When I was growing up, I had frequent nightmares. I don’t remember all of the details anymore—the form that my subconscious terrors took. Most of all, I remember waking in the dark, covered in sweat. My eyes would sweep the room—illuminated by the dim glow of a nightlight—trying to find the intruder that I was sure hovered just on the periphery of sight.
In recent years, memories of those nights have come back, accompanied by the same sense of a looming, unknown threat. The world seems, at times, wreathed in fog, a panoply of competing messages and viewpoints all designed to strike urgent fear into our hearts. These fears coach our political decisions, the products we consume, the people we associate with. This fear is a form of control harnessed on a massive scale. Power aspires to the perpetuation of power—no matter whether it rests in the hands of corporations, the media industry, or the government. In the midst of this, it is hard to perceive what is real.
This series of works aims at fostering a greater awareness of ourselves and each other, being awake to what is happening around us above what we are told. Some works are targeted at honing the mind of the user (chess), while others attempt to offer solace (night light).
CHESS BOARD WITH CERAMIC PAWNS
In the fourth and fifth grade, I played on my elementary school chess team. I learned that the game is not just about outlining a strategy, but also about understanding that of my opponent. With each move, I asked myself what they stood to gain or lose. In Marostica, the town abutting Nove, there is an enormous chess board that dominates the piazza. Every other year, the town stages a game of chess in which the pieces are living, breathing people. Remembering my grandmother Bertilla sharing her memories of these games, I reflected that this performance revealed life itself as a network of agendas. Today, I still try to think in these terms about those around me and about the seemingly faceless institutions that define our world. Who is king and who is queen? Who benefits from these actions? I dream of a future like Fluxus artist Yoko Ono’s all white chessboard—in which we all play on the same side.
BLACK SHEEP NIGHT LIGHT
When children have difficulty sleeping, tired parents will tell them to count sheep, painting an image of iterative, identical sheep jumping an imagined fence. The expression—which is prevalent in Western culture—can be traced as far back as the 12th century collection of folk tales Disciplina clericalis, transcribed in Latin by Jewish Spanish intellectual Petrus Alphonsi. The original fable describes a king who commanded his storyteller to recount a tale every evening. One night, his mind heavy with matters of state, the king kept his storyteller by his side late into the night. The storyteller, growing weary, told the king of a shepherd who bought hundreds of sheep at market. In order to bring his new herd back to his pastures, he needed to cross a river in a boat that could carry only one sheep at a time. Telling the king of how the shepherd ferried the first sheep to the other shore, the storyteller himself fell asleep.
Though this image of boredom-induced sleep has persisted for 800 years, it is widely accepted to be a false practice—few insomniacs find any respite from their sleeplessness in the nocturnal movements of imagined sheep. It is a cold, if playful, comfort passed from parent to child and further broadcast by corporate branding.
The invocation of sheep has always held a certain interest for me. Another common Western saying compares the unthinking execution of commands to the behavior of sheep in a herd. It is also worth noting that most characterizations of “counting sheep” insist that they are all identical. This work draws upon the idea of being a “black sheep”—standing out from others, being unique—as a means of escaping from the nightmare. We don’t need to fall back to sleep—we need to wake up.