting this exhibit together and thank (organizers) M5Arts and ArtStreet for giving our city the opportunity to experience it.”
Lopez said she thinks “This Is What It Feels Like” works in tandem with a neighboring photo exhibit at ArtStreet by Sarah Marie Hawkins. While Lopez’s work tackles verbal abuse toward women, Hawkins’ harrowing installation “Faceless” focuses on survivors of rape. Anonymous quotes from 20 photo subjects, articulating the suffering they’ve experienced, accompany the exhibit.
“I want to create an open dialogue for something we don’t like to talk about,” Hawkins said. “(Rape) is such a gross word and people don’t want to say it out loud. I want to make this real for people. It’s not an easy thing to acknowledge, but it needs to be (acknowledged).”
After ArtStreet wraps up, Lopez is looking to take “This Is What It Feels Like” to other cities around the country, perhaps in partnership with Hawkins’ “Faceless” exhibit. Lopez still has plenty of music keeping her busy, including recording a new Rituals of Mine album and collaborations with Team Sleep, a project led by Deftones singer Chino Moreno. But in creating “This Is What It Feels Like,” Lopez believes her ArtStreet participation has opened new avenues of creativity.
“I feel like I’m able to tap into a whole other side of me,” she said.
When: 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends. Through Feb. 25.
Where: 300 First Ave., Sacramento
Note: Organizers encourage visitors to dress warmly and to bring cash, as food and drinks are cash only. ATMs are available inside.