|Deborah Pollard, Shapes of Sleep|
photo Dobrilla Stamenkovic
Other artists have explored the process of filming themselves in certain states then recreating their actions in performance (the Wooster Group did it with drugs, Forced Entertainment with alcohol). The fascination is the same: what do we look like when we lose control? Some viewers are drawn to the back of the space, walking between the beds, looking down on the sleepers. A man stands too close to the dark-haired girl’s bed; I suddenly realise how vulnerable she is (not surprising that Cornelia Parker’s 1995 The Maybe installation placed sleeping Tilda Swinton in a glass case). Other viewers relax into the work, noticing how each performer interprets the same instructions slightly differently. I look for signs of tiredness or cunning (someone anticipating a command in order to gain as much time as possible in one position). If Shapes of Sleep were an hour long, it might appear choreographed, but as a durational installation over 8 hours the performers are no longer just performing sleep, they are physically exhausted by it. It’s a witty reversal of the notion of sleep as something that revives. Since the performers have their eyes closed throughout, it’s not surprising that one of them drifts off for a few minutes. I become infected by the hypnotic repetition, start to yawn, not out of boredom but tiredness.
Shapes of Sleep was conceived for a white space like the airy mezzanine of Glasgow’s Tramway where I first saw it. I agree with Deborah Pollard that in the Dark Studio at Arnolfini the work looks “more theatrical” (the connection between sleep and darkness is too obvious; the minute white pillows more blatant.) Nevertheless, the peculiar beauty of this work is undiminished. The soft light throws shadows on silk pyjamas; arms and legs shift languidly. By the final hour, there is a haze to the space; it even smells of people sleeping. At the end of a hectic festival, I cannot imagine a more effective oasis of tranquillity.
Deborah Pollard trained in the Suzuki Actor Training Method, has collaborated with Indonesian performance and installation artists, and was Artistic Director of Salamanca Theatre Company in Hobart, Tasmania, 1997-2000.
Shapes of Sleep, Deborah Pollard, Arnolfini Dark Studio, Feb 5
Marie-Anne Mancio has a doctorate in Live Art. She lectures for Tate Modern’s online contemporary art course; is an associate member of independent creative producer Jean Cameron’s arts practice; and is currently studying for an M Litt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.
RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006
© Marie-Anne Mancio; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org