Andy Warhol’s Sleep

Featuring a Performance of Eric Satie's Vexations (1893)

In Collaboration with R.K. Projects

“Sleep/Vexations,” designed and printed by Dan Brewster

“Sleep/Vexations,” designed and printed by Dan Brewster

“What is sleep, after all, but the metabolic transformation of the entire experience of time, our nightly release from the clock’s prison…” – Stephen Koch

Sleep harbors a potential to alter the temporal fabric of our world. What would it mean to live the time of sleep while awake, to collectively activate its other temporality in a pocket of space and sleep awake together? If sleeping together amounts to “sharing an inertia, an equal force that maintains the two bodies together,” then the stillness of sleep may paradoxically give way to a journey, with bodies “drifting like… narrow boats moving off to the same open sea, toward the same horizon always concealed afresh in mists…”*

Magic Lantern Cinema and R.K. Projects have collaborated to present an off-site screening of Andy Warhol’s 5.5hr anti-film, Sleep. The first film that Warhol made after purchasing a 16mm camera in 1963, Sleep began as an experiment to document an activity that the amphetamine-induced energy of the 1960s seemed to be rendering obsolete. Yet Warhol’s film is not simply a documentary, but an erotic milieu for ruminating the philosophical implications of time and repetition, as well as a meditative inquiry into the materiality of the filmic medium. Warhol completed Sleep after his experience attending John Cage’s 1963 performance of Erik Satie’s epically repetitive work for piano, Vexations (1893) – a 52-beat segment played slowly and in succession 840 times. The repetitive structure of Vexations is apparent in Sleep as well: recorded as a series of 100 ft. rolls (approx. 3 mins) shot from multiple angles over a period of several weeks, individual rolls were then repeated through loop-printing and edited into highly complex patterns and sequences, frequently with emulsion and perforations left as-is. And though the entire film was shot at sound speed (24fps), it was meant to be projected at silent speed (16 or 18fps), causing movements to appear in an ethereal slow-motion. The result is a highly constructed piece of minimalist long-form cinema whose emphasis on materiality, repetition, and the quotidian has drawn comparisons to modernist painting while also earning Warhol a position as “the major precursor of structural film” and a 1964 Independent Film Award for “taking cinema back to its origins.”**

Sleep premiered in New York City’s Gramercy Arts Theater in 1963. But the film’s extreme stillness and duration have been said to promote a more casual and intermittent approach to spectatorship than that affiliated with theatrical exhibition, encouraging viewers to “chat during the screening, leave for a hamburger and return, [or] greet friends [while] the film serenely devolve[s] up there on the screen.”*** In an effort to cultivate such an experience and acknowledge Warhol’s diverse experiments with non-theatrical exhibition forms (from the Factory walls to live multimedia performances), this screening will be held in a vacant, slumbering warehouse at 40 Rice St., generously donated by The Armory Revival Co. in Providence, RI. To mark this significant event, there will also be a staging of the musical performance that is said to have inspired the film. Three Providence-based musicians will be conducting a 45 minute performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations immediately preceding the screening. In addition, a selection of relevant reading materials will be on display.

Refreshments will be provided along with chairs, but viewers can enter and exit at will, and sleeping bags are strongly encouraged. Join us for an evening of Sleep.

*Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fall of Sleep (New York: Fordham UP, 2009): 19.
**P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film (New York: Oxford UP, 2002): 349; Film Culture 33 (Summer 1964): 1.
***Stephen Koch, Stargazer: The Life, World and Films of Andy Warhol (New York: Marion Boyars, 1991): 39.