The Sleep Lab

The Sleep Lab

Participatory Video Installation, 2011

The Sleep Lab is a participatory installation about the significance of dreaming and the possibilities of technology to transmit its essence from one person to another.

The installation is a built-in commercial laboratory, with the appearance of an expo stand, in which visitors are able to closely follow the sleep of real people, ten volunteers who come to sleep in the lab. Among real sleep tech-manufacturers’ and sponsors’ logos and leaflets, projected on video screens, the volunteers’ “dreams” are based on video diaries recorded by the sleepers themselves prior to the sleep sessions. In the installation a video mixing program is connected to a real time, automated sleep stage detector thus allowing the signals received from the sleeping person’s brain to affect the nature of the dream video. The “dream videos” are being shown within the installation-laboratory but also being live broadcasted to a web-TV channel during the nights.

The appearance of the dream videos in the installation follow the naturally occurring switches between the sleep phases. In Sleep stage 4 that corresponds to very deep sleep the video slows down and the image transmission is completely abstract as the brain performs low activity during that phase. In contrast, during Rapid Eye Movement sleep the video image -although slightly modified- appears clear and realistic as this light sleep phase produces long, undisturbed dreams. Occasional recognizable images occur during other stages of sleep which questions the very mechanism of how the stable world around is being formed. The intent is not to show how dreams are perceived by the dreamer, but to simulate the mediation of dreams through speculative technology, and thus the very ambivalent experience of witnessing the dreams of someone else.

Such visible translation of the elusive substance of dreams into recognisable imagery on external screens highlights the absence of a conscious self whose inner content nevertheless continues to be active on its own. This points to the ambivalence of will and influence as the content of our dreams appear to be filled with popular culture elements – pieces of TV shows, adverts and other civilization codes taken in by our system automatically. Can the dreaming process be truly explained even if measured with highly developed instruments? Or does consciousness constitute the power of the unlimited unknown over a described and partial anthropological dimension?

Technical Description

A person sleeps in the Sleep Lab, while a sleep analysis system outputs data about the sleeper. There are two video projections on the wall. While the person is sleeping, one projection depicts the commercial analysis software used, with EEG-, or brain-waves covering the screen. The other projection shows a video, representing the ”dreams” of the sleeper. The video was shot by the sleeping person him/herself prior to sleeping in the lab. The video footage is shot from the point of view of the person recording, or the “dreamer”.

During the sleep recording sessions everything is being recorded onto a computer, and added to a sleep session archive on the computer. As the volunteers are sleeping in the gallery, the dream videos are being live-streamed night time to a local TV station. Every night, from 23.00– 07.00 local TV viewers are able to watch people sleep, follow their brain activity, and see the “dreams” on TV.
Daytime, during the gallery open hours, gallery visitors can follow the sleep activity and ”dreams” of the person who slept there the night before. After one week, the gallery will have an archive of 7 recorded sleep sessions to use for the remaining part of the exhibition.


The Sleep Lab was exhibited at Kunsthalle Lophem in 2006, as part of the Drawing Lust exhibition curated by Roland Patteeuw. In 2007 it was shown in Gallery Korjaamo, Helsinki.


Concept, video effects and sound: Minna Långström
Programming: Juha Vehviläinen
Programming of the automated sleep stage analysis system: Jussi Virkkala
Sleep analysis software and hardware: ResMed Oy

Special thanks to Jussi Virkkala at the Institute for Occupational Health Sleep Laboratory in Helsinki and Jussi Vuorela at Resmed.