The intimate private-made-public reflection in Andy Warhol’s Sleep (1963), a five-hour film of his sleeping lover John Giorno, is on show at Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) as part of curator Mark Feary’s ‘Zzzzz: Sleep, Somnambulism, Madness’, a group exhibition showcasing various media and including work from Australian and international artists. Like Sleep, every piece in this exhibition is designed to carry the audience to a subterranean place – to reflect on consciousness and the fragile human state.
Erica Spitzer Rasmussen’s 2015 nightgown constructed of 2000 sleeping pill prescriptions is a reminder of the reliance of many of us – over two million Australians – on chemical substances to help meet this basic need. The paper gown, suspended in the blackened grand foyer entry, hangs alongside a futon that invites the visitor to enter the exhibition lying down – reclining to watch a filmed performance by Barbora Kleinhamplová in collaboration with Tereza Stejskalová. Presenting the argument for the ‘right to sleep’, the performance contemplates how attitudes to work and life have shifted while highlighting the benefit of transformation through dreams and adequate rest. The performers protest against ‘the myth of the successful sleepless’.
Visitors may become a little perturbed by the dark space upstairs and the quietly provoking themes. This is not an exhibition that can be casually or quickly strolled through. Classifications of normal and abnormal, reality and illusion are examined in the video work Caligari and the Sleepwalker (2008) by Javier Téllez – filmed in Germany with mental health patients. And Ronnie van Hout’s monotone monologue considers the sensation of being trapped within the sleeping state. ‘Are you asleep?’ he shouts. ‘I’m asleep, you’re asleep … wake up!’
Presented in partnership with Melbourne’s Gertrude Contemporary, and on show until 18 August, ‘Zzzzz: Sleep, Somnambulism, Madness’ successfully cultivates a conversation about the politics of sleep, the potential transformative theatre of dreams, as well as our level of awareness in waking life.
Bec Bromley Humphries, Albury–Wodonga