The Surrealist Narcoleptic / by Erin King

I struggle in talking about my artwork — except not really. Obviously, my work makes sense to me at this stage; I have a fairly solid picture in mind of what my project is. But to some, because my work isn’t 100% logical or systematic— it seems like I’m confused.

I’m not confused. I know the overall idea I want to communicate to the viewer, but I want to keep open to the work evolving with the research. I described this in my last blog entry using the metaphor of a lump of clay on a pottery wheel. I feel the lump of clay is finally centered on the wheel, and as the project moves forward, it’s necessary to start removing the excess clay to form the work. My process of art-making is a journey. These days, it’s growing to be more of a pilgrimage of sorts. In its most closed sense, it’s a journey of me understanding who I am — unpacking my mental health and neurological conditions as well as my affinity for music and art, and my experience as an empath.

That’s not to say that my work is only about my relationship with the artwork, or my lived experience; rather, I want to recognize the importance of both empirical knowledge and research as well as the perspective/life experience/philosophy of the artist to make the work more accessible to the viewer.

When I first began my graduate studies, I said I wanted to make my artwork about mental illness. I crocheted synapses. Some people really liked them, but they were caricatures of a synapse — a kitschy fetish object.

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My kitschy crocheted synapses. Also know as something I can make and sell when I get out of the program.

In all of the twists and turns of my studies, alongside my pursuit to be finally diagnosed with narcolepsy, things have begun to make more sense — but my research has once again circled back to neurology. I laugh because I remember in an earlier studio visit, a faculty member said, “You don’t want to have to be an expert in neuroscience to make your work…”

In the year following my official diagnosis of narcolepsy, reading about neuroscience has been my side project. During this timeline, I have also: seen a counselor, gotten back on anxiety medicine, (turns out the stimulants I take for narcolepsy heightened my anxiety), started taking my sleep hygiene more seriously, and began seeing a chiropractor in place of seeing primary physicians, Urgent Care facilities, and the ER for my breathing trouble and chest pain. As my spine became more aligned, my insomnia subsided and my mind began making fast connections and clearer decisions in my project.

I have always believed in an interconnectedness among all creation — a symbiosis between all living things — but learning the importance of the alignment of your spinal column on your nervous system and adrenal functions has opened my eyes to how complex yet simple our nervous system is. My work is a result of a symbiosis between repetition, paradox, and abstraction. In this entry, I speak about the role of repetition in my life and in my art.

Repetition

In the midst of these behavior shifts, I began to understand why I’ve struggled to apply words to what my work is, why I choose a particular material, or why I make a mark.

As someone with narcolepsy, I don’t experience enough REM cycles when I sleep, so I am always sleep-deprived. Affects of narcolepsy manifest in symptoms including excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep attacks, micro sleeps, automatic behavior, hallucinations, lucid dreaming, and sleep paralysis. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my micro sleeps and automatic behavior may explain some of my inability to explain decisions I make in my work as I believe during these times, my subconscious takes over in decision-making. During micro sleeps and automatic behavior, your brain goes to sleep, but you continue doing things that you were doing. These typically occur during repetitive tasks, which I use a lot in my work.

Oddly enough, just as repetitive tasks can cause my brain to go on autopilot, they also help me to hyper-fixate and keep awake in situations where I might otherwise have a sleep attack. It’s a strange paradox, much like how I have to take a stimulant to help me wake up in the morning, but drinking caffeinated beverages can either cause me to have palpitations or make me (or keep me) sleepy.

Formally speaking, repetition in my artwork builds structures, systems, and rhythm. I have never been great at remaining consistent in repeated tasks, and one look at my drawings (which I’m making to translate data into a musical composition) will confirm this.

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Example of variations out of necessity. 

Example of variations out of necessity. 

These variations and deviations from steps in this process are evidence of my problem-solving to make the process more efficient, but also make it easier for me to translate the data to the next chart.

Repetition is at the basis of meditation, exercise, and behavior modification. Repetition has the ability to build and strengthen, but also to injure and wear away. Variation can also reduce the number of times in which I enter into automatic behavior, as well as indicate when I have entered into automatic behavior. Repetition is at the heart of mastering any skill, but if you fail to practice the way you should perform, repetition can set you up to under-perform. Like all things in life, the above qualities of repetition present paradoxes. But they are not either/or dichotomies, but rather, they are two sides of the same coin because those outcomes are always possible and present simultaneously.

In my next post, I will delve deeper into paradox’s role in my work, and paradox’s spiritual nature.