Exhibitions are transient. Yet in the course of its brief existence an exhibition has the power to change the way we view an individual work of art, or to reinforce certain semantic characteristics. And so it was at the exhibition of photographic works by Katharina Stiglitz on the ground floor of the Neue Galerie Graz in fall 2009. The busy street outside was visible through the gallery’s large storefront windows. This created a striking correlation between the works on exhibit and, beyond them, daily life with its adherence to utterly different criteria. Many other art galleries and museums have transparent external walls, so of course a similar effect would also have been possible elsewhere. The constellation can thus be read as paradigmatic. It shows that modernism’s white cube, which Brian O’Doherty called an archetype of 20th century art, exists merely as a concept. It is rarely implemented in its purest form.
‘The ideal gallery subtracts from the artwork all cues that interfere with the fact that it is “art”,’ O’Doherty wrote. ‘The work is isolated from everything that would detract from its own evaluation of itself.’ — 
In Stiglitz’s show at the Neue Galerie, however, the inevitable correspondence through the storefront windows between the artworks and the uneven rhythm of whatever was going on outside seemed not to interfere with the works’ message. On the contrary, it intensified their overarching narrative as a visual translation of other, varied and above all decelerated modes of perception and image formation, in a stratification of constellations of the in-between.
To draw attention to one of the works, the artist placed it on the wall between two windows. Separated from the waking state of urban life just by a glass membrane, the work depicts a specific state of consciousness which even in the immediacy of real life can only be experienced indirectly or as a reconstruction. The round-shaped black-and-white photograph shows a human eye in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
This stage of the sleep cycle is virtually impossible to capture through photography, especially by focusing on the eye. The eye generally symbolises the perception of external reality. It stands for the gaze, and thus control over a situation. But during sleep the eye remains closed. While the body gradually unwinds in the course of its regular recalibration of a real or imagined alternation between day and night, achieving ultimate relaxation during REM sleep, the eyelid and eye muscles continue to be physiologically active. Changes to the eye area are hardly noticeable from the outside, with one exception: Irregular eye movements that look like nervous twitches will occasionally take place during REM sleep. But the muscle tone of the eyelid remains taut and therefore the changes to the eyes cannot be translated into static single-shot photography.
In light of this phenomenon, Katharina Stiglitz’s photographs can be read more as a visual narrative about plunging into and emerging from sleep than as a visualisation of a state of consciousness or the largely uncontrollable movements of the unconscious. The works explore the differences in perception during sleep and in the waking state, as well as the interstices between them. The closer the eye of the camera gets, the clearer it becomes that the target is a zone of consciousness that eludes static, technical reproduction. Here one of the inherent characteristics of photography — the recording of a specific moment in reality that can never reoccur in its entirety — is taken to a symbolic level. For the flow of sleep is readily conceived as unique and individual, but sleep as a state can be portrayed only indirectly, for example through the image of closed eyes.
In his famous book Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes discusses the uniqueness of the photograph: ‘The Photograph mechanically repeats what cannot be repeated existentially. In the Photograph, the event is never transcended for the sake of something else: the Photograph always leads the corpus I need back to the body I see; it is the absolute Particular…’ — 
Barthes is talking about individual photographs, not photography as a medium. Since a photograph refers to something that used to be real, ‘the name of Photography’s noeme will therefore be: “That-has-been,” or again: the Intractable…’ —  But the concrete name starts to become blurred in a close-up of the state of sleep, from which, moreover, all the details that could locate the sleeper in time and space have been erased. Individuality, for example that of the face, vanishes. The abstraction of the image gives it a symbolic character. The category replaces the sleeper and the all but impossible glimpse of the concrete state of sleep.
Stiglitz’s photographs are not about individual people. Their primary focus is on modes of perception in the interference zone between waking and sleeping, including various alertness changes and radii. This is also expressed through the gradations in the view of the external social reality and its particularity within the macro gallery space. In her work Stiglitz conceptualises the translation of modes of perception or awareness, hence of consciousness, and especially those layers that are hidden in dreams, into the language of photography as a recording medium.
This is a familiar theme, of course. It is a recurring topos in art history. Sleep is frequently depicted as the vehicle of dreams, often with erotic associations as in the case of Sleeping Diana Watched by Two Fauns, and may also be fraught with threatening male projections. In the codes of Romanticism ‘night,’ ‘sleep’ and ‘the dream’ stood for projection screens, but also for zones in which the longing for wholeness and orientation could be fulfilled. As capitalism was being established outside, energies were focused on the reinterpretation of reality. Throughout the history of art we encounter this phenomenon in various semantic contexts as myth, as a place to regain orientation, or as a link to deeper layers of the psyche.
Whereas sleep has long been present as myth or allegory, retaining its referential nature, at the forefront of Stiglitz’s conceptual work are the processes of perceiving and constituting images that are either filed away or retrieved from memory. Indeed, the crucial source of inspiration for the artist is Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, written between 1908—1909 and 1922. In the labyrinthine structure of this definitive modern novel ‘memory’ is developed as the main leitmotif, as a structure — forming element in language. Other challenges emerge in the realm of the visual arts, however, because here the system lies outside verbal coordinates. The issues raised concern the origins of the formation of images and their visual comprehensibility through photography, a medium designed to depict existing signifiers.
Photography’s potential was being explored already at the beginning of the 20th century. The medium, which was still relatively young, opened up a range of opportunities for attempts to experiment with representing levels of consciousness that could not be rationally measured. The remarkable notion extended to the possibility of constituting new realities in this field of technical image production. In the 1930s Man Ray wrote, ‘Surrealism has so far been the only force capable of bringing luminous, impressive, true forms out of the darkroom.’ — 
Stiglitz does not go that far. Her work remains rooted in reality insofar as it merely calls attention, through formally appropriate approaches, to potential ways of generating images and visual processes in the deep structures of consciousness, beyond the immediately visible. These images, however, remain highly fragile and can dissolve even as they are being formed. Between the two extremes of deep sleep and active wakefulness are spheres where dreams stemming in some way from real experiences are reproduced, assembled and partially remembered, as Sigmund Freud demonstrated in The Interpretation of Dreams.
This hallucinatory activity based on snatches of recalled reality peaks during REM sleep. The transitional stages are often referred to as semisomnolence, a term no less broad and vague than the phenomenon itself. In the various contextualisations, concrete ideas about the term semisomnolence seem to gradually diffuse in line with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in physics. But that by no means diminishes the usefulness of the term, which provides the frame for a method of approaching a phenomenon, as do Stiglitz’s photographs and three-dimensional installations, which are also an attempt at Spurensicherung (securing evidence) and the recording of coming into being and passing away.
Here the artist’s work invites reflection on the medium itself. Her methods vary but Stiglitz consistently adheres to the paradigm of image-producing processes that suggest stability despite being characterised by fragility. In her extensive installations this is expressed as the morphological representation of both the incipient stage and the simultaneous dissolution of the formation process — just as in the moment of forgetting — which are comparable to the emergence of granular contrasts on photo paper in the dim light of the darkroom. Imprecise exposure or the wrong chemical treatment of the photo paper could have dramatic consequences, just as any attempt to interfere with the process of remembering would. Leaving aside the old gelatin silver process, it would be the same if improper handling reduced a digital photograph to uncorrectable pixel noise, or if the colours of a print were to gradually fade. Fragile materiality and semantic expression meet at the interface between the interior and the exterior, between semiconsciousness and awareness, between falling asleep and waking up, and thus between acceleration and deceleration.
The transfer of signs generates a field of reciprocal electrical charges, and from that Stiglitz’s sleeping eye on the wall between the windows of the Neue Galerie drew its magnetic energy, oblivious to the daily routine outside. There is still the question of whether these works contain social references beyond the distinction between art gallery and urban space. They can indeed be read from this perspective because their examination of the state of semisomnolence is underscored by a plea for heightened awareness and an expanded frame of personal reflection through deceleration.