From sleep performance pieces in glass coffins displayed in museums by Cornelia Parker in 1995 to Andy Warhol’s five-hour film of a young man dozing, the topic of slumber continues to pull in artists. Two exhibits — I’m sorry we lied by Krystal Ramirez at Winchester Cultural Center and Asleep in Vegas at ArtSquare’s RTZvegas Gallery — revive the theme once more, exploring sleep from literal to conceptual angles, with varying degrees of success.
In Ramirez’s photographs, we voyeuristically look in on both sound and restless sleepers, wrapped in twisted sheets and rumpled coverlets. A camera set up bedside snapped a photo every five minutes, capturing slumbering volunteers over the course of a night’s sleep. More in-focus images indicate the stillness of deep sleep juxtaposed with shots gently blurred, the outline of a previous position held faintly visible as the restless sleeper was caught shifting during the long-exposure photograph.
A reason for embarking on the sleep portraits was the photographer’s growing annoyance with rampant self-photographing sparked by social media. “It was really starting to bother me how much people were taking photos of themselves,” Ramirez says.
Sleep portraits with automated photography eliminates image control by both photographer and subject. Lost in the oblivion of sleep, the figures are vulnerable, unaware and unposed, stripped of the guise of personality and identity that individuals construct when they’re awake. Sleeping returns us to the raw state of an animal at rest, huddling for warmth, arms reaching out for contact with sleeping partners.
Voyeurism continues with a two-night performative sleep by Anne Davis Mulford, April 4 and 5, at the new ArtSquare exhibition space RTZvegas. Bed and nightstand, complete with a Virgin Mary nightlight, were arranged in the gallery window with added peek holes in a black curtain enclosing the installation within the gallery. The nightgown-clad Mulford went through periods of sleep followed by periods of “insomnia” cued by pop music, during which she would rise to work on a charcoal figure drawing, while standing tiptoe atop a chest of drawers, stepping around an alarm clock and knick-knacks. Abruptly the music would stop, replaced with a ticking clock, signaling the artist to return to bed.
At sleep, a video flickered to life, the projection beaming directly above the sleeper’s head and filling the space with would-be dreams. Images skipped by — bubbles, colored dots, rolling waves, lions yawning — interjected with stills from classic surrealist films, along with images of grumpy cats, dogs wearing goggles and other popular internet imagery. The busy mixture enjoyably mimicked a brain settling down for sleep, skimming through images collected from the day. Occasionally, interrupting the dreamscape were textual phrases stating, “Sleep purifies mind, body and spirit,” or, “Do our dreams mean something?” But rather than adding to the experience, these interruptions forced the unnatural analysis of conscious thought upon the dreams, jarring the otherwise smooth flow of a subconscious.
Elsewhere in the gallery, Mary Hill offers concept art posters titled “Schematics For An Unconscious Bus Ride.” Somewhat confusingly, rather than suggesting a snooze on the bus, the highly active figures jump and leap like the monochromatic dancers from iPod commercials. Nearby, Daniel Clark considers sleep indirectly with surreal black-and-white photographs. In “Discovery,” for example, a young man kneels, reaching in to examine a bright, glowing hole in a cement wall.
Dreams manifest in Ramirez’s exhibit, as well, taking the form of sheets of hand-written sentences repeating the same phrase over and over: “We try then we die,” “I’m sorry we lied,” “I’m not as young as I used to be,” and “Have you seen pictures of earth?” Next to photographs of the sleepers, the rhythmic organic handwriting feels like the rise and fall of breath mixed with the thoughts of a troubled sleeper tossing and turning, mentally latched upon an anxiety taken from the day.
I’M SORRY WE LIED Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., through May 10; Winchester Cultural Center, 3130 S. McLeod Drive, 455-7340.