The story of sleeping as performance art is not entirely unique. It’s the message conveyed through the performance that truly makes it an original. I have always been fascinated by the notion of “home.” Is it a physical place, a building, a structure, a house? Is it a state of being, a sense of safety, of being provided for, of identity? These are questions myself and others ask regularly. What does it mean to be homeless: practically, spiritually, or emotionally? We see them huddled on the street corners, searching for cans in the garbage, holding signs aside the freeway, resting in the grass in a nearby park. In nearly all highly populated areas, homelessness is a fixture of life. The Reno Area Alliance for the Homeless estimates 3,000 people are living in a temporary situation around Reno, including in a motel, a shelter or on the street. For most of us, the homeless man, woman or family we see on the way to work every morning is nothing more than part of our daily routine. The art of public performance holds an incredible amount of value in that of direct communication with the intent to inspire awareness and critique.
The cultural curiosity of the artist sleeping is contrasted (at first questioned, and then, unavoidably captivating) with the homeless; sleeping is rough and irregular. When I am the sleeper it draws attention, while the other makes us look away to avoid the brutal truth. Why? Here are some potential interpretations of this offered by observers faintly recorded near the hidden camera:
"I would say, all in all: Isn’t sleep life itself?"
"Wow, it's really powerful "
"Is it a statement reflecting homeless camps?"
"She doesn't look homeless."
"She's actually sleeping."
"What an ideal location to choose."
I heard people walking close, close enough to see if my eyelids were flickering or twitching in my performance of sleep. I stayed there calm and still, my heart pounding of the uncertainties around me, what is happening? What could happen? Throughout the video you see people stop and stare, to watch me, to question me, pointing, and taking pictures. Although you see some people avoid that attraction at all costs, to avoid the questions, the performance and the critique. Was I becoming transparent? Was I being looked past to avoid the brutal reality of this social issue? How can people perceive the homeless as so translucent?
While the nature of sleep and its clarity is different but what we call "home" we know that it cannot always be defined solely on where you sleep. For the homeless, sleep is flooded with unknowability and irregularity is something we have seemed to overlook, overlook that of the hidden surface. With me, sleep teases me with its depths, extract my admiration even as we suspect its having fun at our expense.