A conversation in response to a series of questions by Mette Garfield on the role of art in creating futures and social change: The dialogue evolves around Tuesday Night Sleeping Club, artwork by hello!earth.
Vera Maeder [VM] is co- artistic leader of hello!earth, co-created concept in collaboration with Jacob Langaa Sennek for Tuesday Night Sleeping Club. Co-creating artists Daniel Norback, Emil Bøll, Vera Maeder and Jacob Langaa-Sennek.
Alice Martucci [AM] is an Italian choreographer and dancer based in Copenhagen where she studied at the National School of Performing Art. Alice has in the last years been collaborating with choreographer Alice Chauchat in Berlin.
This conversation took place in Copenhagen in July 2021.
(After having been talking in the kitchen for ca. 20 min)
Vera Maeder: For us this term of the ‘politics of the invisible’ became quite central. We referred to it in different ways during the process, also as a way to identify needs and possibilities for connection. One of it was to look at the marginalized, the margin, that which is excluded as invisibilities of a society, another was the invisible as the not materialised yet, the behaviours, things we do or say. And then if we go further down the slope of invisibilities we arrive at imaginings. Imaginings may not be quite logical to us, there are imagenings that are taking twists and turns, not logic at all.
In the process of sleep, dreams and dreaming we meet ourselves every night in a different logic, in something not quite readable. But it is there. We have this capacity to create and be in more fluid states of creating. I think in our society right now, these gaps, the spaces where a different logic at all is possible, are very limited, narrow. Maybe kids are the only ones allowed to say and do things that are not fitting anywhere. How we live and organize ourselves – the collective, society – is bound to a certain range of functionality: why do we do this, what is this good for, the impact has to be measurable – there is a lot of control in our thinking before even stepping into the not knowing. Spaces for wondering of all kinds where we do things, see things that are not graspable in the very moment, and the spaces where we can be in the not known and not knowing are at the same time very vital for at all to create something that we do not know exists already, and that is relevant at this moment for this time.
The night and dreaming have some of this capacity in terms of imaginings and not knowing. To inhabit spaces of imaginings beyond daily logic, and immaterial. And then on a more subtle level, when we sleep we are in this situation of not doing anything, of being still, of just being there with our bodies, as a specific presence. In this work, we are interested in this invisibility, this kind of immaterial in between states, that we have very little vocabulary for, that are not considered to be there even, but they are there. And to honor them, take care of them, to say they exist, they are important, I think that was one of the takes we took to work with this project.
Alice Martucci: Yes, I think it is quite crucial how we approach those invisibilities, as their power is in this evanescent, subtle space. So the question is: how do we maintain space for this part of our life, this part of our being? How do we honor it and take care of it?
Somehow I think it’s a good strategy to look at those spaces with the periphery of my gaze, to focus on them without focusing. I feel that when I put too much focus on something, it becomes a means to achieve a goal.
The approach of taking care is also I think a way to open to possibilities that are not yet imagined. This seems to be important for the Tuesday Night Sleeping Club project (TNSC). And not to give a specific goal for what this opening should produce.
VM: What you say makes me think of the danger that in the moment we reduce things to their functionality, we are not open to what could happen. We need to go beyond expectation to be in a place where these subtleties can live at all.
The art work from our side is also very much an offer to create triggers and a frame that would invite participant’s presence into a state of opening up continuously. The preparation throughout the evening for sleeping and dreaming is an invitation for undoing our habitual ways of acting and perceiving, to undo whatever your life consists of at this moment and meet the night, sleeping and dreaming from a more blank page, and a sensitive and open state of mind. To allow the night to become something else than a means to function the next day and bring us in touch with the potential and connection to others. We have a capacity far beyond the logic we need to function most of the day.So how can we make space for this capacity, you may call it spirit, geist, ånd and connect to collective consciousness?
With sleeping and dreaming I find it interesting that this is something we already do every day, and it is a very bodily, physical action, with transformative potential. We need to let go, surrender to the unknown to fall asleep. The body can be a vehicle to transport us easily to these kinds of places and presences. The body can guide us there, if we develop an awareness beyond autopilot. There is a fascinating potential in the fact that we all do it every day. Everybody in the whole world has slept, dreamed, also animals do it, it is so basic. What would happen if we put some attention to the subtleties inherent in this action of sleeping and dreaming?
Can thus sleeping be activism?
Some people related to the things you could do in the morning, where we opened TNSC to be a non-curated platform for anyone interested to link their activities and explore the fragility and sensitivity of the early morning hours for collective manifestations and happenings towards futures we want to inhabit.
Yet I would argue that the very action of sleeping can become activism, if we enter it with a different kind of attention, with an attention that recognizes and honors our potential in the invisibilities we create and inhabit in those moments. If we see it as a space where we
share collective consciousness, that is part of creating our world during the waken state.
If we honor it as a space of spirit beyond the dead materialisms driven by logics of extraction, production, profit, utility. What we create in the night is not separate from what is happening in the day, and the other way around. Yet the night is not only a space of digestion but also of creation.
So if we can give space to the potential of imaginings possible in dreams, there lies an amazing potential for transforming worlds, creating worlds and being guided by collective wisdom. There are endless many openings to different worlds possible in those subtle spaces.
Another source of inspiration in relation to invisibility were the writings of Karen Barad about matter and meaning. They write about how in quantum field theory there is not void, there is no nothing, so everything, even the most overlooked, intangible thing, is something that will have an influence on everything else in that state and also that things are intertwined not only relating to each other but relating through each other, they are emerging through each other. The concept of intra-actions that Karen Barad proposes (among others) was very important knowledge in terms of looking at the night and looking at this void of the night, how we kind of let that drown in our consciousness as a place we normally don’t remember. In general we don’t remember our sleep, we hardly do remember our dreams and still they will be part of creating the world and they will be part of influencing everything else. In that sense also invisibilities are political: they are important both in terms of the potential and in terms of being neglected, overlooked states.
Another thing Karen Barad writes about are materialities as repeated patterns of energy. We have been thinking about the energies we have in the night, like energies we manifest while sleeping, they will at some point be rippling in the materiality of our awakened state. In that way those things are not not-separated, they are interconnected. This was inspiring for us in terms of looking at the night and the invisible as political field: just because in our society we are not used to formulate, we don’t talk about or can’t talk about it, maybe even we might not afford those kind of things that happen in those spaces, it doesn’t mean that they’re not important, it doesn’t mean that they’re not there, it doesn’t mean that we can just rush them over. Of course those subtle states might also be or they are also part of other activities that we do during the day, but the night was one way for us to focus on that subtle space as those states happen very naturally to everybody there, just usually we don’t notice them.
AM: For me the project has this double activist element, meaning with that a belief and desire for social and political changes. On one hand, as you say it invites the participants to undertake a very personal journey, where one’s own approach to the subtle space of the night changes through the experience of the performance. On the other hand, the fact that through the performance you are connected to a whole group of people doing it at the same time, that I think gives the project another political layer. I see it as giving an element of commitment to the group and also of trust to another kind of immateriality, because you cannot see or touch the other people that are participating in the TNSC with you, but you believe it and in a way you can feel it too. So again it is this invitation to adjust your perception of the situation to subtle presences that in a way are not subtle at all, because they can actually be very strong.
VM: I think this is another important aspect of TNSC: that we do this collectively. Everybody can sleep and can dream and we do this every night, but what happens in the moment that we consciously know that we do this together, and so that we together jump into this space of interconnectedness in our sleeping dreams? When you are in a group for several weeks and you start to share your dreams, usually you realize that they tune onto each other. I’m not a dream researcher but in many of the sources, that I read for this project, there is this collective aspect of dreaming as well. In our culture dreams are generally seen as an individual experience, like it’s your individual psyche. But there is our psyche, and there’s a psyche for society, and there is a mind or consciousness of a country, because the structures in this country and its political situation are in a certain way, and so on. This will also be part of our dreaming, and if we become aware of it we can also change it on that level. Of course it would need some more practice but just the fact that we recognise that the realm of the night and dreaming is a reality that is creative and creating is already a big step. Also dreams are very fluid, there we can change things quite rapidly, it takes a second to change something in the dreams. In terms of the collectivity of it, I also think that the fact that everybody sleeps, I mean that it is already happening, is crucial. In the western society we have traditions for eating together, to share food with each other. But we don’t have many traditions for sleeping in groups, maybe in school excursions, but not as a practice, and not as something that we practise as a collectivity.
So I also think this moment that we put a focus on that we do this together, it’s actually happening always but now we recognise it as such, it produces another intensity of going through that night together. Also the fact that we do it in the middle of the week on a Tuesday for us is to suggest, that it is not a special event, but an everyday activity, and now we put some awareness on that. The awareness makes the everyday action of going to sleep to a kind of ritual or practice or both, in a way it is like an attempt to reinvent culture, to say: well, what if our culture was like that, what if we recognise that space and recognise the power and the energy in that space of the night?
And if you look at it you can see that it also connects, I think, to many of the questions that we are busy with right now as a society. For example, the question about how we relate to nature, the more than human, how to act in front of the disasters that are happening because of climate change and extinction of species and so on. I think that many of those issues are asking us to connect in other ways than we have done during the past 100 years and more. So you could say this is also a space for looking for and for asking how we can connect in another way in a collective and inclusive way. I think it’s about this whole web of things and the interconnectedness of the whole web.
AM: There is something about the time of TNSC. The fact that it is happening every week for a period of 6 weeks makes it a recurring event. This returning to the practice and meeting the group again opens up to the possibility to create a collective not only in the here and now but also a collective through time. This opens for me a different perspective where the experience becomes part of a cycle and in that way bypasses the idea of the practice as a means to achieve a predetermined goal. I see the cycle as an alternative to the idea of a linear time that goes from A to B, like a vector. Through recurrence and repetition the changes that will happen feel to me like an open process, a collective journey we take together one step at a time.
VM: I was always fascinated, when my grandmother was knitting and just by doing the same stitch again and again it would become a pattern. Repetition is important to look at the TNSC as a practice, that has the potential to shape and change. If you participate to TNSC once you get an idea of what the intention is, if you do it twice you might get a little more into it and maybe something starts to transform, if you do it 3, 4 times or even make your own variations of this thing you may arrive at another level of experiencing understanding. Therefore it would make sense for us to present TNSC again, ideally this was the 1st edition and there will be a new one with different preparations, with different rituals, because it’s a practice. If we really want to activate that space and want to take it seriously, I think, it’s inspiring to approach it as a collective art practice. It is not a workshop because it has an aesthetic frame, is defined in its form in some ways, yet through inventing and doing exercises together it begins creating culture by creating habits. Six times of course is much too short for that but it can at least inspire towards those kinds of thinking and changes.
AM: For me what you say connects again to invisibility. It makes me think about this layering of an action – you know – that you don’t see the result right away, but only after a long time. Like water passing over a stone. You see the effect of that after years, you can’t even catch the moment, when it is actually happening but it’s happening constantly again and again and is an invisible action but it’s extremely strong and is making a fundamental change.
VM: On another level I also think that in all our works in recent years we commit to making quests rather than projects. We work with one thematic for 3-5 years and do different projects from one strand of research. This is also an alternative way of looking at productivity, and notions of ‘the new’. It ‘s more cyclic. Each work can be a very different experience for the audience, yet for us it is a way to be more organic in our making and not so linear in our process. It allows the modes of production also to be different from going from A to B to C.
Instead we rather create a field that is growing with us, and that we inhabit and at times edit and share. I’m trying to connect how this could relate to habits of producing and doing in other areas of society, but maybe I don’t have to answer right now.
AM: It’s in a way going back to what you were saying at the beginning, like this allowing the time of not knowing. You don’t have the project all figured out already, when you are writing the application to get funding for it. It is more like: okay I allow myself and the whole process to be in a place, where the compass starts spinning around, and I lose orientation. And maybe I need to be there to imagine something different or to invite something else to happen or not. I don’t know, it’s like giving a frame for something to unfold again several times and see it from all these different points of view instead of thinking, that you have to arrive at a conclusion in a very short period of time.
VM: Yes again, it’s happening somewhere where it’s not visible for a long time, and if we could do that maybe our lives in a way would be more connected and interconnected and not so speedy. Maybe we wouldn’t have to do so much then and to invent again and again. We could be more grounded, more organic and in a morphing way engage in doing.
This organic way of understanding that the non productive space and doing nothing is as important, essential, valuable. What would it produce if you had in school a 5 hours of doing nothing, or being lazy and just following your impuls in this moment as part of your daily work schedule, or school day?
AM: Could that be playing?
VM: Yes, maybe. …Yes, but then it was measured that playing is good for something, creating better results of one or the other kind, so if you are not playing it is also wrong.
AM: But there is something about time for rest and time for playing – but how you rest and play is also important, the attitude you approach it. I think again it is more like that you don’t know how before you start. You don’t know how you will play today, and you don’t know what rest means today. And you allow time to actually feel what is needed. I feel like it is exactly this time of transition that makes a big difference. And this project is really giving this time – we are approaching the sleep together and experiencing how we do that, and what is happening there..
And also the logo you have, it also opens up the power of imagination. That there is a very strong power in imagining something together. We may know, that it is a game that it is not true but there is a power of imagining together and putting effort into it. To put some effort into imagining this happening.
VM: This is also interesting- you could really imagine something together, by asking questions and then our fantasy goes, and we create together.
In this project we were trying to say: What are the imaginings that want to come to us? Also acknowledging that there is something out there, that we just can be receivers for. Maybe it is bigger than one of us can imagine, more complex, wonderous than we could create with our willpower. We tried to get out of the cognitive mind into another kind of mind, and try to connect to this more collective mind and be receptive. It also poses the question of how we make ourselves open to be informed and receive, instead of seeing creation as…
AM: Self expression.
VM: Yes. This kind of: ‘I do’ , or ‘we do’ .
We were inspired by an indiginous leader from Brazil called Ailton Krenak, and in his book: How to Postpone the End of the World, he is among others talking about the potential that dreams can bring to us. Dreams not as something we fantasize about, but as something that is there in a different register of reality, that is connected already, that we can approach and download. He’s talking about it as one source to receive inspiration on how to approach alienation, the effects of colonisation, and the crisis that our materialistic view on the natural world has brought to us, and how we could still reach somewhere else.
To dream like this is not embedded in our culture as a practice – what could be practiced in our culture to approach this kind of pathway at all?