This issue of Lulu Journal is dedicated to composer Olga Neuwirth
This volume gathers some of the materials – texts, art works, music, performance, – as well as the authors attached to these materials, that have guided me in my research into forms of subversion in sleep and forms of dreaming that help us envision life as we would like to live it. I had occasion to collect together some of this material for the first time for the symposium “Between Subversion and Hallucination” at the Dutch Art Institute in March this year and for a series of exhibition sketches called "Sleeping with a Vengeance, Dreaming of a Life", which opened in Athens, then Prague, then Beijing.
The subject has been with me since I stumbled upon a painting by Camille Pissarro from 1882, depicting a seemingly picturesque scene of a woman sleeping in a meadow. The impression is misleading. Read in light of the political upheavals in the French countryside at the time, and with the knowledge that anarchist Pissarro expressed his political sympathies in his art, the painting reveals itself as a depiction of a farm worker asleep, – and on strike.
Much has been written about the clutches of late capitalism on our sleep. In a “24/7 universe” (to use Jonathan Crary's phrase), sleep has been turned into a resource, tied to production, consumption, warfare and biopolitics. Much less has been written about actual struggles to resist this development. Indeed, while many have noted the predicament of being simultaneously enticed to sleep less and to sleep more effectively, the recent sleep-hype delights in either regurgitating the capitalist dystopia or in exploring Morpheus' realm, as if it were uncharted terrain.
But what does it do if we keep on representing a dystopian perspective within the framework of cognitive capitalism? Obviously, it is important that contemporary conditions be analysed. Yet, I cannot help but notice that while some are able to capitalise on their critical activities, the agency of others, who are bearing the brunt of economic inequality, is being obscured by the concentration on capitalism's pervasiveness. Concrete labour struggles and anti-capitalist success stories seldom enter the discourse around sleep.
And what does it do, if we turn our fascination with sleep into cultural production without considering how this might still mimic the ideology of sleep-optimisation? We end up feeding the creative industries with sleep performances, sleep hotels, sleep music, sleep philosophy. Meanwhile subversion is naively considered a given, as if sleep were in and of itself some magical mechanism of freedom. As if sleep were a practice without a context. As if subversion and resistance weren't part of a struggle, an individual and political struggle.
In order to politicise the discourse around sleep, it is necessary to begin to think the social conditions from the sleeper’s point of view. What, for example can dream-life tell us about living under a totalitarian regime? How can we move beyond the contradiction of sleep and wakefulness? What does it mean to fall asleep at a protest site? Is there political subjectivity to be found in dreaming? What can we accomplish when we question the negative connotations of passivity and instead start hallucinating? Or when we start to wake up?
I would like to thank Emily Fahlén and Asrin Haidari for their trust in me and to express my utter indebtedness to all authors for their generous contributions and to Sharon Sliwinski, the editor of The Museum of Dreams, www.museumofdreams.org. The latter has proven to be a particularily inspiring resource. My gratitude belongs to my students at the DAI, who were willing to think about sleep and dreaming alongside me for several months and to Gabriëlle Schleijppen, who supported my research through an invitation to curate one of the Dutch Art Institute's infamous Roaming Assemblies (March 2018).
Ruth Noack trained as a visual artist and art historian, she has worked as author, art critic, university lecturer and exhibition maker since the 1990s.