November 5, 2015
Gates open at 6:30pm, film begins at 7:15pm
@ Laguna Gloria
3809 W 35th Street Austin, TX 78703(map)
Admission: Free! But RSVP’s are recommended.
Due to the high likelihood of rain during this outdoor screening, this event has been rescheduled to November 5th, 2015 at Laguna Gloria
ERC joins up with The Contemporary Austin to present Warhol’s 1963 marathon 16mm film Sleep, five hours and twenty-one minutes of Warhol’s friend John Giorno sleeping. Of Warhol’s so-called “durational” films, this is the one actually worth sitting through: slow, dreamy, and textured.
For those who want to sleepwalk during the film, there will also be other events at Laguna Gloria, including stargazing at the night sky with the help of the Austin Astronomical Society and their telescopes. Plus, experience the Sculpture Park in a new light during a guided flashlight tour! Green Screen Film Series: Warhol’s Sleep is presented in collaboration with Experimental Response Cinema and in partnership with the Visual Arts Center.
Dreamtime/Screentime: Andy Warhol’s Sleep
by Philip R. Fagan
Projected on the large silver screen, a man sleeps for several hours. For those in the audience, the similarity between the state of dreaming and that of film viewing noted by the Surrealists is reduced to a kind of ground zero and simultaneously made more manifest and explicit than ever before. If we nod off at times, quite likely the fixed shot of the man’s slumber continues behind our closed eyes. After an hour or so, our inner eye has been branded and we find ourselves dreaming that which is otherwise being projected in the outer, objective realm of the venue. The result is mysterious, mesmerizing and even hypnotic, serving up a flickering and textured mystical experience not unlike the transcendental style of film which critic Paul Schrader locates in the contemplative art cinemas of Bresson, Dreyer, and Ozu. Somehow, we have moved beyond the artifice of “the movies” and have entered into some dreamscape of the spirit, of the ineffable and the sublime.
Andy Warhol’s Sleep is a defining work of the New York avant-garde of the middle 1960s, a creative epoch that saw a hydra-like explosion of new and cross-pollinating modes of creative expression and innovation. Both time-based art and performance art came of age during the period, along with the first rumblings of installation and video art. Fine art escaped the shackles of the gallery walls, theater leapt from the stage and hit the streets, and polymath multimedia experimentation eroded rigid, disciplinarian notions of the artist’s singular vocation. It was an era in which radical creators moved conventional notions of artistic expression into the uncharted territories of the experiential, the sensory, the interactive, and the immersive; and Warhol was among those at the head of the class.
In the case of Sleep, Warhol was continuing his own multivalent approach to portraiture, a project that came to include mass-produced silkscreen paintings, photobooth strips, polaroids, video works, and the series of “Screen Test” shorts he shot on single reels of film between 1964 and 1966. Predating the earliest Screen Tests, Sleep represents one of Warhol’s earliest efforts to transfer his portraiture project into cinema. No matter the mixed bag of media, his mission was somewhat consistent. He was inspired by both the Eastern Catholic Church iconography of his immigrant childhood as well as by the celebrity and popular cultures of his adopted homeland. He was also utterly obsessed with serial and repeated imagery; evidenced by the production-line approach to his silkscreen works; the seeming sameness he found in the individual frames of motion picture celluloid; and the subtle differences in photobooth strips minimized by the confinement and timespan of that medium. When Andy began experimenting with 16mm film, he used the motion picture apparatus largely to capture motionless portraits and still-lifes, enacting typical Warholian irony and culture jamming. Sleep offers an extreme example of the artist’s overriding concern with both portraiture and repeated, serial imagery. Accounts of the time report that Sleep was projected at a slower frame rate so that it actually ran well over six hours. In addition to its silent, essentially one-shot portrait of a man in repose and its endurance-test running time, the film’s footage is also looped at times and the same moments are in fact shown more than once.
Ultimately, Warhol was teaching us how to see again with fresh eyes and to look at the human face and form as an art in and of itself; an object holy and worthy of our undivided attention and therefore something to be repeated again and again in all its silent, motionless glory. The scope of his portraiture project is staggering. In his hundreds of Screen Tests alone, he chronicled the open house of his Factory studio with motionless, silent film portraits of his favorite subjects, ranging from the rich and famous to the underground bohos, hustlers, drag queens, and drug addicts of the New York streets. Our handsome bedmate in Sleep is John Giorno, a poet and media innovator who went on to create Giorno Poetry Systems, staging a wide range of multimedia events and recording sessions with the likes of Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Glass, Patti Smith, and countless other vanguard artists. Like Warhol and others in his coterie, Giorno went on to provide a vital link between the cinema, pop and poetry underground of 1960s New York and that subculture’s rejuvenation during the punk era of the 1970s and 80s.
When the film premiered at New York’s Cinema Theater in 1964, reactions were decidedly mixed. Many viewers perhaps expected a more routine cinematic experience, with the setting of the traditional exhibition venue likely adding to their confusion. Instead, they were presented with a durational work more closely aligned to poetry, painting, or even sculpture perhaps. Some fled angrily, demanding their money back. One viewer threatened a riot and a lynch mob, while another disgruntled patron yelled at the screen for Giorno to please, please, “Wake up!” Meanwhile, Warhol’s Factory folk and the neo-beat denizens of Jonas Mekas’ underground film orbit were typically blasé. They talked among themselves, took breaks in the lobby, went out for dinner and drinks, and came back or not. And they slept a bit themselves. Mekas, who organized the event and fended off its angry detractors, praised the film’s artistic success in his Village Voice column, and also gave Warhol the Film Culture Award for that year, officially welcoming Andy into Mekas’ own New American Cinema movement.
Sleep transgresses and disrupts the conventions of narrative cinema in virtually every way possible. Rather than a film, it is instead something of a living, breathing portrait to be projected ad infinitum; its screening venue transformed into a gallery wall or perhaps the hushed shadows of a church. Despite the film’s challenging minimalism and running time, Sleep is a work of transformative power and mysterious vision, and one that ultimately rewards an audience’s dreamy engagement and interaction. That said, and in the spirit of the film’s time and place, please feel free to drop in and out of Sleep; to explore the dreamscape of Laguna Gloria and interact with the related works on exhibit. Sleepwalking is encouraged. Andy would have wanted it that way.