Goshka Macuga’s work repositions and interrelates various theological concepts and integrates conventions of archiving and museum display, resulting in installations that bring new meaning to the sources they draw from.
Somnambulism (sleepwalking), dreaming, and spirituality are central themes in What’s In a Name. Madame Blavatsky (2006) is a carved wooden figure depicting a sleeping Madame Blavatsky, levitating between two chairs. Blavatsky was one of the founders of the Theophysical Society, widely considered the first example of New Age thinking. She theorized that somnambulism is a unique spiritual state that is simultaneously a subconscious dream state and a conscious state where our senses are activated.
The second carved figure depicts the somnambulist from the 1920 Expressionist film by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In the film, Dr. Caligari presents a sleepwalking man as a sideshow attraction by putting him in a wooden box in his half-conscious state for twenty years. However, as the film progresses, it is revealed that this plot is actually the fantasy of a patient in a mental institution run by Dr. Caligari. The layering of narratives and various states of consciousness used in Caligari echo the way Macuga’s organizes information in her exhibitions.
What’s In a Name also includes several wall mounted display cases, which hold Macuga’s alchemical arrangements of objects, as well as a table sculpture, and a large etched mirror entitled Devil’s Sonata (2006). Devil’s Sonata is named after a composition by 18th Century Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini. One night the Devil appeared to him in his sleep and challenged him to a trial of skill on his private violin. Tartini accepted the challenge and when he woke up, he remembered the melody of the `Devils Sonata’ and wrote it down. He failed initially to remember the whole piece and could only finish it two years later when he heard a blind street musician playing outside his window the same tune.