Captain Moonlight: Part of sleep's rich tapestry

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The Independent Online
GOD FORBID that modern art should become a big thing with primary school pupils. Stories this week of 10-year-olds quizzing sex education teachers about chocolate are flummoxing enough without the tiny questers after truth turning their inquiring minds to the likes of Janine Antoni.

Antoni is a 30-year-old artist who came to prominence last year at the New York Whitney Biennial and is currently sleeping in one of her works every night at the Anthony D'Offay gallery in London's West End. She has previously focused on chocolate to explore 'notions of female sexuality and body image', sculpting a 600lb chocolate cube with her mouth and displaying chocolate busts of herself personally licked into shape as part of a piece called Lick and Lather.

The problems chocolate can cause with the young] 'When I showed Lick and Lather in Venice, a 16-year-old Czechoslovakian schoolgirl bit off three of my noses,' says Antoni in her soft New York drawl. Calamity] She had to take them off display. 'I mean I certainly had thought about biting off the noses myself and decided not to do it. I mean that was a conceptual decision.'

Protectiveness is not, however, why Antoni is sleeping with her current work, Slumber, not made of chocolate. It is a total experience thing: 'I weave my dreams and sleep with my dreams.' She has wired herself to a machine to measure her Rapid Eye Movements when dreaming, and prints out the results. Every morning she wakes up, rips strips off her nightie and weaves them into a blanket in the pattern of the graph. She's been at it now for three and a half weeks; the nightie is getting very short indeed.

'People make the sexual reference but that is not part of the work,' Antoni maintains navely, weaving away like an alluring Rapunzel, long rope of dark hair down her back, nightie on bed looking, well, torn and short. The visitors love to chat, she says. I bet they do. An elderly gentleman approaches.

'Excuse me, I just have to tell you,' he murmurs confidentially. 'I saw your mum and dad in New York, and I thought they were marvellous.'

'Oh I'm so glad,' beams Antoni. 'I didn't get to see them hung up because I wasn't there.' Mr and Mrs Antoni hung up in a New York art gallery as some sort of statement? No, a photograph, father in a dress as mother, mother made up as father.

'What worries me - without being illiberal,' whispers another D'Offay visitor, nodding back at the loom paraphernalia, 'is where are we going? What does it mean?'

'I'm bored with the question, is it art?', says Antoni. Quite so. Art it is, but what is her point? She ponders the question, delicate hand rising to the throat. 'I set out to get an experience . . . subtle nuances . . . our relationship to sleep and, you know, fairytales and myths . . . creating a narrative around the objects . . . taking something that we do every day and looking at it as a creative process.' Anyway, do I like it, she asks?

Well it's very nice, but not as much fun as some of her earlier work such as Eureka (1992), for example.

'I decided that lard was the material of the body,' she explains. 'So I decided to submerge myself in this tub of lard. Then I would gather up the lard my body displaced and make it into a big cube of soap and wash myself with it for seven days.' This is reminiscent of a fantasy recited by the comedian Dave Allen, about where fat goes when you've lost it, lurking in little-used drawers ready to blurge out unexpectedly.

Funnily enough, this fantasy was almost re-enacted with Gnaw, a work subsequently purchased for dollars 18,000 ( pounds 12,300) by Charles Saatchi. Gnaw was two 600lb blocks, one of chocolate and one of lard, that Antoni gnawed, spat out and made into lipsticks and little chocolate hearts. Gnaw Chocolate and Gnaw Lard were sitting on display, when the latter unexpectedly cracked open, letting a repulsive mess of fat ooze all over the floor. 'A witty and thought-provoking deconstruc tion of minimalism,' enthused the critics.

What would they make of a Mars bar party, whatever that might be?

(Photograph omitted)