To sleep, perchance to dream


For sleep is ‘better than medicine’, according to an old English proverb, and we do without it at our peril. Stravinsky called it his ‘psychological digestive system’, and the mysterious means whereby we process our waking life and lay down the wiring of memory in sleep is explored in depth. Dreams can be a source of inspiration: Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde scenario, and the original Periodic Table of elements all suggested themselves in dreams. The Surrealists considered dreams the fount of creativity, and the potency of nightmares articulated by artists like Goya and Fuseli was also grist to film-makers (Buñuel and Dalí in Le Chien Andalou), and to German poster artists in the 1930s, conjuring fear and guilt to promote social obedience.

How we sleep is another theme: it is salutary to be reminded how few people the world over rest undisturbed in a bed of their own. This only became common in Europe in the mid-19th century, and is a luxury of the comparatively wealthy still. A touching montage of photographs shows how beds were hauled up to remote Alpine pastures in the mid-1950s by the Swiss Red Cross, who felt it was no longer appropriate for whole families to be sharing one bed, in time-honoured fashion. And Krzysztof Wodiczko’s ‘Homeless Vehicle’ almost steals the show: devised in the 1980s when there were 70,000 vagrants on the streets of New York, it is a surreal aluminium tube on wheels, a ‘dream house’ for the modern nomads of city life.

more from The Spectator here.