A Sprawling Ode To Insomnia, Made From String

Confronted with insomnia, the artist Pae White chose to make art about it.

Pae White, the California artist, is difficult to define with just one work. Her career has spanned a whole host of mediums and messages, ranging from immersive tapestries to gilded food. But it’s her prolific creativity–or more specifically, the loss of it–that serves as the basis for a new installation at the South London Gallery this month.


You see, White recently began suffering from insomnia, and her process suffered with her. According to the curators at the gallery, “her sleepless nights having started when she had to give up running, an activity which had been integral to her thinking process and artistic practice for some 25 years.” Forced to stop running, she stopped sleeping–hence the title of the installation, Too Much Night, Again.

How does White’s insomnia play out in the gallery? Visitors are confronted with an angular purple arch made out of millions of threads, anchored to opposite walls of the wide, white gallery. The anchors themselves are metal pins, arranged to form the words “tiger time,” and “unmattering.” These are seemingly nonsensical slogans–but we get the sense that they’re important mantras, along the lines of the famous coping mantra repeated by the anxiety-plagued hero of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

Next to the string installation, we get a more definite reference to White’s sleepless nights, in the form of threadbare T-shirts hanging on the gallery wall. These are her old running shirts. Below them, stacks of empty pizza boxes–left by the gallery workers who installed the work over a week of sleepless nights–serve as a kind of monument to their collective exhaustion.

There’s something both bleak and impressive about the work. Plenty of artists have been defeated by smaller health problems than insomnia, but White seems determined to keep creating, despite the lack of creative impulse. In other words, when life gives you insomnia, make art about it.

See Too Much Night, Again until May 12.

[H/t It’s Nice That]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.