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  • Writer's pictureChiara

Trigger warning

I have a fraught relationship with Trigger (or Content) warnings. On the plus side they are attempts to acknowledge the realities of trauma and the risk of content which can re-traumatise the viewer (... listener, reader or student). On the other hand they can tend to increase my anxiety without offering a strategy to deal with the perceived threat. At worst they can be seen to oversimplify trauma or come off as token attempts to placate demands for so called, "political correctness". In my experience trauma triggers can be as unexpected as a car slowing down as it passes my home, or the itinerary printed in Italian by a Coburg travel agent when I first came to Melbourne and booked a flight using an Italian name. The trigger warning itself can act as a trigger...

I particularly struggled with content warnings in first year art history. In my experience the content warnings were given at the beginning of lectures where the only available responses were to stand up and leave, thus identifying myself as a traumatised individual who could not deal with the anticipated, but unknown content, or to perhaps close my eyes at an unknown point in the lecture, but the trigger wasn't necessarily visual... I digress.

The trigger warning was born in feminist activism and it set me thinking. In the many hours I spent stitching my banner I had plenty of time to think. I thought about conservatively dressed early feminist women and imagined them sitting around a tea table plotting revolution. I thought about the persistent statistics of violence against women and the likelihood that in any social gathering there will be women who have experienced violence whether or not they have acknowledged it to others. I thought about the subversive value of providing emergency contacts right there at the tea table, under the guise of gentility. I stitched those thoughts into a tea cloth.

This strategy allows me to place a trigger warning within my work, as an acknowledgement of difficulty for the viewer, but also as an act of provocation. And to be fair to myself, it is an acknowledgement of how difficult making the work has been for me.

Here's how I presented the Trigger Tea cloth in my second group tutorial:

The lighting and plinth dramatise and acknowledge the work as an art object. The content is only revealed at close proximity. The phone numbers and website quoted provide actual avenues of assistance to those who might need them.

Centre Against Sexual Assault: 1800 806292

Lifeline: 131114

Victorian Suicide Line: 1300651 251 1800551800

At the same time quoting these particular agencies acknowledges the significance of the issues involved.

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