Prototypes and archetypes in the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach, 2020
Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), Spain
Supervisor: Tonia Raquejo Grado
During my doctoral thesis titled "Prototypes and archetypes in the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach", I analyzed the different artistic prototypes and archetypes that surround the neurological sleep disorder known as sleep paralysis. This disorder manifests itself during the transition between the states of sleep and wakefulness, when the brain is in an altered state of consciousness. Sleep paralysis is characterized by sensory hallucinations (mainly visual) that cause considerable suffering and agony to those afflicted by it. My research project had the following three outcomes:
1) I undertook an in-depth analysis of the historical, medical, psychological, anthropological, and artistic contexts of sleep paralysis. By studying the mythology surrounding this disorder, I discovered that its artistic representation has been remarkably similar across different peoples (especially in the form of sexual demons such as the incubus and the succubus). The interpretation and interiorization of these mythological creatures as real-world entities in our collective imagination have created different social and behavioural attitudes in the way we experience this disorder
2) A fundamental part of my dissertation examined how Henry Füssli´s artwork The Nightmare (1781) created the first prototype and archetype of representation of sleep paralysis in Western art, which has had a profound influence in the way we artistically represent this experience. To achieve this, I conducted an exhaustive analysis of all artworks depicting sleep paralysis from the 18th century to this day. I combined this analysis with a comprehensive collection of testimonies of a diverse demographic of patients suffering by sleep paralysis, which allowed me to identify the perceptive and repetitive patterns that the collective human imagination uses to represent this disorder.
3) Having the abovementioned discoveries in mind, I created and proposed a new approach on how to visually represent and understand sleep paralysis through photography, which allows spectators to immerse themselves in the hallucinations produced by this disorder. Through my artwork, I explore how the experience of sleep paralysis is embodied, allowing me to reveal different concepts such as identity, memory and the emotion of fear.
During my research, titled Prototypes and archetypes of the representation of sleep paralysis: an artistic approach, the diverse artistic prototypes and archetypes that surround a neurological parasomnia (=sleep disorder) known as sleep paralysis were analyzed. This parasomnia manifests itself during the transition between the states of sleep and wakefulness, when the brain is in an altered state of consciousness. Sleep paralysis is characterized by sensory hallucinations (mainly visual) that cause considerable suffering and agony to those afflicted by it.
Due to the limited and scarce information surrounding the artistic representation of this sleep disorder, the first and second chapters examine its psychological and medical background, which also provide the framework for the anthropological field that follows (Chapter 3). In the latter chapter, I investigate the evolution of this parasomnia across human cultures and their collective imagination, especially the mythology associated with the incubus and the succubus. Both figures are very frequent in hallucinations of sleep paralysis. The interpretation and interiorization of these mythological creatures as real-world entities in our collective imagination have created different social and behavioural attitudes in the way we experience this disorder. In the fourth chapter, I undertake an exhaustive analysis of the prototypes and archetypes that have emerged from the artistic representation of sleep paralysis, focusing on the study of the work The Nightmare (1781) by Henry Füssli. Based on the above, I classified the different works depicting sleep paralysis into distinct categories, and I created a methodological chronology from the 18th century to the present day, in order to understand their representation in art. In the fifth chapter, I reflect on the artistic representation and interpretation of different concepts linked to sleep paralysis, such as identity, memory and the emotion of fear. Furthermore, in order to study the visual patterns in the hallucinations triggered by sleep paralysis, I collected testimonies from a diverse demographic of patients who suffer from this parasomnia. Finally, in the sixth chapter, I propose a new perspective on the representation of sleep paralysis, by creating subjective visual works (based on the testimonies) using photographic techniques.
One of my main objectives was to develop a codified study of the myths and legends in different cultures associated with sleep paralysis. This allowed me to understand the symbolic representation of the figure of the incubus in art history based on its popular imagery and the existing traditions in the romanticist concepts of monstrous categories. Specifically, the abovementioned work The Nightmare by Füssli, is the most representative prototype and archetype of sleep paralysis, as its influence can be observed to this day.
Overall, the findings of my doctoral research will allow us to reflect, recreate, and question the existing representation of sleep paralysis. My final objective is to escape from historically dominant prototypes and archetypes, in order to create a new subjective representation of how we experience this parasomnia. To achieve this, I propose an innovative visual panorama based on my own artistic creation and the testimonies I gathered, which enhances our understanding of this unique sensory phenomenon.