Resistance of the Sleepers
UCCA Dune, Beijing, China, 30 April – 6 September 2020

Resistance of the Sleepers, a group exhibition at UCCA Dune featuring Chinese and international artists exploring the significance and potential of sleep, marks the first UCCA show of 2020. The exhibition underlines once again UCCA Dune’s dedication to showcasing emerging artistic voices. From April 30 to September 6, 2020, UCCA Dune presents the group exhibition Resistance of the Sleepers. The exhibition explores contradictions between the mechanisms of contemporary society and the biological necessity of sleep through the work of artists Chang Yuchen (b. 1989, Shanxi province), Fei Yining (b. 1990, Harbin), Li Shuang (b. 1990, Wuyishan, China), Ana Montiel (b. 1981, Logroño, Spain), Katie Paterson (b. 1981, Glasgow), Hiraki Sawa (b. 1977, Ishikawa, Japan), Shen Linghao (b. 1988, Shanghai), Ye Zhaofeng (b. 1996, Jiangsu province), Zhang Kerui (b. 1991, Guangxi province), and Zhang Ruyi (b. 1985, Shanghai). The ten artists use sleep as an entry point to reach into other rich topics of discussion, including consciousness, dreams, memory, death, energy, capital, labor, landscape, and more. A large portion of the artworks featured were created specifically in response to the exhibition theme and the unique setting of UCCA Dune, designed by Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of OPEN Architecture, and nestled in the sand by the Bohai Sea in the Aranya Gold Coast Community, 300 kilometers from Beijing. Resistance of the Sleepers is curated by UCCA Curator Ara Qiu. Considering the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the spread of COVID-19, special precautions will be taken to ensure the safety of visitors to the museum.  

Today, human beings are embedded within the operating mechanisms of an unceasing 24-hour cycle, one which began with the birth of industrial society and accelerated with the spread of consumer culture, the further development of science and technology, and the Internet’s reordering of the world into a realm of constant information production and circulation. This has destroyed the traditional working rhythm of “early to bed, early to rise,” challenging the limits of human experience and perception. Boundaries between day and night, work and leisure, and public and private have all grown blurry. Under the neoliberal paradigm that technology and globalization have spread around the world, we are perpetually on call: success is defined by constant work, and any inclination towards leisure and rest is looked down upon. The system is not merely coercive but also seductive, offering new information, images, and goods on demand, giving us the illusion that we have thrown off the restraints of time and space, and granting us with a satisfying sense of control over our surroundings. Pleased with ourselves, we become more dependent upon and immersed within this perpetual, precise, and highly monetized social machine, with no clear way out. To be “active” and constantly working is in fact to be “passive” towards the operation of the system.

Meanwhile, humanity is submerged under a greater level of information overload than ever before. The convergence and synchronicity of media has shattered the individual experience of time, with its specificities and distinct rhythms. Our experience of time has instead become homogenous and mediocre, defined by shared standardized cultural experiences. Our perceptions turn vague, with time itself subordinated to the unstoppable kinetic energy of the 24/7 cycle, which in turn determines our needs and desires. However, sleep steadfastly remains a basic physiological need for human beings, standing as a final barrier that is incompatible with the aforementioned mechanisms. Attacked and denounced, slumber still puts up a stubborn resistance.

The participating artists examine the fundamental and eternal need for sleep in the context of contemporary society. Through media including painting, installation, video, and sound, they explore and explode different registers and metaphors of sleep. In repose, they find new ways to reflect upon contemporary life, the pervasiveness of the neoliberal economic model, and the unexpected consequences of globalization.

Resistance of the Sleepers has also gained new, tragic resonance since its planning began: in the quiet spring of 2020, everything—including the 24/7 cycle—suddenly came to a halt, giving people the unanticipated chance to appreciate the pleasures and deeper meanings of sleep. Yet this came at a tragic cost: cities in hibernation, anxiety-induced insomnia, and countless lives that have passed on into eternal sleep. Those asleep and those awake; those who obey and those who resist: distinctions between these categories have dissolved into a dreamscape of complex, entangled problems and questions.

Building on UCCA Dune’s unique meditative atmosphere close to nature, the works on display are arranged to encourage a viewing sequence that echoes the stages of sleep, beginning with a light doze and then reaching the dream state, before extending into the deeper implications of the topic. The artists encourage the audience to form their own interpretations of the works on display, bringing their individual experiences and sensations into a shared dream world, and stimulating in-depth discussion on sleep and all the topics it evokes.

Each artist takes a distinct approach: Hiraki Sawa weaves together fragments of memories and everyday images to construct a dream-like surreal landscape; Shen Linghao documents his nightmares in scrolling characters, utilizing the special characteristics of light-sensitive material to embody the ephemerality of memory; Ana Montiel, showing her work in China for the first time, was inspired by the temple rituals of sleep and healing for the ancient Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, turning the exhibition hall into a monastic sanctuary; Fei Yining creates an animated parable of clean energy and political strategy for the age of post-truth politics, reflecting on technology’s role as a modern deity; on the faces of nine clocks, Katie Paterson depicts “one day” in the time of each of the solar system’s planets, reminding viewers that the 24-hour day is a construct that only applies to earth.

Meanwhile, the “transnational romance” featured in Li Shuang’s video work coalesces and fades in the context of an Yiwu factory where work continues through the night, reflecting the knock-on effects of globalization; Ye Zhaofeng uses his brush to depict tired, anonymous people falling into unexpected naps amidst the bustle of daily life; Zhang Ruyi reenacts the alchemy of industrialization and urban change in his works, casting the viewer as both spectator and spectacle; on a different scale, Chang Yuchen expresses her belief that “the most private is the most public, the most fragile is the most radical,” sharing her personal experience of sleep to cast light on universal themes, commemorating the eternal through the fleeting; and finally, Zhang Kerui carves an ephemeral monument out of our common dreams—here, sleep is both a reminder of mortality and a prelude to awakening and rebirth.