ONLY THAT WHICH NEVER
SLEEPS CAN BE TRACED:
ON YOSHIYUKI AND
THE PARK / 公園
In bed but awake.
Only that which never sleeps can be traced. The tracks do not stop until you
fall asleep. The hypnagogic trace, the trace that erases all doubt through its
impossible relationship with both waking and sleep. The long-drawn-out
potential of falling asleep: a lingering wakefulness that ultimately still fails.
Rather than nod off, you want to remain in the transition between these stages,
in the liminal passage. For a mystic like Swedenborg the gap between sleep and
waking was a state that conferred an increased receptivity to the intuitions of
divine revelation. Within the framework of his astral correspondences he strove
to induce this state himself.Through hypnagogic visions, which is what we would call some of these
experiences today, we believe we are perceiving obscure figures, shapes, patterns,
voices, images. These visions do not come right away, they wait for us on the
threshold, we are led into them. In the middle of the 19th century, a
French dream researcher suggested that such visual experiences were entoptic, that
is to say, they originated in the eye itself: in arterial debris and turbidity
floating around in the eye’s vitreous humour. This hypothesis
possibly explains why thinkers such as Bergson and Freud to some extent
overlooked the borderline terrain of falling asleep in favour of the world of
dreams. In an undated note Walter Benjamin observes that “every image is a
sleep in itself”.
Benjamin’s interweaving of the image and subconscious is reminiscent of Freud’s
characterization of the state into which the analysand would ideally be put:
What is in question, evidently, is the establishment of a psychical state which, in its distribution of psychical energy (that is, of mobile attention), bears some analogy to the state before falling asleep – and no doubt also to hypnosis. As we fall asleep, ‘involuntary ideas’ emerge, owing to the relaxation of a certain deliberate (and no doubt also critical) activity which we allow to influence the course of our ideas while we are awake. […] As the involuntary ideas emerge they change into visual and acoustic images.
The hypnagogic state takes place in the cleft
between the conscious and the unconscious. It is an aesthetic topos that emanates
from surrealism.The experience that made me aware of the hypnotic effect of the condition was a
military exercise in falling asleep. The exercise involves visualizing an inner
space while obediently repeating the phrase:
(The command is, of course, absurd, its
negative mantra usually has the opposite effect on thinking.) Nonetheless, the
place gradually transitions into another type of spatiality, one that we cannot
defend ourselves against, and whose presence can be characterized specifically
as hypnagogic. The place marks the transition between wakefulness and sleep. One
thing that stands out as a perfect equivalent to this place is Kohei Yoshiyuki’s
series of photographs The Park/公園 (1971-73). It is not so much a physical
location as a point in time: the park happens. It is when we are there that constitutes
“there”. It is impossible to say how long we are there (it could be a matter of
minutes or even of years). It is terribly early: a lustrous stupor. We have been
left standing or lying somewhere in the dark. We have forgotten everything else.
Daily newspapers lie open on the morning grass like improvised picnic cloths.
Handbags, half-smoked cigarettes, carelessly arranged shoes and sandals. An
opened umbrella serves as a parasol. The flash casts a shimmer of summer heat
over everything: a colourless radiance, which at some points lights up the park,
not so that anyone will be woken up, but so that we will remain half-asleep. Clothes
become ivory white in this light. Plants white or pearl grey, leaf shadows
dissolve before tautening again, into sharp, black shadows.
Flashes of being that glanced off me, kindling me. Lightning-like bursts that came to me: Look! I blazed up. And the sign withdrew. Vanished.
What language does this park speak? From
where does it speak? From the park’s interior, an unchanging, faintly echoing
noise is heard. The rustling sound of feet that now and then change position. Drowsy
touches, no scripted lines. The official topography of the city park frames the
place as a realm of leisure, an urban landscape of fabricated wilderness: carefully
elaborated environments of artificial nature. The park also has an unofficial, “invisible”
topography: the intricate grid of hidden paths trodden by park visitors seeking
contact with others, leaving their tracks under the foliage, in bushes and thickets,
between leaves and branches, on park benches and against tree trunks. Such is
the landscape in the works of Yoshiyuki and Matts Leiderstam. Extras in
scattered constellations, an undefined number: arm to back, back to back, arm in
arm, vigilant like the van Eyck brothers’ angels; not too close, not too far apart.
Some are turned to face someone outside the picture. They stand like statues, petrified
while orbs and dust particles slowly settle over them.
The look incited me and also forbade me to enter; I was outside, in a state of animal watchfulness. A desire was seeking its home. I was that desire. I was the question.
Who is narrating the space? Whose is the
night? It is the night of the body, the night of the sign. The reduction of the
picture space to being the sign of alien bodies, language in the bodies, in the
disposition of bodies, that is, in their location, how they bind themselves to
the surface of the substrate, how tightly bound they are; how their faces stand
written, how their gazes write themselves out of the place. We are in the place
where the bodies are, and at the same time somewhere else. We stand in the
place and look in at it. We stand outside the place and look out from it. It is
enough, for gaze is action in this night. We move in the direction of the people.
They are not there. Who were these people? Where are they now? Are they still
there? We answer (or think) something about the park lights being turned off, its
indeterminate darkness from which they would never get out,
as if it were understood that even if the light were to fade away, the things it had illuminated would not disappear, what it had fallen on would stay, not cease to be here, to glow, to offer itself up to the act of naming again.
The light names things. It names that at
which all of the picture’s eyes are directed. It is also the light of the eyes,
the light from before we existed, so bright that it is impossible to see it. The
light illuminates a place where we have not been for a long time. At the same
time, we seem to recognize every single event, if not every single face. We see
ourself (in others). It is, of course, pointless to compare ourselves with
other people, objects, trees, with what we are not. We are not them. We are not
theirs. We are not where they are. They are not inside us, but in front of us. They
show themselves. Through them it reveals itself. When we sleep it is no longer
there. It is awake then. Is this what it means to live an event as an image?
To live an event as an image is not to see an image of this event, nor is it to attribute to the event the gratuitous character of the imaginary. The event really takes place – and yet does it ‘really’ take place? The occurrence commands us, as we would command the image. That is, it releases us, from it and from ourselves.