Samantha Sweeting (born Singapore, 1982) is a London-based artist, working across photography, video, performance, installation, text and object. Her practice examines the intersection between desire, violence and femininity, with recent projects involving adult nursing and cross-species interplay. Whether collaborating with a lover, stranger or animal, her intimate actions initiate a shared moment of melancholy and tenderness.
Samantha graduated from London College of Communication with a First Class BA in Photography, before being awarded an AHRC scholorship to complete her MA in Visual Performance at Dartington College of Art. After several years spent living with her menagerie of abandoned animals between rural England and a falling-down farmhouse in a forest in the French Pyrénées, she returned to London, where she currently lives and works.
For Viktor Wynd Fine Art, Samantha will be presenting an interactive installation, entitled He loved her, and sometimes she loved him too. For seven days, strangers are invited two-by-two to enter a dimly lit room where they lie in bed and listen to stories of love and heartbreak in the pillows. For seven nights, Samantha will sleep in the gallery with an invited participant. The private action is used to articulate conflicting feelings of loneliness, anxiety, desire and comfort, as Samantha and her date fall out of love and into sleep together.
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I received a message from W., asking if I might like to sleep with his friend Samantha, an artist who was working on some piece that involved sleeping with strangers. I knew nothing more about her and tried to keep it that way, despite the temptation to try and work out what I was letting myself in for.
A date was arranged. I waited at the appointed time. I stocked up on Ovaltine and changed the bed linen. I grew nervous.
As it turned out, Samantha seemed as nervous as myself. Perhaps I’d expected to be ordered to bed, subjected to some performance piece with bedtime prayers, undressing rituals, smalltalk confidences on the verge of unconsciousness, farting competitions. There was none of that. We sat downstairs for a while and talked. I exchanged eau de vie for the Ovaltine. Samantha didn’t seem keen on milky drinks. Perhaps it was the new glasses. I’d been trying for Le Corbusier or Nagai Kafu, but kept being compared to Richard Attenborough as John Christie. Breathe, breathe. Or Arthur Askey. Before your very eyes...
We spoke about sleep and love. She mentioned a poet, I droned on inconsequentially about Yotsuya Simon’s relation to Hans Bellmer. That kind of thing. I’d drunk just enough to think that I might fall asleep soon enough. Quite rightly, she had enough and tentatively we negotiated our way upstairs to bed. This side? That? Should I wear my dressing gown or not? Samantha had changed into a white nightdress that looked vaguely sacrificial, but that really wasn’t the mood. I was more concerned that I was going to foghorn my snore throughout the night.
When W. had first suggested my involvement, I’d hesitated. Why would I? Then I felt vaguely flattered by the proposal. The artist would be quite safe in my bed, I wouldn’t make any innuendo that I wouldn’t deliver upon. In fact, I don’t think I made any innuendos at all. I felt protective, not wishing to intrude upon her personal space and yet also patrol its borders in case of a rogue incubus during the night. I wanted her to get a good night’s sleep. Wasn’t that the point? Or rather how I chose to understand it.
The two of us lay in bed. Chaste and distant cousins. I started reading her The Nose by Gogol. I suspect she was asleep after the third page, but kept going until the end. I smoked a cigarette, turned off the light. The room was now quiet, the bed was warm.
I dreamed. Of what I can’t quite remember, but it was a rare dream of calm. Imaginary musical instruments, unheard sounds, a lakeside vista and Samantha was there amidst it all. I awoke at various points. Had I been snoring? Perhaps. I think my arm may have drifted across her body at some point and lain there awhile. If it did, there was nothing prurient about it. Why, I thought, there is someone next to me. This space, so frequently vacant, temporarily filled. Would I always sleep so sweetly with someone besides? With waking, this sense of absence. Take it downstairs, drink coffee in the dawn light, do something ephemeral until she wakes.
She came downstairs a couple of hours later. I told her the dream. As much as I could remember. She drank some tea. She left. The Ovaltine still unopened.
A few weeks later I began sleeping with someone on a more permanent basis. I have had enough of sleeping alone.