Figures of Sleep

Figures of Sleep

Art Museum at the University of Toronto

Gabriel Orozco, Sleeping Leaves (Hojas durmiendo), 1990. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy of the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

January 17, 2018
Figures of Sleep
January 17–March 3, 2018
Opening: January 25, 5–7pm
Art Museum at the University of Toronto
15 King’s College Circle
Toronto Ontario M5S 3H7
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 12–5pm,
Wednesday 12–8pm

T +1 416 978 8398
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Participating artists: Francis Alÿs, Rebecca Belmore, Louise Bourgeois, Chris Burden, Sophie Calle, Chris Curreri, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Rodney Graham, Tehching Hsieh, On Kawara, Hassan Khan, Liz Magor, Ron Mueck, Bruce Nauman, Gabriel Orozco, Jasmeen Patheja, Jon Sasaki, Mladen Stilinović

Curated by the Art Museum at the University of Toronto’s Curator Sarah Robayo Sheridan.

Figures of Sleep is an exhibition that considers the cultural anxieties manifest in the popular and critical imagination around the collapsing biological function of sleep under economic, social and technological transformation. If the night was the space of mystic quandary, and a creative catalyst and spiritual and cultural resource, today’s globalized capitalism and market and military demands for 24/7 service hours are stretching human body and mind in unprecedented ways. Is sleep in crisis? Exceedingly, artists have adopted the motif of sleep as a cipher for material, aesthetic, existential and political considerations of these urgent cultural concerns.

The classical separation of sleep and wakefulness would have these two spaces bounded by separate conventions, ethics, perceptions, and gravitational rules. More recently, anxiety over sleep has transferred from the quandary of the lonely philosopher into the rhetoric of fast capitalism, with a sleep “recession” widely being reported by popular media. A differential politics of access between subjects emerges, supported by attendant architecture. At the margins of the protected 9-5 workday, we find the disjointed relationships of night shift labourers, sleep-deprived parents of young children, jet-setters, elective night owls, and eager partygoers. 

Few states are as ambiguous as sleep, a scientific enigma that has produced widely different theories—a hangover of an obsolete evolutionary impulse, the foundation of complex brain function, or the seat of dreaming in psychoanalysis. By turns, sleep has been decried as useless, purposeless and surplus, while on the other hand defended as a precious inalienable human right. Lately, it is subject to detailed quantification, with various self-monitoring health apps adding to the inventory of big data mapping human consciousness. To the list of contemporary preoccupations, the territory of sleep seems to be another natural resource in jeopardy.

Artists have inhabited the paradigm of sleep as rest, as protest, as withdrawal and a radical expression of a will to live. Endurance, boredom, counter-resistance, Sisyphean futility—all these themes emerge in the works presented here. If we understand sleep as a type of technology, we might wonder if increasing angst over its demise signals a cultural shift. If McLuhan argued that a new medium “never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them,” then we might ask what new forms will sleep find in the future?

Opening program

Night of Ideas: To sleep or not to sleep, 7pm–7am
International artists, writers, philosophers, historians, neuroscientists and other restless minds will tackle such wide-ranging subjects as the neuroscience of sleep, the meaning of downtime, the health impact of sleeplessness, the cultural importance of dreaming, and the architecture and politics of sleep. Presented in partnership with the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Canada and Hart House as part of a global initiative across 50 cities.

Art Museum at the University of Toronto gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. With additional project support for Figures of Sleep from The Joan and Clifford Hatch Foundation and TD Insurance. The Night of Ideas is supported by The Cultural Service of the Embassy of France in Canada, Institute Français, Hart House, the Janet E. Hutchison Foundation, and TD Insurance. The Media Sponsors are NOW Magazine and CIUT-FM.

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Art Museum at the University of Toronto
January 17, 2018

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