On repeat: “Night Shift” captures a liminal state between sleep and wakefulness

The video by Austin-based artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler streams online through June 10


With its sequestering at home and routines of social distancing, the coronavirus pandemic has given time a strange elastic quality. Fatigued from the stress of the situation, many of us feel as if we are in some liminal state between sleep and wakefulness.

Though of a much less fearful origin, that liminal state is at the core of “Night Shift,” an eight-minute video artwork by Austin-based artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler.

In four short scenes we see a police car at night. Each scene begins when a younger officer brings a cup of coffee to an older officer who is fighting sleep, the younger one offering some brief chatter that touches on dreams or the slippage between sleep and sleeplessness. After a fade-out, the scene begins again with a different younger officer. “Night Shift” is intended to be screened in a loop.

Shot on location in Austin, “Night Shift” was commissioned by Art 21 and premiered on PBS television in 2005. (Its age shows when someone in the background actually uses a telephone booth.)

In 2017 “Night Shift” was exhibited in Austin at Lora Reynolds Gallery. Hubbard and Birchler are both on the faculty of the University of Texas. In 2017, they represented Switzerland at the 57th Venice Biennial with “Flora,” a work about the unknown American artist Flora Mayo, with whom the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti had a love affair in Paris in the 1920s.

Through June 10, “Night Shift” is being screened online, courtesy London’s David Roberts Art Foundation collection at davidrobertsartfoundation.com/broadcasts/

“Night Shift” sets up a Groundhog Day-like repetition of the same small exchange between two people. It’s a clever play on the way our minds churn over the same psychic material. Repeated real life moments, recurring dreams. Or perhaps it happens the other way around.


Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

Related articles