‘Night Vision’ on Saturday 6th June was a visual performance inspired by the hidden world of the night. In her research, artist Susan Francis found that very little has been written about the night time. Our “entire history is only the history of waking men.” This first led Susan to interview women at night, and in her latest performance Night Vision she has invited the public to share their experiences of the night in sealed black envelopes.
The Night Vision performance brought phrases from people’s personal stories into the light, and by that I don’t mean into the harsh light of day. Their words, painted in olive oil, were illuminated so that they shone like fire in the dark of the street, and the dark of the room in which they were performed. They shone. The words emerged, one by one before our watching eyes and not always in order. One by one they arranged themselves into sentences. Artist Susan Francis was hidden behind the screen, her shadow appearing momentarily as her bush met the paper.
Each phrase revealed to watchers in the street, or in the room, quickly became splattered and later blurred: the moment of clarity a fleeting and passing thing, so that the stories of the night will always remain “the property of the night”.
This creation of reflective space in the night time (the performance took place at 11pm) has parallels with a forgotten practice. In the past, it is believed we collectively experienced a period of waking and our sleep was not continuous.
“There is one stirring hour, unknown to those who dwell in houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping hemisphere, and all the outdoor world are on their feet” men and beasts alike. – Robert Lewis Stevenson
Before electric lighting, when we were more in tune with the coming and going of the sun we appear to have had our first sleep followed by 2-3 hours of waking, and then a second sleep.
Susan has found: “Until the modern era, up to an hour or more of quiet wakefulness mid way through the night interrupted most western European peoples night. Families would rise from their bed to urinate, smoke tobacco, and even visit close neighbours. In addition to suggesting that consolidated sleep such as we today experience is unnatural, segmented slumber offered the unconscious an expanded avenue to the waking world that has remained closed for most of us since the industrial age.”
As you can imagine the waking hours must have lent themselves to quiet reflection inspired by dreams both wonderful and terrible, as well as laying bare the fears and vulnerabilities of people in the night. I imagine people drew closer to one another, taking comfort from sharing the experience which could be both an exquisite freedom and a fear laced reminder of their vulnerabilities.
And so, inspired by all these things Susan wanted to give people the opportunity to share their own stories of the night. She asked:
“How do you sleep?
Where was your bed as a child?
Do you welcome the dark?
What are your experiences in the middle of the night?
Who are you are 4am?
What comforts you?”
People’s answers and responses to the theme of night were collected in a box at The Bureau of Exchange over the past two weeks.
“There are truths which one can see only when it’s dark” – Isaac Bashevis Singer
Susan’s quiet, night-time performance had a warm, healing quality that brought the collected, collective voices of a small group together.
And it was visually spectacular.
It’s an experience we will long remember.