Column

Deep Sleep

Basma Alsharif

By Sarinah Masukor

24 April, 2020

In deep sleep, new memories sink in. A lifted phrase: The sleeping brain provides optimal conditions for consolidation processes that integrate newly encoded memory into a long-term store.

Close your eyes softly and picture a blank white screen on the underside of your eyelids.

The painting is small for a wave. Dimensions 46 x 55 centimetres, an almost square. The paint is rough, applied in choppy, shuttled strokes. The sky meets the wave in a foul mood: stormy grey dashes hit the scumbled, zinc-flecked green as the swell curls up and then collapses, battering the foreground. Track back, widening the image. A high-ceilinged room, too bright and too cold. Empty, inner ear babble. Then, out into the long garden and through a canopy of trees, dappled shaking and shimmering. Bees hum. A cool blue lake. The sun sparks colours off the rippling surface like beams refracted through a glass prism.  

Close your eyes softly and picture a blank white screen on the underside of your eyelids.

Watch as the screen fills with waves, low and gentle, pushing and breaking with a soft shudder against the sand. The sky above the horizon is the deepest blue. The waves pull in and out. The sun pins you to the warm rock and you don’t notice the surge rising, a dark gulf pressing forward with relentless force. Suddenly the wave breaks free, spills over the edges of the screen, rushes toward the tiered rows—a gasp—but just as quickly, it’s gone. The screen is blank. The concrete floor is wet. Somewhere in the distance, the hollow throb of a lift shaft and the thud of heeled boots.

Close your eyes softly and picture a blank white screen on the underside of your eyelids.

From the centre, a soft light starts to glow, gradually spreading across the screen until the whole frame pulses with light, white, then yellow, then blue. A cobalt sea, bordered by rocky cliffs. There’s a child playing by the ocean, clownish arms flapping a plastic spade. Her chubby legs waddle toward the water and the camera follows, stuttering. The speed is faster than 24 fps and then slower, the image crackles as the shot moves past the child and into the waves before the motor whines and the strip catches in the gate. Thucketicketrrrrr.

Close your eyes softly.

You’re in bed with heavy limbs. In the half-light, you can see a glass of water on the bedside table. You drift. Somewhere, a low drone, humming. The corners of the room dissolve in the shadows, unhinging the walls. The room vibrates. The glass of water begins to rock. You sink deeper into the mattress as a wave splashes over the edge of the glass and the room tilts back. An image without ground.  

Open your eyes.

There’s a postcard stuck on the wall with yellowing paper tape. The image: a calm azure sea with a curved horizon. There’s text underneath the image, in 8 point Courier:

In order to go from Tijuana to San Diego without crossing the Mexico/United states border, I followed a perpendicular route away from the fence and circumnavigated the globe, heading 67 degrees South East, North East and South East again until I reached my departure point. The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist.

At 3:18 on the 31 of March, the sun hits the card at an angle of 52 degrees.

There were other shafts of afternoon light.

The trapezoid shape marked out on the dusty concrete floor of the bar where we spent unmeasured afternoons. The sun lit up the grit in the air so it looked almost solid. It was around the time Richard asked me if I wanted to film him putting together an installation at Little Beach and I said yes because I wanted to spend more time with his girlfriend Ana. A lifted phrase: Ana wanted to be a dancer or a poet or a physical therapist. She didn’t spend time preparing for any of these future professions except if you counted dancing high at Sattler Alley every Friday from midnight until five. For the past three weeks, Ana had filled her afternoons playing chess with me, even though she wasn’t any good, and could never understand that sacrificing a piece meant coming out on top. She walked joyfully right into the trap every time.

That afternoon Richard was in a bad mood because Ana had spent all their money on a jacket. The jacket was sequined in shades of silver and white. Richard wanted the money for his installation. ‘Get the money from your father,’ Ana said, admiring the way the jacket rippled in the sun. I guess he did in the end because later that week we pulled up at the beach with a ute loaded with timber. It seemed like Ana didn’t take Richard’s practice very seriously, or maybe she just didn’t have a feeling for contemporary art. ‘So it’s a square of wood sticking out of the sand?’ she asked. ‘The room wasn’t square,’ Richard said. He was building a timber frame to the dimensions of his childhood bedroom, the room he’d slept in between the ages of three and seven. ‘Did you live at the beach?’ Ana asked. ‘No,’ Richard said, ‘it’s a metaphor.’ I never worked out what the metaphor was. I never asked. Ana could get away with asking questions like that because she was beautiful.

After we installed Richard’s empty replica in the sand and I filmed it with the waves lapping beyond the voids that stood for walls, Ana asked me to come with her to visit her parents in Istanbul. Ana was from Granada, but her parents lived in Istanbul where her mother ran a literary magazine that published urgent political essays that landed their authors in jail. I didn’t know anything about politics and didn’t want to know. What I wanted was olives and rose water jam and soft pressed cheeses and patlıcan salatası and lahmacun topped with wild nettle. What I wanted was to lie on the terrace in the sun and become as vacant as possible.

Some nights, Ana would get an idea and we’d get on a ferry or in a car and end up in a club shuddering with fusion EDM and when she felt the sudden desire for something, like pomegranates, or simit or wine a man would appear with the very thing she wanted. It was like witchcraft; things came to Ana whenever she dreamed them up.

About a week before I was due to fly home, I crossed into Asia and spent the afternoon in a tea garden in Kadıköy. That’s where I met Francis, who’d take me border crossing in the footsteps of his father, across Malta, Lebanon, Palestine. A lifted phrase: How did you meet? Go back to the beginning. But that’s another story. All that matters now is the tessellated autumn light and the bang of a ball bouncing against a redbrick wall and a leaf blower’s howl and the stuttered phrases of a Liszt sonata fumbled under hesitant fingers and a helicopter high overhead and still somehow, underneath the din, the gentle stir of the lemon scented gums rustling against soft bottlebrush.

There’s something I haven’t told you. I’ve never seen a date palm, have you?

 

Basma Alsharif’s Deep Sleep (2014) was shown as part of Projections #1, curated by Ruby Arrowsmith-Todd, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in March. You can watch an excerpt of the film here

March 7
Projection Series at Art Gallery of New South Wales

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