In May 2018 I attended a Conscious Dreaming workshop with dream guide and death doula Tree Carr. Carr has practiced methods for lucid dreaming for over twenty years, and is versed in a myriad of knowledge and techniques for conscious dreaming and the interpretation of dreams. This includes traditional spiritualist methods from around the world and throughout histories, through to empirical scientific methods from within the field of Oneirology.
Lucid dreaming has been an informal but core part of my art practice since my mid-20’s, when I began experiencing dreamscapes that I was able to return to repeatedly. Each of these dreamscapes felt like a world unto itself – some artist-vampire wastelands; some idealic spliff and skateboard soaked teenage suburbias; some impossibly terrifying demonic theatres-of-the-infinite. These dreams developed – at least it seemed – from a combination of self-indulgent over-sleeping (10 -12 hours), alongside high doses of gingko biloba supplements. More elicit substances occasionally became biochemical collaborators, but it was the hypnogogic/hypnopompic play-space between sleep that seemed to key to accessing these other worlds. Coming in and out of sleep allowed me to remember dreams and return to them, going further each time to explore these psycho-spatial scenarios.
These dreams became a minor obsession – as magical landscapes, they were vastly more interesting than my waking life, and felt like homes I was banished from within the waking state, or the otherwise random happenstance of other dreams. Desperate to embody them, I wanted to conjure these worlds into being.
This obsession has fuelled my exploration of installation and interactivity in relation to potential exchanges between immersive, embodied, and imagined spaces. In pursuing distinct methodological tools for a formal dream practice, I am working to use dreams less as a remote and allegorical type of escapism, and more a tangible and usable process within art-making (in a spatio-temporal sense.)
Throughout the workshop, Tree invited us to share dreams that had affected us, and allowed all participants to define their own intentions for an approach to conscious dreaming. Discussion was conversational, shifting between the trippy, the meditative, the ‘usability’ of dreaming for creative purposes, as well how it could be used as a tool for emotional healing and catharsis. I had arrived assuming that my interests would centre around techniques of visualisation, but as our discussions evolved, I seemed to be asking a lot of questions about dream-memory. Most dreams are discrete – they might repeat theme or scenario, but they each tend to have unique or idiosyncratic qualities. Towards conscious dreaming, this would seem ideal as a creative frame within which to explore the delimited space of dreams as magical simulations. Memory however would seem more a coding of traces and anchors within this nebulous arena. I had been to places, and I wanted to know how to get back there. This goal, it seemed, was not answerable.
Whatever one’s ambitions for a dream practice, Tree suggested tools to integrate dreaming as a serious activity, not an idle other-self, caged in the inevitability of sleep. Sleep hygiene was presented as crucial – keeping your sleeping space clear of distractions, such as disallowing computers, phones, and TV’s; not drinking alcohol before bed, but instead taking soporific and psychoactive teas; keeping a journal by the bed to record dreams upon waking. These methods are the baseline, the setting of the stage, so that dreams can be noticed, compared, and possibly returned to, or manipulated.
As one who tends to adhere to Genesis Breyer-P.Orridge’s psychedelic formula that ‘the only good trip is a bad trip’, I could not help but think counter to this advice – how can dreams be interceded, broken open for exploration in the hypnopompic space between sleeping and waking life? Are the velocities, intensities and fragmentations of media (especially televisual and computational) not a contingent feature of contemporary subjectivities? Is there a genuine base-state of consciousness within which to safely explore dreams as pure subject-objects, or can they still be found and learned from amongst anxious quotidian hauntings, anxieties, and entanglements?
My studio (actual, not dream) is fragmented between different sites. It is rarely a serene or ordered space, and is engaged with ad hoc and in stuttered durations. Following Carr’s workshop, my dream practice – despite knowledge of dream hygiene – is in line with this necessarily shambolic juggling act. Dreams are ordered, disordered, drawn or diagrammed, scripted, elaborated, scrutinised for juicy symbolism and the pulp revelation of patterns, in notebooks, audio recording, sketches, post-its. In short, my dream practice has become less a zone of anticipation for psychogeographic revelation, and more a use of dreaming as technical medium – a transmitter of signals, a display path for stories, some useful, some useless, some benevolent, some malignant.
This is not to say that for me conscious dreaming has been demystified or debunked – much the opposite. It is in resigning any attempt at manifest control that dreams have evolved into being a continual and delightful space of radical play, without limits and free of expectation.
And I am assured by my most regular audiences that my dreams are still intolerably boring, for any audience other than myself, and perhaps the wonderful sub-culture of Oneirologists I have found…