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Sleeping Germany


For thirteen days in December 2000 and January 2001, Lifschitz made the German rail system her home: crisscrossing Germany, she changed from one train to the next, occasionally stopping in the stations to buy food, use the showers, and send postcards to her London address. While traveling on the train, Lifschitz engaged her fellow passengers in conversation. The artist created a set of rules by which to perform this project. She offered chocolates. She asked the people she met for permission to photograph them, and then asked them to photograph her. She took pictures of every meal she ate, every toilet and shower she used, and every place she slept. She left self-addressed postcards in train stations in the hope that strangers would write to her.

Her experiences are recorded in an hour-by-hour account and in the visual documentation that she accumulated during the journey. Lifschitz originally presented this work to the public in an installation. One side of a wall was papered with the story of her journey, told in a first-person narrative and interspersed with retellings of her conversations, photographs of her travel companions, and the postcards sent to her. Onto the other side of the wall, an additional 400 images were projected from five carousel slide projectors. Later, the artist reworked this material to create a two-volume artist’s book.

Sleeping Germany began with Interrail tickets, a map of the train network and a wish to sleep through Germany. The site of the work is, therefore, the Die Bahn train network (both on the scale of 1:50,000 and 1:1), and chance is the mode of movement, where the train is the destination and sleep is, conceptually but not physically, the desired state. Germany, as a country with cities, landscapes and monuments, is for the most part a faraway place seen on postcards or viewed through the train window like a filmed landscape passing on a screen.

Or Sleeping Germany started with a note to myself written while crossing Germany on a bus from London To Prague. It read: “Through Germany one might as well just sleep”. Rereading this a few months later, I was struck by the possibility of using sleep as a way to experience Germany. On the third day of travelling, I formalised a set of rules I went on to follow for the rest of the journey:

– Always exit a station on a train.

– When you share space with another person,

  offer chocolate.

– Be polite and friendly,

  but don’t force your company on people.

– If possible, avoid talking about

  politics and history.

– Try to use the train system as your home.

  You are constantly at home.

– Ask the people you share space with to

  take your picture. Ask to take their picture.

– Take a picture of every seat, bed, bath

  and toilet that you inhabit.

– Take pictures of the stations and as many views

  from the train window as you want.

– Take pictures of all the food you eat.

– Send yourself a postcard from every station

  (if possible).

– Leave self-addressed postcards for other people

  to write on whenever you feel like it.

– Never lie.

– Never say where you are originally from.

– Any rule can be broken at any time.

– Repeat, until you stop.

I followed every rule most of the time.

In the installation, the journey is reiterated four times: in the set of stamped tickets, in a Die Bahn map with military pins numbered 1 to 53 (now framed), in a Narrative Diagram occupying an eight-metre-long wall, and in projected sequences of images from five slide projectors on the other side of the wall.     

If the travel pattern on the Die Bahn map attempts to render the logic of the system redundant, the Narrative Diagram next to it offers the possibility of making an alternative sense to that of the map, since it forms a diagram of the possibilities of chance, relations, and daily life. An eight-metre-long wall is covered with columns of text and images forming a pattern. The text recalls my conversations and journey notes, and is interrupted with the self addressed postcards I sent from the cities I stopped in, exchanged portraits, data, and coordinates I kept. Here, against the 1:50,000 overview of the network map, is the journey as a continual unfolding of movements and conversations in the non-spaces of the trains and stations.

On the other side of the wall are five carousel slide projectors on an automatic setting that project sequences of images of the views from the train’s window interceded with images that measure the inhabited space and functions of the body: the chairs, beds and bathrooms used, and the food consumed. The images appear in five concurrently projected sequences, like a film with automatic cuts. As a result, the authority and particularity of each individual image is undermined by repetition and its place in the sequence. Surpassed by the next image at mechanical intervals and overrun by the experience of the sequence, the images form a sequence designed to eradicate specificity and usher in forgetfulness.


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