Sleepers. Hole (2012-) [ installation in ‘24/7 ‘ at Somerset House, London, 2019 ]
An installation of 26 found, punctured, 35 mm slides,
printed as C-type and framed.
image size: 17.8cm x 25.4cm
(from the ongoing series Sleepers.Hole, began in 2007, first exhibited in 2013).
Installation in the group exhibition ‘24/7. A wake-up call for our non-stop world’ at Somerset House, London. 2019]
Exploring the materiality and imagery of a collection of amateur 35mm slide photographs of sleeping people that Chodzko assembled (‘to create their community’), Sleepers imagines the restless movement of a mind as it flickers between perceptions, slipping towards unconsciousness, resisting, or urgently trying to find the path to, sleep.
Seeing someone sleep always provokes a level of uncertainty; perhaps this is more than sleep? Could they be dead?
Seeing a still image always provokes a level of uncertainty; I think I see movement?
Since 2007 Chodzko has been collecting individual 35mm photographic slide images ( ‘still’ images), taken by amateur photographers, of people sleeping, to have currently amassed over 100 of these images, shot all around the world, from 1950’s to late 1980’s, from the slumber of babies to the dormancy of the elderly; People sleeping on buses, aeroplanes, beds, boats, sofas, on blankets in the open air, during military conflict (the Vietnam war) and out, in public, homeless, on the streets. By bringing these images together, accumulatively, Chodzko suggests a collective narcolepsy, a pandemic unconsciousness, a mass sleep or mass dreaming from a fairy tale, or, is this something deeper than sleep, are these images perhaps collective evidence of death, the end of everything? And perhaps there is also a sense of suspicion that our current waking reality is actually a perception within a state of sleep, a form of paralysis or hypnosis, where we are always distracted from the ability to recognise that if only we could wake up we could see the world as it really is, in order that we could, finally, discover how to act within it.
Chodzko stages these questions in the relationship between the material flatness of the 35mm film, that was there in a camera, in a room, at the time; a presence in relation to another presence, that of a sleeping person. By working on the restoration of the presence of this often degraded and discarded image Chodzko makes a choice, a post-production guess, a translation, as to its present moment of ‘now’, a gift to the sleeper upon their awakening. The work connects our attempt to empathise with the sleeping subject to our parallel (and more elusive) attempt to empathise with the photographic documenter of this subject (who exists, invisibly, outside the frame). The sleepers’ ‘withdrawal’ into another world, of dreams, both activates and destabilises our ability to empathise. The closed eyelids of the sleeper restrict our capacity for an embodied connection with them. The stillness and silence of a sleeping person, and a still photograph, creates a vacuum for the viewer, provoking other forms of consciousness. We, the viewer and the sequence of accompanying images, become the dream sequence. In the installation for ‘24/7’ the sequence of 26 images and the particular arrangement of the represented bodies combine to suggest that there might be a single collective body between them, slowly turning in their sleep, each individual image simply existing as a stage in that process.
Although we associate sleep with darkness, in order to capture the image the photograph requires sufficient light so these sleepers seem to occupy a contradictory (or impossible) space of sleep within brightness. Holes pierce the thin flat membrane of 35mm film, leaking in light (an apparently perpetual light of constant day, or constant moonlight) – time to wake up? Or perhaps the holes are a form of infinite moonlight, an instruction to the sleeper to stay asleep. In Sleepers these holes become a conduit allowing a journey through one image and into another. As a punctum, an opening as a form of break or damage, they become the detail that we can become snagged on, or can enter or pass through. In this way these holes also become protective of the sleeper, allowing them to be kept safe from the gaze of the viewer. We are an intruder, dreamt by the sleeper in a state of atonia. Perhaps we envy the sleeper’s capacity to elude our present reality, yet they are incapacitated and we are ready to act. Questions of consent, voyeurism, trust and maybe even guilt, are implicit in Sleeper, in the relationship between subject and author (and even the first audience for these images) and then a second wave of attention, drawn together by Chodzko and all the potential viewers of this series; with all of these different audiences there is quite a crowd hovering around the perimeter of the image, keeping watch over a sleep that happened in the past but also seems to inhabit the present.
Chodzko’s fascination with the subject of sleep partly stems from his experience of a series of sleep disorders throughout his childhood, from insomnia to frequent sleep paralysis, night terrors, false awakenings and hallucinations; Sleep was deferred for as long as possible in an attempt to put off the apparent psychic chaos that it inevitably brought; ‘a fear of an encounter with something through sleep’ and a fear of missing out on ‘an encounter with something else’ in reality’s waking state. Later, as an artist, the appearance of sleep in Chodzko’s work is partly a memory of both his envy and perplexity at the sleeping figure but it’s also partly conceived as an address to his younger self that it is actually safe to go to sleep. As part of his artistic practice Chodzko frequently uses a hypnagogic state as a final ‘editing phase’ of his creative process. Now, (with better sleep!), the issue is framed by Chodzko also within the political and the psychological state of disavowal; the erasure of sleep by our current culture, allows (with caffeine) certain pragmatic forms of our labour but it depletes our energy to imagine – or remember – alternative realities; we end up seeing no way out of a perpetual state of neoliberalism. We sense we need to act but through lack of real (and metaphorical) sleep we are energetically incapable of perceiving the route to access the necessary action to transform our selves.
The caption for Sleepers. Hole in the ’24/7′ exhibition:
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said that in we sleep we locate the ‘true kernel of human existence.’ Since 2007 the artist Adam Chodzko has been collecting images of people sleeping, taken by amateur photographers. Holes pierce the film, leaking in light (an apparently perpetual light of constant day). For the artist these bright spots suggest our own blind spots around our complicity in society’s devaluing of our sleeping time: ‘we need to act, but through a lack of real (and metaphorical) sleep we are energetically incable of perceiving the route to access the necessary action to transform ourselves.’
‘Sleep is the only remaining barrier, the only enduring ‘natural condition’ that capitalism cannot eliminate.’ – Jonathan Crary
In 2016 Chodzko used a number of images from the wider collection of Sleepers to make the moving image work Sleepers.
The ideas of sleep, insomnia, exhaustion, the nocturnal and dreaming have regularly appeared in Chodzko’s practice (eg: Ghost, Echo, Night Shift, The Pickers and Flasher), a fascination partly stemming from a series of sleep disorders experienced throughout his childhood, from insomnia to frequent sleep paralysis, night terrors, false awakenings and hallucinations.
The form of the hole appear in many of Chodzko’s works including Hole (in the wall of a museum), Somewhere Else, In Order to Complete Them (geothermal holes in the earth), Around and cell-a (holes dug into the ground, revealing or concealing archives) and in Secretors (in gallery walls, seeping fluid).
An earlier work related to Sleepers is Moon Stealing, where Chodzko would take a Hi-8 camera to the cinema and whenever the moon appeared in the background of exterior night shots in a feature film (it often does) he would zoom into it, to then (through an edit) zoom out of it again in order to enter into the night of another film and of course, accessing also another cinema auditorium at another time.