Monday, 7 July 2008

To Sleep So As to Dream: On Louise Bourgeois

In one of her Cells, Louise Bourgeois sets up a 19th century, or early 20th century 'room' demarcated by a wall of used and broken doors. In this 'room', we see a bed, on which there lie some sheets and blankets with red words embroidered on them. I can't remember exactly what these words are, but they roughly say something like 'let me sleep so I can make my dreams.' Beneath the bed, there are more blankets like this. Next to the bed, there is a side table, on which there are pieces of glassware that remind me, perhaps because of my current research on drugs, opium paraphernalia.

The room perhaps has nothing to do with opium or drug use, but the installation strikes me as a plea for the right to sleep and to dream from someone who is suffering from an intense physical or emotional turmoil.

But do we have a right to sleep? As animal lives, we need to sleep, and it is not so much a question of right that our biological bodies would inevitably fall asleep. Nevertheless, as political lives, this need to sleep is peculiarly translated into a 'right', something that as individuals, we would need to negotiate with the rest of the community. In fact, sleep deprivation is often regarded as a disciplinary tool at school, in torture, in fraternity rushes, as though the surrendering of sleep as a right were a test of loyalty, a contract one makes with the political community by sacrificing the biological functions of one's animal life.

As a means to suppress pain, either emotional or physical, opiate use in the 19th century and early 20th century challenged a political community, whose 'consciousness' of its political life was made ever more palpable by the formation of the medical profession and the power it vested in itself, precisely because it asserted this individual right to sleep, and the transgression of humanity by an animal need over which the polity has essentially no power to intervene unless it translates it into a 'right'. In this sense, opiate use is much more intimately related to one's right to 'die', and the increasingly ambiguous definition of medical death based on what the community sees fits regarding to its control over animal lives.

In this sense, art, by asserting the animalistic poesis, the constant resistance against the translation of the artist's 'will' into a communal 'right', is fundamentally anti-social. The moment art enters the public space, its poesis disintegrates into aesthetics. By 'fencing' a patch of this shared world with a wall of doors, Bourgeois has perhaps attempted to protect this poetic space from the contamination of aesthetics. However, a wall of doors always has the potential to be dismantled, and between doors, there are always gaps through which one can escape into the artist's private space. This 'right' to sleep and to dream can be disintegrated and returned to the animal 'self' if we cease to be spectators, and when we are willing to climb onto her bed in order to dream our dreams.

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