What really happens when you’re sleeping? 

While most people notice someone standing by their side, Andrew Leland sometimes does not — he needs a tap on the shoulder due to his limited peripheral vision, which has gradually worsened since the 30-year-old was in seventh grade.

“What I have is night blindness, an eye disorder grouped under the name RP [retinitis pigmentosa],” he says. “The retina is damaged in peripheral vision and it’s difficult to see in low light situations.”

Leland, a writer and editor, is among the speakers on tap for tonight’s “After Dark: While You Were Sleeping” at the Exploratorium. The After Dark programs, which are geared to adults and offer cocktails, were launched two years ago as part of the science museum’s 40th birthday celebration and remain wildly popular. Attendance today is expected to be around 1,000.

This month’s theme is the mysterious nighttime, and the program explores dimensions of sleep, the subconscious, darkness and “other-worldliness.”

The evening includes a presentation by Graham Burnett and Jeff Dolven, Princeton scholars who appear in a “bunk-bed conversation” — literally on each level of a bunk bed, wearing pajamas — to discuss links between sleep, knowledge and art, and why people lose reason when they dream.

Next to the bed is a whale song station created by composer Thomas Dimuzio, independent curator Chris Fitzpatrick and cetacean acoustics expert Dave Mellinger, who will be on hand to present a lullaby. Their audio exhibit explores the unique musical composition of humpback whale sounds, which are varied and can be compared to human dialects.

“Humpback whale sounds feel like a realm unknown to us. Happening thousands of miles away makes it feel ancient and almost alien to us. You don’t need to travel far to know another world,” says Exploratorium project director Marina McDougall.

The evening also includes a museum-wide re-staging of “The Perfect Bed,” an interactive performance-art piece about achieving perfection by Allan Kaprow, an American artist known for his focus on everyday human activity and daily life.   

“We have actual bedding for guests to move around in the Exploratorium,” says McDougall. “While you’re sleeping, this whole museum is having an event. There could be actual naps taking place during the show.”


After Dark: While You Were Sleeping

Exploratorium, 3601 Lyon St., San Francisco

When: 6 to 10 p.m. today

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 561-0363; www.exploratorium.edu

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Sharon Lim

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