In a London of fast-blinking lights and speeding commuters, cars and trains leave luminous comet-trails marking their passage through the night, and individuals reflect on freedom in the urban metropolis, or seek escape from the repetitive habits and conditions it enforces.
Presented as an outdoor projection at A Foundation and as a twin-screen installation at 198 Gallery artist Suki Chan’s work is inspired by ideas of freedom of expression. In an impressionistic and lyrical study of London’s diverse population, Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk contrasts the movements of people on their way to and from work with their individual efforts to enjoy free time, and to create their own personal and psychological space outside the architectural restrictions and behavioural patterns imposed by life in the city.
Chan's work weaves together a series of video portraits highlighting revealing responses to the mania of London life. Groups of skaters, unimpeded by traffic, move freely and intuitively, mapping the twilight city. Nigerian security guards gatekeeping a deserted high-rise office block compare the ‘freedom’ of London with the rhythms and aspirations of their former lives. Artists and writers in the Graffiti Tunnel in Waterloo ruminate on the freedom they now have to create their art legally; city commuters portray the mundane, monotonous regularity of everyday existence… and architects, urban planners, economists and news journalists reflect on their real and abstract constructs of the city.
In Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk, Chan finds freedom in the marginal flashpoints of the city and in the internal psychological spaces of the conscious and sub-conscious where solace is sought. She mediates between public and private, investigating the underlying social, cultural and political structures. The work moves subliminally between a sleepwalker’s hazy drift through the drudgery of daily city life to a sleeptalker’s blurted expression of unconscious, pent-up frustration; from weary travellers dozing on buses to the deliberate act of self-retreat into meditation.
Using time-lapse photography, Chan captures the nuances at play in a city between the solid mass of its architecture and the fleeting movements of its urban inhabitants and the transportation system that revolves around them. She brings a scientific perception as much to her dispassionate views of the distant cityscapes as to her minute probings of human intimacies, facial expressions, gestures and reflexes.
Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk draws on Chan’s interest in how urban spaces get planned and her experiences of Hong Kong and Shanghai and the Westernization of the towns and villages on their periphery. Her practice combines light, moving image, electronics and sound within mixed-media installations to explore physical and psychological experiences of space through simple, repetitive and sometimes painstaking processes, abstracting familiar materials and objects, to create imaginary and uncanny narratives.
Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk is the first project of FREE TO AIR, a major new four-year programme by Film & Video Umbrella for London Councils. Taking as its starting point Roosevelt’s famous ‘four freedoms’ – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear – Free to Air invites four artists over four years who are living and working in London to create a work exploring the multiple meanings of ‘freedom’ in contemporary society. Free to Air is funded by London Councils and is presented in collaboration with A Foundation and 198 Gallery, London. Sleep Walk, Sleep Talk is accompanied by a series of screenings, workshops and events including Figures of Speech, a series of ten experimental and documentary films exploring how artists have used voice to examine race, gender, class and sexual relations.