Georgia Burkitt in her home studio.
Georgia Burkitt, suffers from sleep paralysis – a form of lucid dreaming that brings devilish and nightmarish ghouls to life. She cannot move, she cannot scream; she’s left stiff with fear.
Georgia, who finished her year 12 HSC at Colo High School, North Richmond this year, created for her major body of work; a sculpture of a cat made with spare parts from the tip, two sketches; one of human eyes and the other of cat eyes, and a piece that drew everyone in; a charcoal hand drawn stop motion movie.
The movie, titled Sleep Paralysis, explores sleep paralysis in general, but also goes much deeper – it’s a personal exploration.
So just talk me through your inspiration for your year 12 body of work.
Well, I have been getting sleep paralysis for almost three years now. It’s when your mind and body disconnect from each other, so your body will still be in sleep mode but your mind will be awake and your eyes will be open. During that episode you will have your nightmares projected into reality; so like people walking over to you and trying to kill you … it’s just an acute sense of danger and I just thought that was really interesting to do as an artwork because it hasn’t really been explored much.
My artwork is a spiritual and scientific explanation of what happens to you during a sleep paralysis episode. The dark nightmarish seep of it was to do with the spiritual; many people believe that it’s the devil visiting you at night and that people who experience sleep paralysis are cursed.
The scientific is the disconnection of the mind and the body and vulnerability the body feels.
How often do you get sleep paralysis?
When I’m stressed out. I seem to get it more often but I never know when I’m going to get it.
When I have it, I have no sense of time or space; I just don’t know how long it’s going for. I have the idea that it’s the next level on lucid dreaming because you’re able to wake yourself up, but in waking yourself up only your mind wakes up.
Because I’ve had it for so long I’ve learnt to go with it. It’s such a scary experience but I have had a few peaceful experiences with it.
Do you remember the first night you had sleep paralysis?
I remember I was away on holidays when I first got it and it was just so scary and I didn’t know what was wrong with me; I was scared to tell people.
I googled it and read all the stories about it and it was kind of scaring me – all the spiritual side of it. But then I read about the scientific side and found it was actually pretty common, but there haven’t been many artworks or explanations of it.
Your artworks are a very personal exploration then.
It’s very personal: I put myself out there through my artworks.
My movie doesn’t really explain sleep paralysis, it explains what happens to me psychologically when I experience it and the disjointed feeling of it all. It’s so personal to me, it’s like explaining a dream and no one else will understand it because it’s your dream.
How did you then come up with the idea of making a stop motion movie to portray your exploration of sleep paralysis?
During sleep paralysis your body goes through REMs [rapid eye movements] and it’s like a shutter effect when you see something. I thought then that stop motion drawing is similar because the frames per minute have a shuttered and most importantly a disjointed effect so that was perfect.
Also doing something as organic as an art video has the potential to connect more with people. I love charcoal because you can put so much expression into it.
How many other pieces did you have in your body of works?
Well I had the movie which was around two and a half minutes. I had two pencil drawings which were 1m x 30cm each: one was of human eyes and the other, cat eyes.
And I did a sculpture piece of found objects [from the tip] of a rusty cat draped in a sheet. This was just to make it more haunting and structural as well as demonstrating the scientific side.
Throughout my artworks I had the continuing motif of a cat because every time I have sleep paralysis I see a cat; I just find that really interesting and haunting.
What is art to you?
Art has bad qualities and good qualities: I always think of myself as never being 100 per cent in the room because I’m always thinking of things in an artistic way. It’s just a good way to let out all your emotions and plays a big role in keeping me sane.
Even from a little kid, art has been a huge influence. All throughout my life I would document things by drawing pictures. Every time we had a dream, mum would make us draw our dream as soon as we woke up, just to enhance our memory and keep our imaginations going.
Now that you’ve finished school, what are your plans for next year?
I’m taking a gap year to travel. I’m not sure where I want to travel to but I’m thinking India and Asia because it will be a massive culture shock.
The main reason I want to travel is to gain inspiration and influence to do my art. I’m so restricted in the Hawkesbury; there’s not much raw emotion because everyone has pretty safe lives. I think it would be really influencing the see something like poverty first-hand. That type of experience would change my whole outlook and my art practice.
I think travelling is so important because it’s hard to get a world view when you haven’t seen or experienced the world.
Art seems to be an important part of your life. Do you plan on making it your career?
It’s hard with being an artist, because it’s not a safe career; you have to be an opportunist. It would be easier to study psychology or be a social worker – like I wanted to do – but over this last year I’ve realised the only thing that can make me happy is to be doing art. If I don’t try it I know I’ll regret it.
My future will be art.
– Story and photos by Ashanna Roberts