It was 10.30pm on Friday night, the end of day two of Fierce Festival 2015, and I was heading to Eastside Projects. I wasn’t alone, in front of me were a group of four women who I’d easily spotted as being destined for this event. Why was I so sure? They were all carrying bags of belongings, bedding and pillows, blankets and all manner of personal items.
I got all kinds of reactions from friends and family when I told them I was off to sleep with a curator. Your idea of hell or unique, horizontal networking? Aside from the humorous connotations it’s a simple idea - bring people together to eat, drink and then sleep. A tongue in cheek proposition and an artwork devised by artists Rosalie Schweiker and Maria Guggenbichler. This event felt intimate rather than exposing, even though I spent the night with a lot of strangers in a public place.
The project is continually developing. Each ‘sleeping’ (there have been five so far), is different from the last. This was the largest to date - over 50 people accepted the invitation to spend the night with Eastside Projects’ Director Gavin Wade.
Once we had eaten and settled into our accommodation for the night, Gavin began to read us a series of bedtime stories, carefully selected because of their significance to him, which included Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’ and Dr Seuss’ ‘If I Ran the Zoo’. In the morning we were all treated to ‘Adventure Time’ inspired bacon pancakes made the Wade-way.
It is fair to say that Rosalie and Maria are interested in people. They make work with and about social situations, in response to a need, a problem or an issue. In that vein, this sleepover also had a very useful function, providing some temporary accommodation for people staying in Birmingham for the festival over the weekend.
But there’s more to this work than that. Generally their projects (and the kinds of work they make) don’t fit in to a conventional art world context. This particular work playfully disrupted a conventional gallery experience. Rather than simply looking at the work in Eastside Project’s ‘Display Show’, at this event the audience navigated the artworks in terms of where they might like to sleep. People looked intently at the exhibition, but their judgements were based on comfort rather than aesthetics. And this is the point – when Rosalie and Maria work together they create ‘formats’ for all kinds of encounters, something they describe as envisioned but unmediated.
Programmed as part of a live art festival this ‘Sleep’ was the most public to date. The first edition involved just Rosalie and a curator. She remarked that often curators in galleries and museums have very little, if any, direct contact with audience. This project has become the opposite - the curator hosts the audience.
‘Sleep with a Curator’ is a simple idea but it’s much more than this. It’s a sleepover but it’s a public one. For Eastside Projects, on this occasion, art was made very public and this was the perfect event to test this notion. When it was time to leave I felt sad that the event had been and gone. The artists, the curator and all the other strangers had been perfect company.