Artist Spotlight: Viviane Sassen, “Parasomnia”

"Belladona" © Vivian Sassen from the series "Parasomnia"

On a recent trip to New York City I stopped by the MOMA to see the “New Photography 2011” acquisitions on view on the 3rd floor from Sept. 28 to Jan. 16, 2012. The exhibit features the work of six photographers who’s varied techniques and diversity represent a sampling of contemporary photographic art practices today. The artists featured are Moyra Davey, George Georgiou, Deana Lawson,  Doug Rickard,  Zhang Dali and  Viviane Sassen who caught my attention the most.

A selection from Sassen’s body of work called Parasomnia is featured in the gallery and her book by the same name is forthcoming at the end of this month. The definition of Parasomnia says that they “are a category of sleep disorders that involve abnormal and unnatural movements, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and dreams that occur while falling asleep, sleeping, between sleep stages, or during arousal from sleep.” Sassen’s images indeed capture people in a state of pause, sleep or other and she sometimes moves the frame to conjure up more feelings of slight abnormality or strangeness.

Sassen is Dutch and lives and works in Amsterdam but she grew up in Kenya. According to a recent NYTs blog entry the artist says: “Working in Africa opens doors of my subconscious more widely, my dreams are very vivid when I’m there.” The images in the work Parasomnia claim to be all at once images of self-analysis and childhood memories as well as  represent her feeling growing up as an outsider in Africa.  In “Belladona,” a woman who may or may not be asleep is obscured by a sheet and it is unclear if she is asleep or acting. “I try to make images that confuse me,” she says. “And I hope they confuse others, too.”

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