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Erin Hurson's "Hypnagogic" at Squeaky Wheel

Twilight Zones

Henri Matisse famously said that art should be like an easy chair. He didn’t say you should fall asleep in it. Artist Erin Hurson’s installation at Squeaky Wheel—complete with a couch and a blanket—and despite the name, Hypnagogic, literally meaning sleep-inducing, actually seems more like meditation-inducing. Maybe that’s what or part of what Matisse meant when he said art should be like an easy chair. A place for meditation. Though the one thing can lead to the other. Sleep happens.

The room is pretty dark. All you see at first is a large projection of a pinwheel-type movement on the forward wall. Black and magenta (for the nonce, but this will change). And dim magenta (for the nonce) light in a small lamp off to the side. The lamp light doesn’t help much. You stumble into something that gradually appears as a couch, so you sit down on it, facing the projection. And as your eyes accustom to the darkness—under the flickering light of the projection—you gradually make out a coffee-type table in front of you, and on the side, under the lamp, an end table, on which are several Zen meditational stones and an unlit candle. Shades of 1960s-era psychedelia.

Accompanying the flicker—in sync with it, more or less—is a bass throb sound effect. And as your eyes further accustom to the darkness, you make out on the coffee table a phonograph-type turntable. You wonder if this is the audio source, but then you notice, the turntable isn’t revolving. Nor is that a record on the turntable, but paper something. A circular piece of what looks like black construction paper—about the size of an LP record—with a number of smaller, blocky, spectrum-color pieces symmetrically arranged and pasted onto the black disk.

Then you notice other, similar construction paper disks—in different spectrum colors on black—on the coffee table. As you also notice the pinwheel movie change colors. How the movie was made, apparently, was by filming or videotaping the different disks spinning on the turntable. Those are the mechanics, but what’s the purpose, the idea? What’s it all about?

A kind of psychology experiment/experience, according to the artist. As she explains in her statement: “Also known as ‘threshold consciousness,’ the hypnagogic state is a peculiar sensory experience that occurs as one goes from wakefulness to sleep. This state can include a mesmerizing array of visions, sounds, hallucinations, and lucid dreams. Hypnagogic...takes the viewer through a similar state of consciousness.”

Not quite mesmerizing, in my experience. Nor productive of any visions or hallucinations. But more in the way of quietly—despite the sound effect, which becomes a kind of white noise—meditational. As you sit and watch and listen.

More as T.S. Eliot said to his soul, he said, “Be still and wait, without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing...without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing...without thought, for you are not ready for thought...” Whereupon “the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing...”

Amid the dancing light and changing colors of the pinwheel projection.

Erin Hurson is a graduate student in Media Studies at UB. The installation is up through November 15.

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