Dozens of small masks — or are they faces? — line the walls of the dark room, illuminated only when the beam of a flashlight passes over them.
Some nightmare-ish, others dreamy, the creations, barely the length of a hand each and maybe half as wide, number a hundred in total, and share at least two things in common — they all started out as toilet paper rolls, and were created at the dead of night.
They’re part of an new exhibition at Whitehorse’s Arts Underground entitled 100 Sleepless Nights and, like the name suggests, were the brainchild of artist Janet Patterson while in the throes of insomnia.
It’s her first solo exhibition as a visual artist.
“It was only because I couldn’t sleep and I was either lying in bed tossing and turning or getting up and doing something and so I thought, ‘Well, I’ll do something creative,’” Patterson said in an interview Feb. 4 about how 100 Sleepless Nights came to be.
“(I) was playing with toilet paper roll and came up with this little face and thought, ‘Oh okay.’ And I named it my insomniac and then from there I just developed the idea of doing a show about insomnia because apparently, about a third of Canadians suffer from insomnia, so it was just a way to kind of think about you know, the sorts of things that go through your mind at 2 a.m.”
Patterson said she created the insomniacs over a number of months — she didn’t work on them during every sleepless night, sometimes she wrote or listened to a podcast instead — spending roughly six to eight hours on each figure, including the folding, shaping, painting and shellacking. The result of the efforts makes the masks appear as if they could be made of ceramic or clay, perhaps, instead of their true humble cardboard tube roots.
She began the project in 2018, before she retired from her job as a communications analyst for Yukon Energy, ending up with a finalized collection of masks about a year ago.
“I asked people at work, ‘Please bring me all your toilet paper rolls!’” she recalled. “So I had this huge mound of them. Of course some didn’t work out, so I did make more than a hundred, but the failures, they got sent away to the garbage.”
Besides being visually distinct, each insomniac also has a name based on a question or statement that might pop up in someone’s mind as they’re in bed trying to fall asleep but unable to.
“Some things are really silly, like, ‘How does a dragon blow out their birthday candles?’” she said. “And some things are, you know, how am I going to pay my rent this month? Or, what if it’s cancer? … It looks at both the silly side of it and the not-so, the more serious side.”
The idea to have the room dark for the show, with attendees being handed flashlights before they step in, is as much of an aesthetic choice as it is a reflection of Patterson’s creation process.
“I just thought because I created these in the dark, then it might be good to view them in the dark and hopefully it will put people in a little different state of mind when they’re looking at them,” she said.
The visuals aren’t the only thing Patterson hopes will help lull attendees into a certain state of mind. The masks and darkness are accompanied by a tinkly piano soundtrack — specifically, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which Bach composed for a count in Germany who couldn’t fall asleep.
Patterson said that while she hopes everyone gets something out of the show, she’s not trying to send any message in particular with 100 Sleepless Nights.
“I think it’s whatever it means to each individual,” she said. “Some people perhaps suffer from insomnia, maybe they’ll be able to relate, some people have wonderful sleeps but maybe they’ll think some of these little faces are amusing or silly or, hopefully they’ll still enjoy a show.”
An opening reception for 100 Sleeplessness Nights will take place at Arts Underground on Feb. 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. The show, located in the Edge Gallery, is opening alongside another exhibit — Civilisations fabriquées, a collection of work by six artists presented by L’Association franco-yukonnaise in the Focus Gallery.
Contact Jackie Hong at