LIFE WITHOUT DREAMS a film by JESSICA BARDSLEY. 2022. USA. 13 min. A journey through the cosmos of consciousness from the perspective of an insomniac.


The films of Jessica Bardsley are always shapeshifting. After all, her introduction to cinema was mediated by the “experimental bent” of video art and documentary filmmaking, and her practice molded by studying poetry and philosophy while listening to punk music in college. In Life Without Dreams, all of these influences congeal into an exploration of capitalism’s 24/7 demands, insomnia, and celestial bodies.


Feminist philosopher Julia Kristeva describes depression as a “black sun” of unknown origin that emanates rays that compel those afflicted to silence and renunciation. Reflecting on this metaphor, Bardsley found herself wondering “whether we are adrift amongst the cosmos or on the inside of a psyche.” The thought-experiment informed Life Without Dreams’s self-inquiry into the mental and physical illnesses engendered by capitalism, as Bardsley cuts between intimate on-screen text detailing her struggles with sleeplessness and views of the cosmos’ infinitesimal grandeur and loneliness.



“I am interested in how outer landscapes can reflect inner lives and emotional worlds, or how interiority and subjectivity can be explored through physical topographies. Between inside and outside, between psyche and environment, projection and world, I explore instances where these boundaries do not hold, where it is hard to tell the difference between what is internal and what is external.” JESSICA BARDSLEY


As she swirls around images and themes, Bardsley creates a seamless assemblage of potent images that mirror her aphoristic commentary throughout Life Without Dreams. From skydiving bats to YouTube videos of commuters falling asleep on trains, Bardsley collects sights, sounds, and ideas, from all corners of the universe, making it evident that personal problems are connected to social concerns affecting the world at large.


A graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Ph.D. recipient from Harvard University, Jessica Bardsley is an artist-scholar whose practice spans multiple mediums. Her films have screened at CPH:DOX, Visions du Réel, Flaherty NYC, and True-False, among other prestigious documentary festivals. In 2013, she received the Eileen Maitland Award for Lie Back and Enjoy It: A Film About JoAnn Elam, and two years later her film The Blazing World won Best Short Film at Punto de Vista. She is currently working on her debut feature, The Cave Without a Name, a finalist at the Biennale College that expands on the themes explored in Life Without Dreams.


Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.