Sleep, The Ultimate Refuge

Dear immigrant friends in Berlin,

Invited to create an art project in the German capital on the theme of migration, I decided to tackle the task by means of the story of your dreams.

The migration process is a complex process that involves great upheavals, whether one immigrated by choice or by obligation. In the framework of my project I therefore do not seek to prioritize or categorize the “types” of migrants. Nor do I wish to carry out a scientific or sociological study of the psychic mechanisms at play in the migration process, my goal: to create a fundamentally poetic work that underlies political questions in a subtle and metaphorical way.

Why tell me about your dreams?

I myself am an immigrant on Swedish territory, I left my country of origin, France, in 2016, and one thing is certain, my nightlife has been strongly impacted by this big change. When the nights are calm, which is not always the case, the way my dreams are formed has changed dramatically. For example, more and more often I dream in English, something that never happened before I left. I also dream a lot about my old country. The people who surround me in my daily Swedish life very often evolve with me in places from my childhood, or else, my French friends meet my Swedish friends even though they have never met. The dream world is particularly fascinating from this point of view, the impossible is possible there, time and space are abolished and create a completely different reality. And our nightlife says a lot about how we feel.

There are perhaps people among you who risked their lives to settle in Europe. I imagine this has had serious traumatic consequences and is strongly noticeable in your nightlife. Maybe you have recurring dreams, maybe you dream about loved ones you have left, maybe you don’t remember your dreams … Everything is possible and everything interests me.

Maybe your migration process went very smoothly and peacefully, maybe you don’t particularly dream about your old country or your relatives back in your home country. It does not matter. I’m just interested in talking about your dreams.

Perhaps you have lost sleep, or on the contrary you constantly want to sleep. Perhaps your situation does not allow you to sleep peacefully, or is your sleep as it always has been. Everything is possible and everything interests me.

You will tell me, we also dream when we are awake. People usually leave their country for a brighter future, and so for a variety of reasons. We leave with our hearts full of hopes or desires. This is also the opportunity to discuss it. What were your dreams before you left?

As part of this project I have planned a meeting period with you, immigrants, volunteers to share your stories. I have a workshop where we could meet and get to know each other. Then, if you agree, I would like to record your stories in a small recording studio that will be set up there for the materialization of this project. Anyone with a migrant background is welcome, regardless of age or administrative status. I will just ask you to write to me at the following address so that you could introduce yourself in a few words and so we could arrange a first meeting.

The period of meetings and recording will be organized over the month of January 2022. Then, after a period of one month devoted to the editing of the sounds, an exhibition will take place in March in Berlin of the work produced from your stories.

If you like the idea but need more clarification, please write to me! If you like the idea but can’t participate, feel free to share it with those around you.

Hoping to hear from you,

Sincerely yours,

Ludivine Thomas-Andersson

The principle of exploring the world of sleep, an invisible and intimate world, is in itself a challenge that I have been trying to take up through my work for several years and that I particularly wish to explore further through the project « Sleep, The Ultimate Refuge ». Until now it has been my own sleep that I have taken as a subject of study, this time I wish to collaborate with the public in the creation of this work.

When we think about the questions raised by the theme of migration, we rarely think about the notion of sleep. Yet it is a fundamental subject in my view, raising many questions of a philosophical or political nature. Moreover, the experience of migration has an immense impact on sleep, whether in the sense of a great lack of sleep or the opposite.

Let’s think first of all about migratory birds. They travel thousands of kilometres each year to reach regions with a more welcoming climate. These birds, depending on the species, have developed impressive faculties so that they no longer need to sleep during the journey. For example, the Swainson’s Thrush sleeps with only one eye and rests only one brain hemisphere at a time. The White-throated Sparrow, on the other hand, can stay awake for seven days in a row without sleeping at all. What about the sleep of humans, who do not have the same capacities, in a context of displacement and migration? What impact does this natural constraint, which is widely experienced as a handicap in today’s societies (sleep as a waste of time), have on the journey and lives of people in migration?

Behind the idea of migration is the idea of finding a better place to live. For some it is even a question of fleeing war, of finding a refuge. But sleep can be a real refuge. Most people can testify to the more or less profound experience of sinking temporarily into sleep to escape the reality of their daily life. In Sweden, there is a phenomenon of this kind which only concerns migrants and which is quite remarkable because it is extreme: the Resignation Syndrome. This very rare but yet scientifically identified syndrome, which could have been called Sleeping Beauty Syndrome, only affects the children of asylum seekers whose application has been rejected. These children, who can no longer bear to face the reality of their existence, gradually sink into a sleep of several months, or even years, so deep that it is assimilated to a coma and generally only wake up when the good news of the improvement in their parents’ administrative situation intervenes. In this case, sleep becomes both an absolute refuge and a means of fighting against fatality. And the proof is, sometimes the migration office changes its judgement in view of the situation of the family affected by this syndrome.

It is therefore clear that the question of sleep is not an incidental issue. It plays a central role and is a very fragile force.

Moreover, in our modern societies, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many people to find sleep. More and more people are listening to podcasts to fall asleep, like a child who is told a story before going to bed, or even listen to videos in ASMR where the tenfold increase in the sound of insignificant things causes great relaxation and therefore falling asleep.

I am going to draw inspiration from these two practices for the realization of the work resulting from the project « Sleep, The Ultimate Refuge » and create a sound piece, ideally broadcast on the radio waves in the middle of the night, or in the form of podcasts that can be downloaded and listened to at any time.

The sound piece will consist of a set of several « episodes » of a narrative between real life and imaginary (especially not a documentary) whose unfolding is inspired by the mechanics of dreams : where the chronology is approximate, where realities are mixed, where everything is experienced as real… The narratives will be produced from the recording of interviews of migrants telling their own stories about their nights, anecdotes related to the theme of sleep, description of the quality of their sleep, stories of their dreams (dreams in which they perhaps travel to their country of origin and meet loved ones, dreams in which their life in Berlin meets their life in the past…etc)…etc To this sound material recorded at first I would add ambient sounds that will make the situations described more « real » (for example, if the person describes a scene where he or she enters a room, the sound of the door and the footsteps on the floor will have to be added). It will then be very difficult for the listener to differentiate between the real and the fictional, which is an important point. The aim for me is to create a kind of fantastic and fantasy tale.

I am also thinking of integrating readings of literary excerpts or poems, in particular extracts from the Sufi poem « The Conference of Birds » with which I have been working for other artworks for several years. It evokes the notion of an initiatory journey and will make the link with the figure of the migratory bird that runs through the whole project “Sleep, The Ultimate Refuge”. I find that this fits in perfectly with the project and the addition of literature extracts is a way of bringing an extra level of reading to this work and anchoring the story in a larger story than the anecdote of the few people interviewed.