Dreamwriting and art: an enquiry into consciousness

I have found that the more I can bring consciousness to my process of working, the more interesting, complex and fruitful it becomes. It is because of familiarity with and acceptance of my own idiosyncratic ways of working that my practice has expanded?

Within art practice, I also embrace the possibility of what appear to be chance occurrences. There are occasions when I experience coincidences with disquieting frequency. (Jung 1968) adopted the word synchronicity to describe the meaningful juxtaposition of what may appear to be random events…’synchronicity takes the coincident of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observed.’ Within my notebooks, I record the procedure whereby these coincidences along with unpredictable, significant ideas intertwine, and combine with deliberate research, to lead me to enquire into consciousness.

Although it is not always possible to trace the link between my researched ideas and the ideas that arise spontaneously, I follow the threads that I find insightful, however bizarre the direction. I respect the illogicality of practice, sensing the variety of ways the unconscious mind makes its presences known. Dreamwriting for many years has been the pivot of my spiritual well being, serving an essential function, enabling interaction with my inner world. As I have been able to spend more of my time and energy directly engaged with my art practice, so too has grown an awareness and enquiry into the transition between the unconscious and conscious minds.

I no longer question or seek connection or meaning within the art practice itself, holding the dream in the highest regard, as a source of self-knowledge, I consider the process of dreamwriting as an integral part of my multi-faceted art practice. The content of the unconscious is unknown until it moves into the conscious mind. My interest is in how the unknown becomes known, and the various ways the known can stimulate the knowing of the unknown. I have come to associate my process of recalling my dreams to be one of the most significant ways I have of communing with the unconscious.

The recording of ideas and thoughts as they occur, visiting exhibitions, attending talks, lectures and discussions, looking at books and the internet, recording dreams and consideration of the media all stimulate my writings in a notebook. These notes tell of the trace of thoughts that have no deliberate direction. Note taking assumes whatever forms is appropriate, a single statement, series of words, quotes, reflection, forming a journal that has an essential function within the practice.

My art practice has two tangible aspects: the notebook/journal and the studio activity. Art arises obliquely from the nature of the relationship that transpires between the two. The progress and the content of the notebooks directly relate to the process of my practice. I find it to be a profound and complex reverberating and intertwining of ideas from notes to studio and vice versa. Immersing and exploring ideas as they occur, not enquiring into their significance, but trusting the flow from one to the next, is fundamental. The essential pivot and interrelationship is intuitive and the parallel existences of the two activities create a tension, from which arises the possibility of unforeseen juxtaposition. I find throughout my art practice, within the context of deliberate thought and action, that it is essential to allow fluidity of thought with a consistent attitude of openness that respects intuitive notions. It is the breath of the creative process, setting the dance of interaction and juxtaposition, enabling the possibility of resolution. Previously I used two separate notebooks. One for dream-writing and reflection, and one for amassing deliberate thought, information, observation and ideas gleaned from other sources. The bringing together of these practices into one book is significant, an acknowledgment that all the strands of activity and interests are active within art practice.

I use the term non-deliberate thought to indicate ideas that occur spontaneously. This mode of thought can have many forms, it may be reflationary and radical, or so subtle as to be enigmatic, gently manifesting as a ‘nudge’ that may be whimsical and possibly barely distinguishable from a feeling. I call it a notion. I may feel a mild attraction to an object, colour, shape or location that has no tangible foundation or logical context within current creative activity. Because of the apparent lack of tangibility, I can find myself hard pressed to know how to respond or even wish to respond. Even so, such an idea, belying its translucent nature, can have a remarkable strength: lingering, unprompted, unaided, unsupported and insubstantial, repeatedly returning.

Although these notions are largely undesired, lacking context to current creative activity, if I do respond with action, the unforeseen can happen. I have come to value ideas that arrive obliquely, striving to possess them without question or analysis, to accept them as being from part of my mind of which I am not overtly aware. What is unerringly interesting is how unwarranted ideas surprise. These notions, appearing without deliberate thought, hint at intuitive interplay between the conscious and the unconscious.

As I wake, my mind hovers, in what I experience to be a particularly vulnerable threshold space. Entering the outer world of consciousness, I become aware of self and the day that lies before me. Frederick Myers coined this state as an hypnopompic transition. If I remember a dream, I then wonder whether to write it in my book. Various questions arise which cause me to doubt the value of the dream. One frequent thought is that the dream appears to be banal, so I do not feel it warrants recalling and writing. I usually push through this reaction, as I have learnt that as I engage with writing the dream-rich imagery becomes obvious. It is interesting that this doubt still persistently reoccurs. I suggest that the mind may be still primarily absorbed within the dream atmosphere and tricked to accept it as a state of normality, diminishing its importance and discouraging the act of writing it down. Alternatively, it maybe that the dream is long and complex, and I feel apprehension concerning its length and the time it will take to write. Also longer dreams often have a narrative structure, which can initially appear to be confused. If, however, I commence writing, following through with whatever order appears to be appropriate, once the dreamwriting is underway the order of the different scenes ceases to be an issue. Conversely, occasionally while waking, the remembered dream may be a tiny fragment appearing inconsequential and not worthy of recording. It is later, when becoming involved in the recall, that I might realise the fragment is dense with interesting imagery and association. Also, there are occasions when I start to write, when I feel I have had an earlier dream the same night that I am unable to remember, or that the dream is a repeat of one I have had previously. Any one of these thoughts may cause me to doubt the validity of recalling and transcribing the dream.

Although I have become familiar with these doubts, I know very little about them. The illogical nature of these obstacles does not make them any less powerful or persistent. Nor do their familiarity weaken their influence as my mind hovers within the threshold of waking and remembering. I would expect them to fade in strength, dissipating with time, but extraordinarily they stay the same. Irrespective of the initial resistance, as the recall progresses, the writing becomes fluid, without hesitation, and relatively fast. I pay no regard to grammar or spelling, applying myself to the task for my own purpose. On occasion, I become aware that I have missed out a word, or a part of the dream, and I seek space on the page to include these as close to the correct place as possible, in-between the lines, or down the edge of the page. Transferring the dream into the written form involves some reframing, perhaps re-representing the structure and to some extent the content. This in no sense dilutes or diminishes the message.

While involved in the dream writing I invariably come across scenes and details of narrative of which I was initially unaware.  Thoughts can arise that question whether it is the dream I recall from sleep or whether it is unfolding as I write. I wonder if the remembered dream is imagined or is it that I am delving deeper into dreamworld, transitioning the conscious and the unconscious, hovering within the threshold and in a sense taking part in the dream. I have many unanswered questions concerning the nature of this sleep/awake state, as becoming immersed in the feeling and reliving the dream, while transcribing, appears to take the mind in a sense into the world of the dream.

For me the reframing of the dream as it is entered on the page brings a rich metaphorical world to consciousness, expanding the possibilities within studio practice. The regular communion with the nether regions of the unconscious in transcribing the dream might free up connection that were hitherto inactive, and thus increase the likelihood and regularity of ideas occurring. Much of the description of unease and uncertainty in the process of recalling and writing the dream suggests evidence of the precarious delicacy of the threshold space where the conscious and unconscious minds mingle. It is within such a space of uncertainty that creativity exists.

Reading Dreamwriting
I stop thinking about the dream, and frequently appear to forget it, as soon as the writing is finished, However, as the day unfolds tiny flashes of it reappear, as thoughts or feeling arise fleetingly. They are mere faint, intangible, enigmatic echoes. It is as if these flashes are triggered by particular moments in the outer world resonating or connecting in some way with the quality of the previous night’s dream. These feelings or thoughts are too insubstantial to know. I just sense them, never quite catching them. It is as if they are just beyond my consciousness, sufficient only to remind me that I had a dream.

At the end of the day, just before sleep I return to reading the dream. I find I have at most only a faint, partial memory of the narrative. I make notes. As I read the narrative, I become aware of a complex interweaving of symbolic imagery which appears new to me. It is as if it is not my writing. The manner or style of the writing can be surprisingly unfamiliar, very different from my normal way of writing. Not recognising the quality of the dreamwriting as my own enables me to be objective. I find that the style and choice of words have a poignancy that is often highly appropriate, relating directly to the imagery. The dream feeling atmosphere becomes intrinsically enmeshed within the quality of writing, the manner of the writing appearing to ‘tune into” the particular quality of the dream. My personal detachment from the style of transcription means there is fresh clarity stimulated by the vivid written rendition, yet at the same time the narrative symbolism associated with the imagery is recognisably my own and resonates at a deep level. It may be that this peculiar quality of writing occurs because the dreamwriting takes place so close to sleep. I suspect that my conscious mind, in some sense, maintains access to the activity of the unconscious during the recalling and transcribing of the dream. As the unconscious speaks to the conscious mind with the dream, I see no reason why it should not also choose in the transcription a particular manner of language, empathetic to the emotional content of the dream.

Dreamwriting is the reframing of the form of a dream, a form that exists alongside, but not necessarily outside the unconscious mind, encapsulating the dream experience, with all its subtle symbolic nuances into the language of dreamwriting.

In the process of writing this account I have realised that describing exactly how dreamwriting is a powerful but intangible influence on my creative processes, determining a multidimensional art practice, is an almost impossible task. It is revealing that only now while concluding the review of this writing, have I realised for the first time, that the beginning of dreamwriting thirty years ago coincided with the blossoming of my creativity.


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