Sleep Diaries: Pamela Council, Artist

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Pamela Council’s art is playful and evocative. Bright colors spiral out of their fountains, like the one in Council’s most recent fountain commissioned by Times Square Arts in New York City and on view from October 2021 through December 2021. Called “A Fountain for Survivors,” the fountains were inside a womb-like structure made of resin and foam; the electric pink and purple sculpture was covered with a mosaic of 400,000 acrylic nails. 

“Because I love oral history and gossip, I did some interviews with different people who work with survivors of all different backgrounds,” Council says. “9-11 survivors, people who talk about colonialism and post-colonial survival, a climate refugee who’s dealing with an ecological sense of survival. I thought that now is a good time for this because anyone who was able to witness the fountain during the pandemic is a survivor.”

Council (they/them) loves the chance encounters people have with their work when it appears in public spaces..

 “Fountains are a great way to make an offering to the public,” Council says. “They are a meeting place, they are something that people return to, they’re hopeful. And through fountains, I could challenge institutional notions of care, because they’re such high-maintenance objects. I could also continue to talk about the body because they’re so dynamic with fluids. So that’s how I got to fountains,” Council says. “And they’re just fun to watch.”

A sleep apnea sufferer and a lover of both mornings and nights, here’s Council’s daily routine and sleep diary while staying at an artist residency in Vermont (where they reached ‘Peak Artist’) as told to writer Tricia Romano.

(9am) Waking Up In The Woods

I’m in rural Vermont, at a residency called Back River Road residency. It’s just getting started—it’s run by the Harpo Foundation, which is the artist Ed Levine’s Foundation. I’m on the property where Ed lived and worked and created about 30 installations, all outdoors. It’s special to be able to get out of my usual urban environment and into a place that is an installation artists’ playland.  They chose me because I’m a visual artist working in installation, and because Ed has these fountains here, and I was really excited about that.

When I’m home (in the Bronx, New York), I usually shoot up out of bed—I have a big skylight, so the sun wakes me up—and I start getting distracted by my stuff immediately. Here, I sleep in a little bit more, and take my time getting out of bed and getting downstairs to make breakfast. I usually wake up around seven in the summer and eight in the winter. 

Once I’m awake, if there’s people around, I’m social from the minute I open my eyes. I’m ready to talk, ready to go. So, people who are not morning people call me a morning person, but I also am fine with staying up late, too. I’m most productive for solo work early in the morning and later at night. I like to have meetings and talk to people in the afternoon. That’s my peak social time.

When I’m here, I wake up, stretch, make some coffee, check my internet things, and have some breakfast, usually yogurt with organic blueberries. When I’m home, I usually walk to my local coffee shop to get my coffee—I love a hot Black Americano with lavender syrup and a few ice cubes— and that’s not because I don’t know how to make coffee. It’s just because it’s a nice little walk to get me cleared and going. I walk one mile to get coffee, one mile back. Here, I will walk more in the afternoon. But my day is changing because I just hired an assistant, so I have a check-in with her around midday. So, I’m adjusting to that.

I journal in the morning before or after my coffee walk, or sometimes both. I have sketchbooks and journals and I probably write 60 pages every three weeks or so. Sometimes I journal at night, but only if there’s some action that happened. The journaling is inspired by Miss Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. She says to do three pages of free writing every day. It’s like putting a spreadsheet on my brain, it organizes my thoughts, and I worry less about things throughout the day. Sometimes I write a page in two minutes and sometimes it takes me 45 minutes to do a few pages. Sometimes I have a huge brainstorm. If it’s nice out, I usually do it outside on my patio.

(11am) A Late Morning Burst

Right now, my work is not very hands on. It’s administrative. It’s a lot of conversations and meetings, and research and writing. I’m always doing grant proposals. Grant proposals give me a writing prompt; it helps me to think about and articulate my work, and I get a lot of new ideas from doing that. But that takes up a lot of time. I have meetings because I’m doing proposals right now for new public artworks. Since the Times Square project, I’ve been talking to people around the world to build public artwork, about possibilities in their towns. I’m very much in a conceptual mode right now.

I try to block off at least a couple of days a week where I don’t have meetings and have studio days, but sometimes they’re just days to catch up on processing what’s been discussed in the meetings. A lot of thinking time. There is this fantasy of you’re in the studio playing and splashing paint around, and that’s just not that’s not how I’m working right now.

When I’m in the studio, I’m building things. I’m experimenting with materials. I set myself up with the materials that I need a couple days ahead of time, and then I am working. I have a couple of series that I come back to. One of them is “Relief,” where I’m sculpting and modeling clay. I produce a new set every year. That’s always ongoing in one part of my studio. And then I have another part of my studio that’s for sketches and ideas for new work. And then I have another part that’s active, that’s in process.

For residencies, I pick one or two projects that I want to bring with me that can fit in the car. I usually end up working on just one. I continue to do all my administrative stuff because the studio machine doesn’t stop. 

(2pm) A Lunch Break

During my 2 pm lunch break, I take a walk in the woods, listen to podcasts, or watch YouTube. I had surgery for endomedtriosis a couple months ago, so my appetite is really weird right now. Before I would go out for lunch, but now, I bring my food to the studio. I’m eating so much soup, even in the summer. And gummy bears. Lots of stupid gummy bears. Before my surgery I would work out or do a little yoga before my lunch break. So, I’d have my coffee walk, power through some work for a few hours in the morning, and then I’d take a Peloton break. (Yeah, the pandemic got me.)

I really enjoy changing clothes throughout the day. I’ll have a morning outfit and afternoon outfit and sometimes I change in the evening. I love it. It started happening when I stopped going into an office, but at each of those meal breaks, I’m changing clothes. I’m already on my second outfit today. In the woods, I wear my version of “woodsy” clothes—black and red animal print bra top with tights, or my Beyoncé Ivy Park purple cow jacket for a midnight run to the 24/7 honor system farm store. Its called “Kiss the Cow.” I was trying to blend. Usually I’ll start the day with comfy workout clothes, for the walk through lunch, then change into dress or something Zoom-ready. For dinner, I’ll change into something that feels really cute or a house dress depending on how I’m feeling and if i have plans. If the mood strikes me to go out later, one more change into something that makes a bold statement.

I meditate when I need a break in the day—if I get overwhelmed by work, or if I’m grumpy. If I’m grumpy and I don’t want to be grumpy anymore or if I’m super happy, and want to calm my ass down, meditation is really stabilizing. I use guided meditation. That helps, because then I’m just following directions.

There’s a sauna here; I did a meditation in the sauna at midnight. It was a Full Moon meditation with a journaling prompt. I was like, “Wow! I’m really doing the thing you’re supposed to do as an artist!” It was Peak Artist. 

(7pm) Dinner and a TV Show

I have a never-ending workday. Over the last year, I’ve been very firm about having a dinner break between 7 and 8pm. I hold to that five days a week. And usually after dinner, I think, “Do I want to keep working or can it wait till tomorrow?” Most nights I can stop. Sometimes there’s a deadline or I’m super inspired and I keep going. That’s what’s been happening at this residency, I’ve been writing, and I break for dinner and then I just want to keep writing. 

During the residency, staying in an artist’s home and living with his work inspired me to revisit my performance series “Is Your House in Order?” where I prompt people to start writing their wills. Whenever I visit a place like this, I speak to the caretakers. Here, I’ve been in conversation with David Tortolano who assisted with Ed on his art for over a decade and also was his caretaker at the end of his life. David has stories of how everything worked. So I was inspired to go into detail writing about the inspiration behind my different artworks. I looked at every photo of my work that I have. Because of medical stuff, I also have had to review my archive of nude selfies to track changes in my body. So, I also looked at every selfie I’ve taken since 2019 and wrote about the progress in my body and my body of work

Sometimes I’ll go out to dinner or to an entertainment thing. But that’s usually weekends. I’m really scared of COVID, so I’m much less social for the last two years than ever before in my life. I have a chronic illness. I haven’t gotten COVID yet and I really don’t want to get it. 

My dinners are very light. There’s a farm near here where I’ve been going to get my vegetables, so I’ve just been doing a lot of veggies and pasta and rice.

(11pm) Bedtime Stories

In the Bronx, I have a studio apartment, so to provide a little bedroom section that you can’t see from the front doors, I put up a beaded curtain. 

I don’t ever shut down my devices. I’m always on Twitter, and I just bought an Apple Watch, so I’m always online. Most nights I get a good seven or eight hours of sleep. My bed is a Saatva Luxury Firm with the pillow top. The only mattress that has topped it for me is the Sleep Number mattress. My mom has one. The head goes up and the feet go up, so you can elevate your feet, and there’s an app on your phone that you can control it. I like a fresh crispy, clean sheet. I change my sheets twice a week. 

When I’m home and really on a routine, I’m in bed by midnight. I’m staying up a little bit later here because I am enjoying the darkness so much. At home, it’s so loud at night and it never gets completely dark, so I force myself to shut down. Here, it gets dark, and I get energy because it’s quiet and I can hear crickets and bats and all the nature, and I’m so inspired by the darkness. This week I’ve been staying up writing and researching cool things until like 2am. It’s been fun.

I normally plug my phone in on the desk, so it’s away from me.  I get in bed at 11:45 and I’m asleep by midnight. But here, I’ve been bringing my iPad and writing in bed and I’m just buzzing away. The WiFi here goes through the phone line, so it’s basically dial up speed. During the pandemic, I got really into watching TV. I bought a TV which I had never had before. I’m not really watching TV here.  I can still get online enough to do some writing and to scroll through archives of pictures. That’s what I’ve been doing the last few nights. I don’t read a lot of books. I read a ridiculous number of articles. I listen to books.

Before bedtime, sometimes I take a shower, which means there are days when I take three showers. After my shower, I will oftentimes text with or call friends late because we’re all workaholics. And I clean my CPAP machine and get that all set up. My sleep apnea is pretty mild; there’s a bunch of us in my family with sleep apnea, some more severe than others. 

I discovered it because I was dating this person, and I kept waking up next to them and being like, “Why did you just wake me up?” They said, “You were snoring, and you were snoring really loud and then you woke yourself up.” It happened so many times, that I had to go do a study. I wear it five nights a week. It helps tremendously. I sleep through the night now.

The reason why I only use my CPAP five nights a week is that the CPAP makes me sleep so continuously that I don’t remember my dreams. The REM to not REM cycle goes uninterrupted. Whereas when I wake up in the middle of the night, I vividly remember my dreams, which is something I absolutely cherish. So, I give myself a couple of dream nights a week. My sleep might not be as good, but I’m going be entertained. I’m inspired by them and sometimes I figure stuff out with my work in them. When I was young, I had a couple of recurring dream spaces. When I was going to sleep, I would say I want to go back to the space — and returned to the same dream lands. It was a lot of fun. I had a trainer when I was a kid who worked with me on astral projection. I  get my best REM waking dreams whenIi get my eyelash extensions. I just think up sculptures, and my lash tech cant get my eyes to stay still.

Before the pandemic, I had let go of my apartment and I was residency hopping and subletting. And when the pandemic hit, I got a lease. I didn’t have furniture, so, I built my headboard and got creative. My headboard is a light pink, velvet cloud headboard. It also has a side panel, so I have a little reading nook with a light installed over it.

I also have endometriosis. It’s my “endo” nook. It’s not even a daily routine—it’s really a weekly routine, depending on the week of the month. If I have a day where I’m in a lot of pain, I can sit up in the corner of my headboard and work from bed. It’s a very Frida Kahlo situation. I wanted to make my rest as glamorous as possible.

Tricia Romano

Tricia Romano

Tricia Romano is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Daily Beast, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Spin, and Radar magazine. She is the former editor-in-chief of The Stranger and was a staff writer at the Seattle Times. She won Best Feature at the Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Award for her Village Voice cover story about sober DJs and promoters in the nightlife industry, “The Sober Bunch.” She is currently working on her first book about the Village Voice.

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