Networked Lucid Dreaming

One of the most moving pieces of art I’ve seen was a video by Emilia Telese. It was shown late at night in Brighton’s Lanes. Down one of the narrow twittens, a window was open to a room where the film was projected onto a wall. It showed the artist sleeping outside in the New Forest. Much of the emotion came from the story behind the piece; but also the vulnerability of someone sleeping out of doors.

I think there should be more art around sleeping – not just portrayals of sleeping, but involving actual sleep. Like this theatre show Lullaby, where the audience was supposed to fall asleep. Sleeping used to be a communal act, not a private one.

It’s something I’ve been wondering about with my Alexa experiments, thinking about skills that can be used in that near-sleep state to lull you towards dreams. But, although I’ll never have time to work on such a thing, there is one piece of sleep technology I would love to see.

Back at school, many years ago, I read a New Scientist article about lucid dreaming. It pointed out that, while the body is paralysed during sleep, some voluntary muscle control is retained and accessible to lucid dreamers. People in this state can use blinking to communicate with the world. As a Guardian article explains:

Some of the most interesting studies involve in-dream experiments, where participants are asked to complete pre-arranged actions in their lucid dreams while using eye movements to signal the beginning and end of their behavioural sequences

Since it is also possible for dreamers to receive sound cues from the outside world, we now have the technology to connect lucid dreamers to one another, to send messages between them.

I’ve been thinking about this sort of technology for a few years, but it turns out to be closer than I’d realised. People have built prototypes for controlling robotic arms from within dreams; or there are software projects to take transcriptions from dreams. This sort of thing has little practical use, but it could make produce some interesting art.

Situationist Painting in the Tate

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A few months back, I went to the Tate Modern with my friend Sophie and found a surprise in the galleries – a painted strip of paper on a roller. It was a piece I’d read about but hadn’t realised was on display. This was Pinot Gallizio’s Industrial painting from 1958, made on a piece of canvas, rolled up and intended to be sold by the meter.

One of the most fascinating thing about the Situationists is how relatively little work they produced to demonstrate their theories. Much ink has been spilled on DeBord’s psychogeography, for example, but the groups associated with him produced few examples of the form: their practical work is far outweighed by their ideas.

Gallizio described himself as “archaeologist, botanist, chemist, parfumer, partisan, king of the gypsies” – to which McKenzie Wark suggests adding “chancer, amateur, dandy and dilettante”. He is famous as one of the founding members of Situationist International. The group was formed in July 1957 as a unification of several small avant-garde groups. One of them, Ralph Rumney’s ‘London Psychogeographical Association’, was formed on the occasion to make the event look more supported than it was.

Gallizio’s ‘Industrial Painting’  was first exhibited at a Turin Gallery in May 1958. The painting was unrolled and stuck on the walls, with sections sold by the meter. Models paraded in the gallery wrapped in the fabric. As well as being sold in the gallery, sections of the fabric was sold in a street market.

Another of Gallizio’s fascinations was gypsy communities. He offered a home to a gypsy community and this inspired Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. A recent article on Atlas Obscura detailed Nieuwenhuys’ work on nomadic architecture and his playful and visionary city designs.

Gallizio’s work was intended as a protest against the commodification of art. he produced original work through mechanical means, offering it for sale by the foot. But everything gets recuperated. Gallizio’s work is now an artifact, to be expertly displayed in a gallery. Maybe it should be chopped up and sold? Sections handed to people as they enter the gallery. Maybe the idea of this piece is more important than the piece itself.

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Klf: Chaos Music Magic Money

The greatest trick the KLF did was deleting their back catalogue. Some of the greatest songs of the 90s, and it’s pretty much impossible to buy them. You can find them if you look, but there’s no complete discography on Spotify. It feels strange – refreshing – in a culture of re-releases and heritage compilations. It’s been over 20 years since the KLF disappeared.

One of my favourite books in recent years was John Higgs’ The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. It’s an incredibly clever book and retells the story of the band as a magical ritual, one that created the twenty-first century. It takes the burning of the money, an incident that bewildered the band, and turns it into something new. It’s a great piece of storytelling.

I also love the book because it connects to so many of my obsessions. Here’s a map to some of my favourite links the book made or implied:

(Click to see a larger version)

A map of interesting things in the John Higgs book
A map of interesting things in the John Higgs book

Rivers and Tides

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A good way to spend an evening: last night I watched Rivers and Tides, a documentary about the artist Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy’s work uses natural materials and is often produced for specific locations. Many of his sculptures are intricate and fragile – a few times the documentary captures moments when a work in progress falls apart. It’s almost unbearable to watch Goldsworthy’s disappointment before he summons the strength to continue.

In my favourite scene, Goldsworthy is with his family as his children prepare for school. He then sets off to work, strolling through the village collecting dandelions in a metal bowl. Finally he comes to a river where he fills a pool with the bright flowerheads, producing a sculpture for the camera.

In some way’s Goldsworthy’s job seems ridiculous – although maybe no more ridiculous, really, than most of the jobs I’ve done. What’s interesting is how convincing Goldsworthy is: art is how he interrogates the world, at one point describing a sculpture he made while negotiating his grief at a relative’s death. He comes across as humble and unpretentious and, by the film’s end, I felt that he performed a useful and important service.

It’s fascinating to watch Goldsworthy working with materials that no other artist might use  – bracken, icicles, pinning leaves together with thorns. He crumbles stones containing red iron ores, making balls of powder that he throws into water, red dyes floating down river. The documentary makers have done a fantastic job of capturing the works, whether they are still or in motion, and several times I gasped in awe at their beauty.

In the final scenes, Goldsworthy stands in snow, flinging powdery handfuls into the air, watching it drift through sunbeams. It’s a simple piece, just snow and sunlight and, if it hadn’t been captured on film,  might not have been worth mentioning, its simple beauty unremarked.

“I am so amazed at times that I am actually alive.”

(Apparently there is a sculpture trail in Sussex, containing a series of chalk stones placed by Goldsworthy near the village of Cocking, as well as some of his pieces in Petworth. I’d love to see them)

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