Work’s title: Insomnia

Duration:  2 min

Media: Video


'Insomnia' is a sign language-based performance programme. The entire performance process is expressed by sign language. The work is based on the poem 'Insomnia' written by the artist. The artist will use sign language to translate this poem and perform it.

About the poem

This poem represents an imaginary image - all the things described in this poem are based on an imaginary dream by the artist. The theme of this poem centres around scenes from dreams and the subject of the poem expresses the emotion of waiting. When you feel scared and helpless, and a bit uncertain, being cautious and waiting seem like the only things to do. Whether hope will come and whether we will voluntarily give up hope is an open question in this poem, which does not yet have the answer. What happens in real life leaves its mark on our subconscious mind, pitting hope against helplessness and anxiety. As a result, we have strange fantasies and dreams. Shall we go back to real life to find an answer or continue to escape?

Dreams - dynamic psychiatry

A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occurs involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. Dream interpretation is the attempt at drawing meaning from dreams and searching for an underlying message.

Dreams mainly occur in the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage of sleep—when brain activity is high and resembles that of being awake. REM sleep is revealed by continuous movements of the eyes during sleep. The length of a dream can vary; they may last for a few seconds, or approximately 20–30 minutes. People are more likely to remember a dream if they are awakened during the REM phase.

In the late 19th century, psychotherapist Sigmund Freud developed a theory which proposed that the content of dreams is driven by unconscious wish fulfilment. He theorized that the content of dreams reflects the dreamer's unconscious mind and specifically that dream content is shaped by unconscious wish fulfilment. Freud's theory describes both the manifest and latent content of the dream. Latent content relates to deep unconscious wishes or fantasies while manifest content is superficial and meaningless. Manifest content often masks or obscures latent content.

Modern experimental studies weigh against many of Freud's theories regarding dreams. Freud's theory has difficulty explaining why young children have static and bland dreams, or why the emotions in most dreams are negative. On the plus side, modern researchers agree with Freud that dreams do have coherence and that dream content connects to other psychological variables and often connect to recent waking thoughts (though not as often as Freud supposed).

Carl Jung expanded on Freud's idea that dream content relates to the dreamer's unconscious desires. The dream balances conscious beliefs and attitudes with an alternative. Jung believed that memories forming throughout the day also play a role in dreaming. Jung also argued that dreaming is not a purely individual concern, that all dreams are part of "one great web of psychological factors."

Fritz Perls presented his theory of dreams as part of the holistic nature of Gestalt therapy. Dreams are seen as projections of parts of the self that have been ignored, rejected, or suppressed.

Dreams - neurological theories
Defensive immobilization: the precursor

According to Tsoukalas (2012), REM sleep is an evolutionary transformation of a well-known defensive mechanism, the tonic immobility reflex. This reflex, also known as animal hypnosis or death feigning, functions as the last line of defence against an attacking predator and consists of the total immobilization of the animal: the animal appears dead (cf. "playing possum"). Tsoukalas claims that the neurophysiology and phenomenology of this reaction show striking similarities to REM sleep, a fact that suggests a deep evolutionary kinship.

Additional content

From the 1940s to 1985, Calvin S. Hall collected more than 50,000 dream reports at Western Reserve University. In the Hall study, the most common emotion experienced in dreams was anxiety. Other emotions included abandonment, anger, fear, joy, and happiness. Negative emotions were much more common than positive ones.

Why Insomnia?

Insomnia, also known as sleeplessness, is a sleep disorder in which people have trouble sleeping. They may have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep as long as desired. Insomnia is typically followed by daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. Insomnia can be short term, lasting for days or weeks, or long term, lasting more than a month.

Someone who does not dream when they sleep is also an insomniac.

About sign language

Sign languages are languages that use visual-manual modality to convey meaning. Sign languages are expressed through manual articulations in combination with non-manual elements. Sign languages are not universal and they are not mutually intelligible with each other, although there are also striking similarities among sign languages.

Linguists consider both spoken and signed communication to be types of natural language, meaning that both emerged through an abstract, protracted aging process and evolved over time without meticulous planning.

Dreams and sign language

A dream is like a conversation in our subconscious that happens in our mind when we are sleep; it is very private and secret. If we do not tell other people, our dreams will be our own secrets forever. Dreams are also very honest because of what happens in our lives; the things or feelings we have, we may be trying to restrain or control ourselves. But when we are in our own dreams, we can barely control how they will be. Dreams are plays in our very own brain theatre.

Sign language is most of the time made in complete silence. It is like people who use sign language are in a world of silence. The first time I saw sign language being used in the real world was during the winter vacation of 2019. I was back in Beijing, and one day on the subway there were three young students in conversation using sign language. At the time, time seemed to stop; there had been a little bit of noise on the subway before, but suddenly, I fell completely silent, and the noise seemed to fade away. The students were in their own world. Sign language seems like the language of the heart, sometimes there are a lot of things we can express in different ways rather than just by talking.

There is a commonality between sign language and dreams, namely that they are invisible. People who have not studied sign language cannot understand the meanings that those gestures suggest. A dream also has its own invisibility; a dream is a person's very own secret until he/she shares it with other people. So, in this work using sign language as the performance language, the sign language accentuates the suppressed emotions in the poem, but facing the audience, it attempts to use a hidden way to express its own emotions.


In painting, the human hand is the most complicated and difficult part of the human body to portray, and for film, the ‘hand’ is also a very tense expression element. In the lens, hands not only express emotions and power relations, but can also support metaphysical thinking and express human subjectivity. The hand represents tactile sensation and is a tangent point of the inner connection with the world. With its sensibility, we can touch the world through the 'hand'.


Social exclusion refers to the experience of being socially isolated, either physically (for example, being totally alone), or emotionally (for example, being ignored or told that one is unwanted). When someone excludes you, you probably feel bad or even experience “painful” feelings. The existence of social exclusion makes it difficult to achieve particular social objectives such as reducing poverty and malnutrition because there are often hidden barriers to reaching those who are socially excluded.

At some point in their lives most people have had the experience of feeling excluded or being rejected by significant others. Almost without exception, the consequences of social exclusion for targeted individuals and groups are negative. This may be related to a basic

human need to belong. It has been suggested that after basic survival needs such as the need for nourishment and the need for shelter, the need to belong is one of the strongest human motivations (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; see also Brewer, 1991). Similarly, developmental theorists have argued that people have a basic need to form attachments with others in order to feel secure (Bowlby, 1973). These needs may have an evolutionary basis in that people who form and maintain strong bonds with others may be better equipped to survive and reproduce than those living alone (Leary, 2001). Perhaps as a consequence, people will devote often considerable time and energy to forming and maintaining social attachments and are negatively affected when they are absent or break down (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Leary, 1990; Williams, 2001).