Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness

Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V.
Curated by Warren Neidich and Suzanne Prinz
June 19 – July 17, 2021

Participating artists include Elena Bajo, Katie Grinnan, Karen Lofgren, Tino Sehgal, Jeremy Shaw, Suzanne Treister, Rosemarie Trockel, Klaus Weber, and Sakiko Yamaoka.

“Galaxy Brain” by Erik Morse on ARTFORUM

Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness is the second of three acts in an activist neuroaesthetics exhibition-play that explores the effects that new technological transformations might have on human consciousness and its various social and cultural expressions.

In cognitive capitalism, the brain and mind are the new factories of the twenty-first century and the neural commons is under assault. One of its key conditions is the amplification of already existing 24/7 markets and their global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption, especially its relation to data production and collection. In this process of reification, human beings are made to conform seamlessly to flows in which they become linked to new de-personalized, technological self-administration processes. For instance, billions of dollars are being spent to research various means to reduce decision-making time, to create virtual environments that more intensely engage attention, as well as to reduce the lost time of “useless” reflection all in the name of increasing cognitive surplus labor. The internet is never asleep and this externalization (which is the essence of what Shoshana Zuboff calls the Big Other) – needs to be understood as the next step in a procession towards the commodification of sleep and other alternate states of consciousness on the horizon.

There is a thin veil that separates the experience of sleep from altered state of consciousness as both sleep and the ingestion of psychoactive substances induce temporary changes in one’s mental state. This adjacency is expressed in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Solaris (1972), which explores the effects of mass insomnia caused by a 24/7 lit environment that leads to a breakdown of cognitive control characterized by hallucinations and the experience of ghosts. This exhibition also understands how sleep and alternative states of consciousness remain stubbornly aloof from processes of subjectification and commodification defining, as it does, the edge of the next neoliberal frontier. As Jonathan Crary has described in 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013), “Sleep poses the idea of a human need and interval of time that cannot be colonized and harnessed to a massive engine of profitability, and thus remains an incongruous anomaly and site of crisis in the global present.”1Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), 10–11. Psychoactive drugs take this one step further by expanding experience and consciousness, and, as a result, produce new and sublime forms beyond capitalism’s grasp.

[PDF] Edited by Sarrita Hunn and Warren Neidich.

As we saw in the first part of this Activist Neuroaesthetics exhibition, the brain without organs is one apparatus at odds with this future conundrum, and the brain’s neural variation and neural plasticity form its toolbox. Foundational for this exhibition is the role of psychedelic drugs, especially Ayahuasca, in estranging and retro-engineering the organization of a sculpted and politicized semiotic brain. In cognitive capitalism, the attention economy is essential to the production of valorization and its neurobiological analogue, salience. As such, Ayahuasca’s newly found popularity might offer a reprieve from the subjugating effects of advanced data surveillance and normalization that depend upon coherent, consistent, and patterned interactions with the World Wide Web and its machinic algorithmic intelligence. Might this system be challenged by the effects of drugs that alter perception, produce hallucinations, and drive the mind back into self-reflective contemplation? Ayahuasca’s effect upon divergent thinking and enhanced mindfulness-related capacities are cases in point that affect our free choices and the production of a future full of chance encounters. Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness reopens the future that has been denigrated in cognitive capitalism.

Upon entering the exhibition, viewers were confronted with Karen Lofgren’s The Curse and the Cure (Imperial Ghost) (2018), an epoxy resin casting of a Victoria amazonica plant leaf enriched with antimony powder, wool, mud, blood, and artificial onyx, reminding us that the traditional role of the plant is as bearer of both a curse (poison) and the means of the cure. Her nearby sculptures Las alimentadas (2017–2020) carry the chemical and material traces of transformational processes inspired by Ayahuasca rituals. In a similar vein, Suzanne Treister’s HFT/Botanical Prints (2014–15) chart psychoactive plants whose molecular formulas were used in trading algorithms and later compiled alongside the top 20 companies in the Financial Times Global Financial Index, while Klaus Weber’s Proposal for Fountain for Public LSD Hall (2003) is represented by a bottle of potentized LSD, an LP recording of the fountain, and project plans.

For Data-Mind Geo-Phonics (2018), Katie Grinnan appropriates the apparatuses of a sleep laboratory to create a graphic score that delineates an improbable relationship between landscape and mind as a poetic syntax. In the documentary photo ATM in Head Office Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, Tokyo (2007) from the performance series Best Place to Sleep, Sakiko Yamaota refers to sleep as a biopolitical state that is physiological and social at the same time. Through documentation from the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 1999, Rosemarie Trockel’s Sleepingpill (1999) offers a prototype for a more permanent form for public sleeping.

In Unseen Potential (Psilocybe Utopia, a.2) (2021), Jeremy Shaw uses Kirlian photography to capture the electrical coronal discharges – the “aura” – that naturally occur around psychedelic plants, and in the eight-channel video DMT (2004) he documents giving the hallucinogen dimethyltryptamine, one of the major psychoactive compounds found in various shamanistic plants such as Ayahuasca and Yagé, to his friends. In Elena Bajo’s Jacquard tapestry The Dance of the Opium Poppies (2021), the materialization of psychoactive effects becomes visible and discursive.

While visiting the exhibition, one may have witnessed an invigilator suddenly and unexpectedly fall to the floor, seemingly struck by some undefinable brain disorder. As if in a trance, she or he begins to recite the press release of the show. For Sleep and Altered States of Consciousness, Tino Sehgal’s early performance, This Exhibition (2004), was interpreted by Agnieszka Kucharska, Chris Scherer, and Jessy Tuddenham.

This project is made possible with support from Hauptstadtkulturfonds, Verein zur Förderung von Kunst und Kultur am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz e.V., and private donors.