Dreamachine is the trippy new art experience you can’t see
Dreamachine is a trippy new work of art to discover with your eyes closed
Launch in London in May 2022, dream machine is a new immersive experience created by Collective Act that brings together artists Assemble and composer Jon Hopkins. It is designed as the first work of art to be experienced with eyes closed.
Part toxin-free psychedelic journey, part mass mindfulness experience, dream machine is an immersive installation promising a moving spectacle.
Landing in London in May, dream machine stands out from other techtastic experiential art environments for the caliber of its collaborative creators, for its element of “citizen science” and educational reach, and for the fact that it will definitely not be Instagrammable. dream machineThe hallucinatory spectacle of only occurs in your head.
The project was inspired by the work of artist, writer and inventor Brion Gysin (an acolyte of William Burroughs) and is the brainchild of participatory art specialist Jennifer Crook, who has worked with Olafur Eliasson, Christo, Danny Boyle and Jeremy Deller, among others.
The origin story says that on a sunny day in 1958, Gysin was dozing in the back of a bus, driven along a tree-lined expanse of the French countryside. This flickering light from the forest seems to have triggered transcendental (pre-psychedelic) explosions in Gysin’s brain, crushing waves of intense color and shifting geometry.
Gysin returned home, found that what he had experienced was not supernatural or psychotic, but a recently categorized neurological response to flickering light of a certain frequency – known as “visual hallucinations induced by stroboscopy”. He was determined to create a small-scale device that could recreate the effect, what he called the “first work of art to live with eyes closed”. He succeeded using a turntable, a light bulb, and a carefully split cylinder. Gysin hoped his device would eventually replace the television in every American home. Big luck.
Crook has long been fascinated by Gysin’s glittering device – she came across a book about her original ‘Dream Machine’, and a plan of how to put one together, in a charity shop when she was a teenager – and the ability to expand and expand to create a stunning community experience.
She started Collective Act to make it happen and immediately turned to Jon Hopkins, the DJ and songwriter behind the ambient techno epic. ImmunityGrammy-nominated Singularity and last year’s Music for psychedelic therapyto create a soundscape for the new project.
Indeed, said Crook dream machine was also partly inspired by the “deep collective trance” she witnessed during a 2014 Hopkins show at the Royal Festival Hall in London. An expert in meditation and mind-altering, Hopkins was quick to sign off and say he tried to “sound the experience of people who see inside their minds” and create a “sound architecture ” for the dream machine experience.
In terms of actual architecture, Crook commissioned Assemble – the Turner Prize-winning architecture, design and art collective – to create a mobile structure for the new dream machine, what she describes as a “secular temple or modern campfire”. (Coincidentally, Anthony Engi Meacock of Assemble did his master’s thesis on Gysin dream machineso they were pre-cocked.)
Jane Hall, founding member of Assemble, said the key to the design – which will place visitors face-to-face in a circle – was to create a space where people would feel comfortable talking and reliving their experiences. ‘When you meet the dream machine, you have the impression of living something deeply personal but with other people. And what we discovered while prototyping is that even strangers want to talk about a life-changing experience.
Hall cites the work of Olafur Eliasson and Pipilotti Rist as influences on the design which, she says, “brings texture and color and a sense of intimacy without prescribing what you’re going to see, because the event is in your head”. Having spent time with their prototype dream machine, Hopkins and Hall are aware of how unnerving experience can be and have seen creating an experiential safe space as key to their mission. “It’s going to be very strange for some people,” says Hopkins, “so I wanted to create form and structure to the experience, kind of a story arc, but also create a sense of grounding and comfort, give people the feeling that they can be free to explore their minds in safety.
A key advisor on the dream machine project is star neuroscientist Anil Seth, whose 2021 book Being yourself: a new science of consciousness has been ecstatically reviewed and recommended in all the right places. Seth suggests that the dream machineThe shimmering light of Interacts with the natural rhythms of the brain to create its inner vision. “It’s almost like the brain is looking at itself,” he says. And, echoing Gysin’s original ambition, Seth hopes the experience will help take people away from their screens, at least once in a while, and ask them to think about the nature of the experience. “I think we empower people to recognize the power of their own mind and brain to generate their perceptual world.”
As the dream machine continues its magical mystery tour, everyone will be invited to take part in what Collective Act has labeled the “Census of Perception,” a mass survey of the mental inner workings of the nation. Seth argues that the census is a unique opportunity to investigate what he calls “perceptual diversity”. “The way we experience the world is slightly different for each of us,” he says, “but we know very little about this diversity of perception. And the intuition of scientists and philosophers is that there’s a lot of diversity that we don’t see because it’s masked by the language we use. I think when we understand that we see the world a little differently, it will allow us to talk to each other less.
dream machineone of the projects commissioned under the Unboxed events programme, is also supported by a UK-wide school program developed by A New Direction, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting creativity among young people who teamed up with Steve McQueen on his huge project of the year ‘Year 3’, which started in 2019.
The starred list of dream machine collaborators also include cognitive neuroscientist David Schwartzman, philosopher Fiona Macpherson, designer, technologist and associate director of Random International Dev Joshi, sound designer Christopher Shutt and creative technology studio Holition. §