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We Series: Sleep

Presented by Elastic Arts in collaboration with Sixty Inches From Center, the We Series presents live art that blurs the line between performance and reality, with a soft spot for the participatory, ceremonial, ritualistic, immersive, and tutorial. The performances in this series will debut every Tuesday evening in January 2021. In tandem, Sixty will be publishing written companion pieces on the same day, authored by poets, playwrights, designers, musicians, bakers, and more. The We Series is co-curated by Deidre Huckabay and Lia Irene Kohl. 

This text-based collaboration is created by Kurt Chiang and Adam Zanolini on the theme of Sleep

The adjacent performances can be streamed here.


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Kurt, Waking

Adam and I go about a small ritual where we interrupt our sleep on a few nights during the week. We’ll interrupt our sleep, and write down some experiences, some feelings, and some outcomes. Those records will be made available to the public, offered up here. This rite against sleep points at its relationship to presence. When we sleep, we sacrifice something small of our presence for the chance at sleep. Now, Adam and I will sacrifice our sleep for some exceptional and previously unknown aspects of our waking life. Similar to certain books about drugs. Like, if you want to read about drugs but have a limited desire to try the drugs yourself. I have read those books too, I know. Don’t know why. I’m hunting, I suppose. I’m curious and I hunt for what the drugs do. And then I know what the drugs do, and now I don’t need to do them.

Our friend Andrew is going to help. He has read some books and he is into it. He loves sleeping, but he also loves driving. And world travel. In the morning, Andrew is picking up Adam at 5:00AM and then me at 5:20AM to catch a plane that will cross the world. This was entirely Andrew’s idea and I am not looking forward to it. Adam doesn’t seem to mind.

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Adam, Dreaming

Sometimes it’s a gavotte that dominates my mind. At other times, it’s the guilt from an obligation I do not want, but shoulder. Now, I should be free to dream, but so often I am not. Never have I before worked in my sleep. These things work on me. My work, it works on me. It won’t let me go.

I’ll sleep on it. I make decisions in my sleep. I get paid to make decisions, but too often they happen in my sleep. Now, my sleep is not my own.

//

Kurt, Waking

Andrew is outside now. With a pen and paper he is waiting in the falling snow. He wonders, what is it that I am sleeping? Not dreaming, but sleeping—what sleep? “What is it, Kurt’s sleep?” he asks. Is it good? Is it deep? Is it dark? Is it a sleep that I am going to be jealous of when I hear about it? Andrew needs me to get in the car with him and Adam, but I am not waking up. “The idea is to capture the sleep, Kurt,” Andrew says. “Wake up and capture it. You have a plane to get on. I want to show you the pandas and how they do sleep. Then you’ll totally get it.” 

Adam is asleep in the passenger seat. He shouldn’t be. This isn’t our arrangement. Regardless, Andrew is happy for him. I think Adam is dreaming, which is also against our arrangement. I am not dreaming and Andrew keeps calling my phone, but I keep hanging up on him. I think it’s the snooze alarm. I wish he’d wake up Adam, but anyway here I am.

Everything Andrew knows about sleep is from his sleep book, Rites of Sleep. He told us all about it and he says it is everything we can do aside from watch the pandas. We have yet to read the book, though, so we’ll call it gossip. So much idle gossip on the medieval secrets of sleep and best practices of wealthy, well-fed men who sleep for profit. Andrew’s friends and others that we come in contact with have been negotiating these tips, partaking in it, walking on their feet in the healthiest way (i.e. on the balls, perfectly), and backing up their sources and being sociable to excellent rhythms of sleep. It’s worth it. I’ve been listening, but I’ve also been backed into a corner. Everyone is good at flinging up-to-the-minute ideas on the full ideas of sleep and I’m not tired, not at all. I am a diligent student. I am not tired, and I am ready to get to sleep just as they arrive to go to the airport. Andrew rings me again. I kiss the small of the back of a ruddy deer.

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Adam, Dreaming

Sleeping wrong doesn’t help. Searching for sleep. Terrified of not sleeping.  Somnolent days. I hear the woman upstairs snoring. It’s faint, distant like a subway rumble from the 2nd fl
oor. I’m jealous. It’s funny. When I can’t sleep at night, next day I’m daydreaming of sleeping. Now is the glorious time I’ve been waiting for! And it won’t come.

Trying to share sleep with someone is strange. Sometimes it just works. Everybody’s on the same page. It’s sleep time. Sometimes, one of us isn’t.

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Kurt, Waking

Sleep is worth money now, Andrew tells us. Younger people than us are buying sleep all the time. They are buying the sleep itself, but also the books on sleep and the ads next to the books on sleep. Even the blogs on sleep. All of them. The podcasts, really. The language of sleep is that of the internalized sensation of bettering. It’s why Andrew got into this business, and why Adam and I are invested in capturing it (sort of).

Can you sleep as you read? I ask Andrew. He doesn’t know. Or, he’s never had that experience personally, the way I mean it. Sure, I’ve gotten sleepy as I read, but sleep has never been extended to the act of reading. There’s that thing about not being able to read in dreams. There’s the sleepy back-and-forth of eye motions. But not an exact experience of reading as sleep, no.

I’ve peaked Andrew’s curiosity, I’m proud to say.

That’s a wish for the experience, definitely, that the active capturing of sleep through language be extended to any readers. A lullaby is a form of address. Andrew calls again and I snooze again. Adam is dreaming still like it’s nothing. I won’t be late, just five more minutes.

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Adam, Dreaming

So, finally I decided! ::::: It’s not fair to my partner to interrupt our sleep together for this project
. The ritual is violent to our sleep. Sleep should be protected, not colonized. And it isn’t effective. No quality writing is coming from this on my end. Just short angry things.

On the other hand, the attempt has given me some insights. American sleep is fucked. We all know this. The older I get and the more (kind of) into my thing I get, the more I sacrifice sleep to work more. Sometimes when there are lots of things happening, I’ll be working in my sleep! I’m dreaming about work, then get up and write a work email in the middle of the night. My sleep has been colonized. And it’s become natural to compromise my sleep. I think maybe when I was younger I used to sleep eight hours religiously. Then there was this moment when I realized I could make it on five or six hours, if only for a day, before I had to catch up. And it was like an adventure – I discovered, like, three more hours of consciousness in a day. Plus it was deep-night time, when adult things happen, dangerous, hidden, titillating, intoxicating things, and also, you know, deep inward, gothic romantic kinds of things – when writing can happen because everyone else is asleep and it’s finally quiet! Then I got into academics and then this weird arts business where I have to shift my sleep around, where I have to work until after midnight sometimes, where there’s always much more unfinished work than there is money. I started selling my sleep time.

So when I heard the prompt, sleep, the first thing that occurred to me is, oh, I know! I’ll interrupt my sleep and write! WRONG.

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Andrew, Explaining What a NEVER DO LIST Is To Adam As He Sleeps, And They Wait For Kurt To Wake Up And Come Out To The Car

Not, like,
to never do
like, to never do it
because it is unachievable.
Nor, like,
to never do
like, in a moral sense,
(reprehensible).
It’s like,
that you never have the obligation to do it.
It’s like
a Never Do,
(a slight float on the oooooo),
A dreamy piece of Will Never Do.

A Never Do List is a space left for unrelaxed emotions.
Dream up a Never Do List right before you retire for the night,

and know that you will not do it tomorrow,
and not the next day,
and especially not in your sleep.

//

Kurt, Waking

I fear the sleep because it doesn’t feel like mine. Like a healthy body, it never feels like mine. I fear it not unlike how I fear eventual failures in my body. It is alien to feel good. Even more so when other people feel good. I want nothing of it. Sometimes I feel I want the pock-marked body of one withered away. An immortal callus, living. That’s how I feel. But really, I can’t claim to have ever been pock-marked. I can’t even imagine a pock, for the life of me.

Andrew can hear my alarm going off from all the way downstairs. Not my alarm, really, it’s my phone. Which is also my alarm. I’m snoozing, and it rings and he can hear me just slamming the snooze, which is just me basically hanging up on him. We have a plane to catch. Andrew could try and get me to come outside somehow, but he’s being polite. It’s hard to get someone to do something this early in the morning. Andrew will be polite to the neighborhood and let me sleep, but I’ll need to wake up soon. He had a whole speech prepared to pass the time during the drive. The snooze is not helping me wake. He is missing an important opportunity, Andrew thinks to himself about me.

//

Adam, Dreaming

I’m going to move in the opposite direction. Rather than stabbing my sleep with a knife, plunging into the frigid winter, and irritating my loving lady, I’m going to radically nap every day for the next week, write about that, and this shift from torturing my sleep to emancipating it.

Sleep is a pause in consciousness.

//

Kurt Tries a Never Do List

fashion a font
summit the peak
invent the best thing
wash clothes perfectly
take a perfect shot
breathe out color in a crowd
criticize love

I watched a majority of Game of Thrones in a state of sleep deprivation. Plot-driven it was, and that is why it was so hard to peel away from. I wanted to know what happened next, and I let it happen in front of me, late at night. It was very, very late at night and I waited for it all to happen. It took my sleep. It took the place of my sleep, and I won’t get that time back. So I want to try to pass it on to you. Take it. I won’t regret it, really. Violence at night makes me weep with emotion, and that is important for me. So you can have my sleep. But I am afraid of what will take its place.

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Adam, Dreaming

Do it do it do it  do do do it it it it It It It IT IT ITITITITITITIT, sleep.
man here we go again, ok, do. it. do. it. do do. it it it. doooo it. dooo it. it it is Doing it doing it some more hooo, man, almost…and….sleep.

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Kurt, Not Waking

I have a few other friends aside from Andrew who are telling me about sleep. It is a population of people, all of them experts of tech as much as sleep cycles and self-care. Screen time is a factor. Get less screen time and set an alarm with your phone. Listen to an app, a meditation over the phone for better sleep. It works, the population says. Sleep is purposeful. You can wait for it and it replaces your consciousness. I have fainted once, and to be honest, it felt very, very good. The only bad part was how everyone else was scared. I won’t hurt my body on purpose ever. But I will chase something down if it’s worth it. I am hunting, I suppose. And if my body takes a blow, so be it. If I don’t get sleep on a night, that is just that night then. I drink a glass of water to calm my heart.

Andrew wakes up, perfectly. He knows exactly when to go to bed, which wall to face, how to breathe and how to drift with ease. His sleep is just, as it is said. His sleep is worth the pounds of gold (as gold sleeps), and he has absolutely no problem waking up. Even at this early hour after he has picked up Adam and waits outside my apartment, it is as if this is Andrew’s first day alive. Because of his sleep. I hit the snooze alarm again, and Andrew silently and patiently curses under his breath.

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Adam, Dreaming

Pause my consciousness! Pause my rationality. Pause this brick and mortar causality. Interrupt this connection between thought and body, let mind roam free throughout itself. Purify imagination. A daily vacation.

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Kurt, Not Waking

Did I go to bed angry? I wait for the sleep. Did I feel good about myself? I must have. Andrew goes back and starts the car. Adam is stirred. They are leaving me if I don’t wake up. I would talk to them tomorrow, but by then they will be well out of range. I focus on my breath. I call Andrew back accidentally and he doesn’t pick up as he pulls into departures. I can still take the bus. Making a mental note that he’ll need to follow up with me, Andrew shuffles Adam onto the plane. Meanwhile, I climb in behind the turbine and wait for everyone aboard to fall asleep so I can sneak up through the rear cabin door, unbeknownst.

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Adam, Dreaming

RADICAL NAPPING is not as straightforward as it seems. There’s a physician who loves me enough to tolerate me, and she also educates me on how bodies work. I learned recently that there are daily rhythms, and messing around with them is dangerous. Sleeping in the day is unnatural to me. And I know the world is humming around me. It is more than a week’s work to integrate a radical nap into my daily life, but it is a goal I will work towards.

//

Kurt Tries Another Never Do List, And Andrew Still…

hold the hand of Marie Antoinette
film the entire life of a tree
topple a capitalist society
read fantasy
call my mother-in-law
walk up a set of stairs anytime soon
clean my neighbor’s dishes
apologize to my grandparents
sleep soundly
feed the neighbor’s dog
change the bulb of a public lighting fixture
package a chicken for Purdue

Over heaps of Korean barbecue in the Arlington, Virginia version of King Spa, my brother-in-law tells me he could hear my snoring all the way across the hall. I need to get a machine to help me breath. It’s serious. He has one, and he swears by it. He knows because he experiences it (in his sleep). I will get that once I am able to pay in cash.

You are going to love that, Andrew says.

When I get that sleep machine, I will get it with a decorative antique table.

So sick, Andrew says.

I am in charge of a bus. We are going on a hunt. It startles me, that we live.

//

Adam,…

That is a chuckle.

* * *

Featured image: A graphic that gives information about the Sleep iteration of the We Series. Created by Lindsay Zae Summers.


Kurt Chiang is a theatre artist, writer and performer. He is an Ensemble Member and Artistic Director Emeritus of The Neo-Futurists, where he created over 300 2-minute plays for the acclaimed, ever-changing show, The Infinite Wrench. In 12 years with the company, he has contributed as a director, writer and deviser of multiple premieres, produced and curated The Neo-Futurist Kitchen Festival in 2016, and co-created The Arrow, an original performance that subjects written essays to spontaneous acts of inquiry and disruption (in collaboration with Lily Mooney). In February, Kurt will contribute a piece for Tiny Performances in Empty Rooms at The Arts Club of Chicago. 

Image: A photo of Adam Zanolini

Adam Zanolini is a multi-instrumentalist, ethnomusicologist, and arts organizer based in Chicago. He received his PhD from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2016.  He is the Executive Director of Elastic Arts Foundation in Chicago and former Associate Director of Arts for Art, inc., presenter of the annual Vision Festival of avant-jazz in New York City. He is also co-founder of the Participatory Music Coalition (PMC) and a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).  Adam performs most frequently with the PMC, SuRa Dupart’s SidePocket Experience, and with the AACM’s Great Black Music Ensemble.