Mexico City

Yollotl Gómez Alvarado, Calendario de sueño (Sleep Calendar), 2020, volcanic stone, 8 5⁄8 × 55 1⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Yollotl Gómez Alvarado, Calendario de sueño (Sleep Calendar), 2020, volcanic stone, 8 5⁄8 × 55 1⁄8 × 55 1⁄8".

Yollotl Gómez Alvarado

PARQUE Galería

Since time immemorial, humans have wondered how sleeping and dreaming impact and influence our waking lives. If dreams are the stuff of biblical prophecy, Shakespearean verse, or Freudian psychoanalysis, city dwellers today mostly complain about having trouble sleeping. A whole gamut of sleep disorders entails a huge market of clinics and over-the-counter and prescription potions. Yollotl Gómez Alvarado’s exhibition “Temple of Dream: Proposal for a Sleeping Society” condensed all of these aspects of sleep and dreaming and more, including a hint at contemporary “wokeness,” but it also involved an experiment. The artist convened three groups of three people each to sleep in the gallery for a week at a time in a structure that he called a “temple.” In collaboration with a Mexico City architecture firm, Alvarado designed and built a small wooden-beam structure with various sections mimicking diverse communal sleeping environments, from a mosque floor to a city park bench, from a hammock outdoors to a hotel bed.

Alvarado claims that dreaming is our most vulnerable state, and that sleeping can be seen as an “act of rebellion against the current system’s attention grab and integral exploitation of life.” In line with this approach, the people sleeping on-site were supervised and monitored by sleep experts and oneirologists from Mexico’s National Autonomous University in an adjacent room—a “dream lab,” as the artist called it. Dreams from each session were reported, documented, and made available for visitors to consult as part of a public “dream library.”

The installation at the heart of the exhibition was but a preliminary model for a larger and more ambitious temple that the artist envisions building in the countryside as the center of operations for a sort of foundation for oneiric studies. The use of dreams as material for visual arts was common among the avant-gardes, and oneironautics continues to be a trope in science fiction. Yet Alvarado’s work does not rest comfortably in either of those traditions, given how it is changed by his addition of experimental science, traditional knowledge, and a performative aspect to the mix.

The most evocative parts of the show might have seemed secondary offshoots of the lab and temple. One of the two back rooms contained two “practical” yet beautiful pieces: Reloj nocturno—Clepsidra (Night Clock—Clepsydra) (all works 2020) has to do with an ancient technology that accompanies sleeping, a water clock used to measure time during the dark hours. It is a tower made of Atzompa black-clay receptacles whose shapes echo those of Mayan Chacmool figures; water slowly drips from each vessel down to the next as time passes. Calendario de sueño (Sleep Calendar) is a flat disk of volcanic stone in which the artist has carved a compass-like diagram, a wordless document attesting to the cycles of the project during the weeks in the gallery. The other room housed what the artist calls “plastic sleep reports.” In Reporte plástico de sueño No. 1 (Plastic Sleep Report No. 1), two screen-printed canvases in pinks, purples, and yellows (showing images taken by a heat-sensor camera of the artist’s bed before and after sleep) hung on facing walls. On the floor between them was Reporte plástico de sueño No. 3 (Plastic Sleep Report No. 3), a black volcanic stone cast from Alvarado’s pillow, with the shape of his head still imprinted on it. These reports were the B side to the data that was being collected, quantified, and analyzed in the lab next door. They are everything that sleep is not: its invisible, waking memory traces.