Wing-sleepers, the third edition of the Night Tube cover by Marianna Simnett, shows a multi-species flock of luminous birds seemingly falling against a velvet night sky. Their glowing forms seep out of the inky black, appearing simultaneously hand drawn and digitally rendered. Simnett works across video, watercolour, installation and performance; her work explores our increasingly digital lifestyle through a lens of embodied experience.
The birds depicted in Wing-sleepers are not falling but rather sleeping during flight. London-based Simnett took the 24-hour context of the Night Tube as her initial point of departure; the species of birds painted, which include gulls, swifts and songbirds, all sleep on the wing during their long migrations. One half of their brain remains active, while the other shuts down, giving them the remarkable ability to sleep and travel at the same time. The birds, much like London, defy the way we commonly conceive of the night.
Simnett is interested in the space between sleep and wakefulness, one that for humans could be categorised by our constant bombardment of information. The perpetual activity of the birds can be read as an allegory for the ceaseless acceleration within the city, their downward stance offers a momentary pause, a drift between destinations.
The species depicted by Simnett were not chosen only for their sleep patterns but also the epic journeys they undertake crossing multiple borders. Wing-sleepers resonates with the current climate of mass migration, providing an indirect metaphor of human movement – how displacement and cultural diversity has become part of a globalised society.
Simnett’s approach here is characteristic of an artist for whom the body is the key protagonist in an examination of technological advancement. Her work has positioned the body in various states of transformation, which include surgical procedures, self-induced fainting and hanging upside down for prolonged periods, at the centre of an immaterial phenomena. For Wing-sleepers she has used the Tube, and therefore London’s 24-hour context, as a canvas on which to explore ideas of sleeplessness or even active sleep – the ultimate challenge to the limits of our physical being.
Artist Marianna Simnett says;
I wanted the birds to reflect what it means to be active and moving today. The Night Tube is a host-carriage for all those active sleepers, commuters, drunks, stealers of the night. The birds insist on movement and rest, they switch ON the OFF zone, unlatch a hemisphere we didn’t imagine accessible. They soar over this topsy-turvy world and twist time as we know it, free-falling through the night.
Recent solo exhibitions and screenings include: Worst Gift, Matt’s Gallery, London, 2017; Lies, Seventeen, New York, 2016; Valves Collapse, Seventeen, London, 2016; Blue Roses, Park Nights, Serpentine Galleries, London, 2015. Simnett won the Jerwood / FVU Award in 2015 and is shortlisted for the Jarman Award 2017. She has upcoming shows at Zabludowicz Collection and GoMA 2018.