After the event that evening we put our feet up in the pub and a conversation with Reactor’s Niki Russell and Daniel Williamson arose about the pros and cons of the 24-hour idea. Since that evening, I’ve been thinking more about this. On a practical level it gave us time to hothouse ideas and an uninterrupted mini-epoch for making. It was simply an opportunity to get immersed in something and push other ‘noise’ to the side. Some would argue that sleep deprivation leads to an altered state of consciousness that in turn fuels creativity. Then there is the use of sleep deprivation in various religions and asceticism. The oldest recorded religious tradition of sleep deprivation was practiced by Taoists who believed that a sleepless night would bring them nearer the truth. The Taoists also thought that sleep and resulting dreams would make them vulnerable to attacks from demons and evil spirits. Various forms of the all-night vigil are found in numerous religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. And there is also the idea of enlightenment as ‘awakeness’. But stepping back from the spiritual implications of sleep deprivation, many scientist, such as Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist specialising in sleep research, argues that: “Sleep deprivation doesn’t have any good side effects.” Lack of sleep simply increases stress causing the deprived to become more irritable, raising blood pressure and lowering the immune system. Other recent research undertaken by neurophysiologist Marcello Massimini, suggests sleep deprivation amps up the brain, the brain becomes more sensitive as the day wears on: the deprived is reduced to a jumpy nervous wreck.
Some other facts on sleep deprivation. If you keep a rat awake for 17 – 20 days it will die! The US military has experimented with the drug modafinil to keep soldiers awake whilst in action. Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones reportedly stayed awake for nine consecutive days and then fell over and broke his nose.
One thing is for sure, sleep deprivation during the Ugly Weekender created a step towards a post-optimal state: foggy brain, concentration shot, slow-motion antics. Things broke, didn’t work, or made no sense. All the sound devices made during the weekend had short-circuits and began life silent. Computers crashed and hi-tech became lo-tech became no-tech. Elements of the final performance were reduced to rubbing and knocking stones together and rolling on the floor with noisy pom poms.
Working relationship with technology = dysfunctional.
During the weekend I wanted to further explore ideas of making and thinking in the ‘post-optimal’. We soldered in candlelight.
Photos: Julian Hughes, John Fass, John Richards.