Sleeping & Dreaming exhibition at London's Wellcome Collection
We spend about a third of our lives asleep, yet still have only the vaguest of ideas about why we do it, or of what happens to us during that time. A new exhibition at the revamped Wellcome Collection sets itself the ambitious task of exploring this vast and slippery subject through art, science and social history, and isn’t afraid to admit that, despite notable advances in our understanding of the biomedical and neurological processes involved, sleep remains a mysterious, wondrous and even fearsome state.Link to Fortean Times, Link to Wellcome's "Sleeping & Dreaming" site
Housed in a dark space broken into discrete pockets (and designed by the German architect Nikolaus Hirsch), the flickering of the exhibits in and out of view itself invokes the fleeting secrets of sleep. It is organised more as a series of impressions than as a pedagogical chronology, divided into five themes: Dead Tired, Traces of Sleep, Dream Worlds, Elusive Sleep and World Without Sleep.
The first of these considers the perils of going without sleep. Sleep-deprivation torture has long been recognised as an effective means of breaking a prisoner, and there is an illuminating audio recording here of a journalist talking about being kidnapped and interrogated by East Germany’s Stasi in 1955. Approaching the subject from a different angle are exhibits about men who chose not to sleep: Peter Tripp, an American DJ who in 1959 went without sleep for eight days, and Randy Gardner who in 1964 broke his compatriot’s record by staying awake for 11 days. The experiments showed that attempting to go without sleep can have serious effects, including bad temper, irrationality, poor memory, hallucinating and incoherence. But it can also be fatal: there is a fascinating piece of video featuring Michael Corke, who in 1993 died of the rare, incurable and imperfectly understood condition Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI). An inherited disease, it generally develops in middle age and, not being able to sleep despite being painfully tired, sufferers normally die a few months later.