The starting point for the series Magnetic Sleep has been pictures taken by anonymous photographers. I’m particularly interested in the history of medicine and pictures of patients for their often mysterious, even frightening atmosphere.
Magnetic sleep is a psychiatric term and treatment used in the late 18th and early 19th century, prior to the discovery of hypnotism.* It was believed to reveal another state of consciousness underneath a person’s conscious self. During magnetic sleep, the patient’s personality changes and he is able to answer questions relating to the unknown. One of the first patients was a young woman who had lost her vision. The story tells that after magnetic sleep, she opened her eyes and could see again.
In this series, I show archival scientific pictures together with new photographs I have shot. I use different kinds of photographic techniques: digital imaging, polaroids, diapositive films and camera-less photography, where images are formed with the help of sunlight and organic materials on old black and white emulsion paper.
I work by photographing a vast amount of material that I later print out and start forming into groups or pairs. My images are always in relation to one another – I rarely make single images. Recurring themes in my works are questions of memory and femininity, the act of looking and the relation of knowledge and the unconscious.
* German physician Franz Anton Mesmer (1734−1815) began using “healing metals” in 1774. He gave an iron-encasing product to one of his female patients, after which he placed magnets on different parts of the patient’s body. The patient felt as if some unidentified liquid was flowing inside her body, and her symptoms were eased.
Soon after this, Mesmer gave up metals and started working with his bare hands. In order to transfer “fluidum” from one person to another, he moved his hands in the air near the patient’s body. It was also possible to transfer the energetic, liquid and invisible fluidum with hands into things and substances such as water, combining the human body and mind with the universe. Thus the cure of neuropathy was linked to the entire universe and cosmic forces.
Magnetic sleep was discovered in April 1784 by the French Marquis De Puységur, who treated his patients with magnetism and noticed that one of his patients suddenly fell into a state of somnambulism.
Later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, hypnosis was associated with supernatural phenomena such as spiritualism and occultism. The development of natural sciences and innovations such as X-rays triggered a growing fascination for spirituality and the invisible world – people discovered that reality was more than could be seen with naked eye.