HD video with stereo sound
3 mins 10 secs
Sleepers: Compressed version on Vimeo
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 response, perhaps, to being overwhelmed with exhaustion from increasingly perpetual labour and the apparent urgency to be present, alert and competitive. He suggests a pandemic unconsciousness, a mass sleep with group dreaming, all triggered from within an old fairy tale’s narrative, or a hyperstition; separate past events bringing together a reality right now of bodies having been burnt out of all energy. 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. 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) and then materialises these temporary occupations of another’s body through the treatment of sound and image in post production. 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 associate sleep with darkness, with night. But, in order for the image of a sleeping person to be caught on film there needs to be sufficient light; the light of a flash or an opened door, a light switched on. Because of the extent of the illumination of the sleeping subject each of these images offers a peculiar sense that sleeping is occurring at the ‘wrong time’, in spite of something, that it is a form of sleep somehow resistant to the waking world.
Holes pierce the thin flat membrane of 35mm film, leaking in light (an apparently perpetual light of constant day) : 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.
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.
Chodzko’s fascination with the subject of sleep (as well as insomnia, exhaustion, the nocturnal and dreaming) 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. 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 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.
A related work to Sleepers is Sleepers. Hole, (2012 -)
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.
Commissioned for Channel 4 Random Acts series, through the Jarman Award via FLAMIN, http://randomacts.channel4.com/