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Embroider your dreams: artist calls for York exhibition input

Posted on 30 November 2016

The University of York’s Artist in Residence is calling on local people to embroider their thoughts and dreams about sleep onto pillowcases to help form the centrepiece of a new exhibition.

Susan Aldworth’s installation, One Thousand and One Nights, will open at York St Mary’s in June 2017 to coincide with next year’s York Festival of Ideas.

Part of a three year interdisciplinary project, The Dark Self, the exhibition will bring together the dreams of local people from diverse backgrounds with words and stories embroidered onto 1001 white pillowcases.

The pillowcases will be hung on wires in the patterns of neural pathways associated with sleep in the brain, with the public encountering the works by walking down these pathways.

Susan Aldworth has been working with York academics, including neuroscientist Professor Miles Whittington and art historian Professor Michael White, to explore the narratives of sleep.

The Dark Self project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, will culminate in a body of work including a sculpture exhibition and a film installation exploring the three stages of sleep.

Susan Aldworth explains: “We spend a third of our lives asleep and during that time - with the exception of transient periods of wakefulness and recalled dreaming - we are completely unaware of ourselves and our surroundings. Deep sleep is an experience of nothingness but one that is full of fundamental but hidden activity.

“Sleep presents scientists, who deal in objective, repeatable facts, with a huge problem. Not only is being asleep a solitary act, even the person sleeping cannot give an account of it. What happens to the ‘self’ in this dark time of sleep when the brain is in a state of high function? What is the nature of The Dark Self?

“One Thousand and One Nights is an installation based on the concept of the Arabian Nights - stories that were collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars from the Middle East and South Asia. Bringing together 1001 dreams of a local community from diverse backgrounds, the work will be a cultural snapshot of our times.

“The pillowcases might include historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques and various forms of erotica. In the original tales, the stories depict jinns, ghouls, apes, sorcerers, magicians, and legendary places, which are often intermingled with real people and geography, not always rationally. Who knows what we might see in this 21st century version?”

Susan Aldworth has spent much of her career exploring the complex relationship between the physical brain and our sense of self, with exhibitions including Susan Aldworth: The Portrait Anatomised at the National Portrait Gallery in 2013. The Dark Self series of exhibitions will run in York from May to September 2017.

Those wishing to contribute to One Thousand and One Nights will receive a pillowcase, embroidery silks and needles for sewing, with work to be submitted by 31 March 2017.

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