by Tessa Maffuci
Perchance to Dream
Andrea Meislin Gallery
June 21 - August 9, 2013
Perchance to Dream, which opened at Andrea Meislin Gallery on June 21st, presents a diverse and slightly eerie view of the subject of sleep. The title is drawn from Hamlet's familiar "to be or not to be" soliloquy in which he famously contemplates the burden of life, the idea of suicide and the human fear of the unknown. Like Shapespeare's Prince of Denmark, this exhibition touches on topics of youth and maturation, family, tradition, and war.
The exhibition is composed of twenty five photographs, one etching, and a video. Some of the selection of artists included in this show are represented by Andrea Meislin and some of the works were consigned from other galleries.
Upon entering the exhibition space one's attention is immediately pulled to Barry Frydlender's Turning Point (2005), first for its scale and then for its content. The piece is roughly four feet by seven feet and overwhelms the small space with its size. Frydlender shows two young college students, evidenced by a blue booklet with a Cambridge University seal that has been left on the coffee table amidst snack wrappers and dirty plates, sleeping off a late night. The students are too big for the couches they sleep on: one lies curled up, while the other's feet dangle over the arm of the sofa. Recognizable scenes of youth, like this one, are found throughout the selection of Perchance to Dream. In Bertien van Manen's Night on a Lake (1997) a young woman sleeps next to a pile of fresh marijuana leaves and the remnants of last night's party: empty cigarette packs, beer bottles and uneaten bread and sandwiches. In both Frydlender and van Manen's images the sleepers resist waking despite the bright light flooding over them.
Likewise, Mike Brodie's #5065, from A Period of Juvenile Prosperity (2006-2009) shows individuals sleeping despite their circumstances. Brodie, who is also known as The Polaroid Kidd, spent roughly four years photographing his travels throughout the United States. The image included in this exhibition shows two young train hoppers sleeping on the floor of a freight train. In slightly less gritty environments, Martine Fougeron and Naomi Leshem both show slumbering adolescents, their impending adulthood hinted at through the unconscious gestures of sleep.
This exhibition also examines sleep through the lens of the child and the family. In Jana Romanova's photographs, which show expectant parents sleeping together, one image represents sleepers who are graceful to the point of almost feeling posed, while the other displays a less glamorous view showing a couple sleeping with the complete abandon of exhaustion. Similarly, Sally Mann's The Wet Bed (1987) exposes the subject, revealing a stain underneath her child sleeping on a sparse cot in an ominously dark room. In contrast, Gillian Laub's Cooper with Wheat Thins (2002) takes a more lighthearted approach. A ziploc bag of crackers across his eyes like a sleep mask, the nude child naps amongst a pile of sumptuous pillows, magazines and stuffed animals. Again taking a different approach to childhood sleep, Pavel Wolberg's Tbilisi (2005) shows a ruddy-faced toddler asleep on a man's shoulder in an ancient church. Wolberg's image provides a clue to the world outside the child's sleep, while Mann and Laub have created environments of isolation.
A second Pavel Wolberg photograph, titled Gaza Envelope (2006), shows seven men resting on cots shaded by a piece of military machinery. Like Tim Hetherington's iconic images of sleeping soldiers, one of which is included in this exhibition, Wolberg's photograph represents the warrior defenseless and exposed. Untitled (1999) by Adi Nes also explores the private moments of a soldier with his image showing a group of men, one resting on the shoulder of another.
The final element of this exhibition is the video Lullaby created by Hadassa Goldvicht and Anat Vovnoboy who asked a variety of employees and visitors of the Israel Museum to recount songs that were sung to them as children. The gallery has created a small room for viewing this film, which allows the viewer to sink into the experience of the lullabies. The subjects are filmed from quite close and most seem pleasantly uncomfortable with their task, smiling, occasionally giggling, looking into the camera and then looking away. The variety of languages and cadences have the intended soporific effect and after sitting in the darkened space for several minutes another dreamlike wander through the selection of images in order.
Tessa is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She earned her BA from the Gallatin School at New York University and has furthered her studies at Columbia University and the International Center for Photography.view all articles from this author