Alec Soth: Hypnagogia

Hypnagogia comes from the greek words “sleep” and “guide”. It is described as that in-between state between sleep and wakefulness. So what is going on in this state:

Scientists have observed the presence of both alpha brain waves — which are the dominant brain wave mode when we are conscious but relaxed, for instance when daydreaming or meditating — and theta brain waves, which are associated with restorative sleep, during hypnagogia. Typically, these brain waves occur only separately, and it may be the unique combination that gives rise to unusual visions and sensations.  (1)

Artists, including Dali found this state useful for the creation of art works. It is a route to the subconscious. Sometimes the images which arise in this state are extremely vivid.

Soth’s exhibition, at The Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College Dublin, carries the title Hypnagogia. I had not researched the term before I visited the exhibition but the information online explained the term so I was expecting really interesting images. I was deeply disappointed.

The Douglas Hyde gallery is a fairly challenging space but given the title of the exhibition I thought this would add to the inventiveness of the images. From the image below it can be seen that hardly any two images are the same size. This, I felt, was a good start. I stood in the middle of the gallery and tried to see how and why this particular set of images were collected under the title Hypnagogia. I am afraid I failed completely. So I decided to examine each one individually to see how it could be the result of or a depiction of this “in-between” state of sleep and wakefulness.



Californian Condor



This I felt could be a depiction of that state of entering a tunnel when sleep is overtaking one. This image resamples the oft described state in a “near death experience. Persons experiencing this often describe moving towards a lighted tunnel. I loved this image for its own sake.

kaaatrskill falls

I am not sure if the impossible position of the man in the image indicates a sort of hallucinatory state in which this image was conceived. I feel it si possible.

Most of the other images left me totally perplexed. I did not enjoy this exhibition.


  1. The Huffington Post. 2016. Hypnagogia, The State Between Sleep And Wakefulness, Is Key To Creativity | Huffington Post. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 September 2016].