Flip The Switch with Natalie Tottenham – Artist and Lucid Dreamer
“I began my lightswitch paintings during a period in which I was questioning my reality shuttling between housecleaning gigs full-time in San Francisco.
When I moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast, I wanted to work for myself to maintain a flexible schedule for a studio practice and engage with the art community.
To afford rent and cover student loan bills I ended up needing to work long hours and commuted often 4-5 hrs daily on public transit.
With the repetitive tasks of housecleaning my mind would drift to fantasizing that flipping the right switch could reveal an escape route to a parallel realm.
The lightswitch is a commonly used tool to test one’s lucidity in lucid dreaming and once lucid you have a say in what occurs.
As someone who lucid dreams – perhaps in painting my clients’ light switches with a meditative focus I could effect my circumstances.
Because of this work, I have been afforded private insight into of the homes and lifestyles of individuals across the income gap; including those of the very wealthy.
During my time here, I’ve had to move five times. Each time finding housing required arduous constant searching as affordable housing is limited.
I love design and collecting but I haven’t been in a secure enough housing situations to put down roots in a space or acquire more possessions in case I might need to again move.
In an increasingly difficult environment to be on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, I have had to dig deep to find self-empowerment and resilience to remain here and sustain my energy as an artist.”
My partner, artist Richard Kurtz and I met with artist Natatlie Tottenham in the hills of the East Bay near Berkeley this summer.
We enjoyed our time with her, learning about her work, her dreams, photographing her and the view.
My recent work derives from my everyday life working as a housecleaner in San Francisco and the rift my intensive schedule forms between the necessity to work and my identity as an artist.
Themes addressed in the work arise from the isolation and monotony of my work as a laborer as I work within the sterile, often consumerist, environments of my clients metropolitan dwellings.
The lightswitch series began as a way of questioning my reality. At my various work locations, I began fantasizing about escape routes as if flipping the right lightswitch on or opening a closet door would open up a portal and deny this
dimension’s laws of physics. In my experience the act of turning on a lightswitch acts as an indicator which brings conscious awareness between the parallel dream scape and waking reality of an individual experiencing a lucid dream.
I take photos of lightswitches at each site and recreate them as paintings.
Altogether they document the internal spaces I inhabit and glow with the auras of strangers houses. Their quiet order and stillness echo the solitary and repetitive nature of cleaning.
By rendering the lightswitches in oil paint I seek to breathe a sensual, lush energy into these benign, utilitarian objects.
This escapism is grounding and meditative for a worker at the bottom rung of an accelerated Bay Area economic system.