In collaboration with an amazing group of international artists, I’ve just begun a new project on dreaming, immigration, and art. At a time when questions of identity, borders, language, and nationality are at the core of violent conflicts all over the world, this group is going to explore dreaming as a source of creative insight and inspiration for generating novel artistic responses to these questions. Our hope is to illuminate the dynamic multiplicities of personal and collective experiences revolving around the highly conflicted themes of immigration and multi-cultural identity.
Alisa Minyukova had the original idea for the project, and she has been organizing the group and setting up our initial conversations. I’m doing my best to get to know everyone, learn about their backgrounds, answer their questions, and brainstorm about where we go from here. Below is the project description as we have conceptualized it so far. In coming months I’ll post further updates about our process and the discoveries we make along the way.
Origins of the Project: Alisa Minyukova
I had been an active dreamer since childhood and became aware of the significance of dreaming with the help of a Jungian psychotherapist with whom I was in treatment. Six years ago, just after my son was born, I began experiencing emotionally stunning dreams that were impossible to forget. I began to keep a dream journal, through which I became aware of the polarity dividing my waking and sleeping personas: In waking life I am often indecisive, anxious and struggling with my identity, while in dreams I am a brave explorer with stark intuition, traveling through unfamiliar worlds with irony and humor. Could this duality of mind be a product of my immigration from the Soviet Union as a child? A reflection of competing cultures within me? Or could it be it be that dreams are broadcast from somewhere beyond our own trivial minds? Could they be gateways into metaphysical realms in which our dream personas are no less real then in our waking lives? And if so, how could these personas be embraced and used as a source of infinite self-discovery?
These questions led me to start a discussion with Kelly Bulkeley, a dream researcher with a background in religion and psychology, in hopes of developing the vision of a "dream map," as a way of guiding us into a deeper exploration of the life and whereabouts of the dream persona. After speaking about this project with several fellow artists who also happen to be immigrants and living in various cities around the world, I discovered that many of them are also active dreamers who are fascinated by what they encounter in their dream states. This inspired us to expand the project to include other artists interested in a collaborative journey to illuminate how one’s life as an artist and an immigrant is reflected in dreaming.
The project begins with the artists keeping an ongoing dream journal during the course of the project. They will also record any highly memorable dreams from earlier in life. The artists and Kelly will have regular interaction with each other through Skype and email. Kelly will answer questions about their dreams and offer feedback based on his analysis using the resources of the Sleep and Dream Database, a digital archive and search engine designed to promote scientific dream research. Once we have gathered a sufficiently large collection of dream data and creative works, we will organize an exhibit and artists’ talk dedicated to the interplay of dreams, creativity, and immigrant experience, with commentary by Kelly and other prominent dream researchers and psychologists.
The project will shed new light on several key questions: Are there certain themes in the dream landscape common to people who have had to integrate into a foreign culture? How does immigration affect one’s emotional identity and sense of purpose as an artist? Do people have specific kinds of dreams when living in certain places, but not when living in other places? Do artists who work in different media dream differently? What are the most dynamic tensions in the experiences of immigrants as artists and dreamers?
Artist Statement: Alisa Minyukova
I see dreaming as a multi layered experience, I recognize that some dreams are closer to the surface of conscious mind and are a result of topical or trivial information that one must sort through in daily life, mundane dreams so to say which are fragmented and easily erased from memory. The next penetrate deeper, they are dreams that seem to be ruled by intuition, they remove the blinkers and interference of the social collective which binds us to certain “acceptable” behaviors. In these dreams our true wants and inhibitions are released. However they are often encoded metaphorical symbols, as if to remove us from the cliche mindset. With the right analysis these dreams reveal volumes about our nature. The next and most potent dreams are those which I refer to as dreams of the flesh and bones which I experience as coming from beyond the field of the subconscious. These dreams seem to come from my very fiber and are related to everything and nothing, dreams like this may include the impossible, such as meeting god or my own self. I believe that these dreams are brought to us courtesy of our ancestral DNA at times when we are approaching an important passage in life. We may not understand what these dreams mean in the moment in which they are presented, but throughout life I have often thought of them to be as important to my evolution as events in my waking life, such as the birth of my son. These dreams usually have a strong essence or accompanying emotion which is not native to waking life. It is these concepts and more that I am looking forward to exploring with Kelly and my fellow artists and dreamers in hopes of creating an unprecedented collaboration between the art and dream research worlds.
Researcher Statement: Kelly Bulkeley
I have been fascinated by dreams since early adolescence, when a series of recurrent nightmares literally grabbed my waking attention and drew me into a deeper and more honest engagement with my own unconscious psyche. From there I began exploring the dream experiences of people in various places and times, learning as much as I could about the creative powers of the dreaming imagination. My graduate research focused on developing an interdisciplinary dialogue between the history of religious dreaming and the research findings of modern psychologists. Since then, I have written and edited more than twenty books covering a wide range of topics: religion, neuroscience, politics, sexuality, sleep, film and tv, theater, evolutionary psychology, child development, and death and dying. Throughout my career, I have advocated for dreaming as a profoundly valuable mode of human awareness and intelligence, different from waking consciousness but not inferior to it. Powerful dreams often arise in times of crisis and change, when old structures are falling and new ones have not yet appeared; we seem to be living in such times right now. In recent years I have become intrigued by the emergence of new technologies for studying large collections of dreams, and I believe these technologies have the potential to transform our understanding of how dreaming is woven into our waking lives, both personally and collectively. I am excited to collaborate with this wonderful group of artists and dreamers on a project of urgent importance and timeliness.
Project phases and timeline
The Dream Journal — An introduction to the underpinnings of waking life
Participating artists are asked to keep a journal of their nightly dream experiences for the duration of six months. The journal may include entire dreams, fragments, words, drawings, recordings or any form of documentation that can later be used to examine the driving emotions of the dream content. Dreams often escape from memory but the essence will remain for some time like a fog. A word can suffice to pin the mood of the experience and can later be used a valuable piece in a larger picture. Kelly will work with the artists in creating a comprehensive system to digitally archive the dreams into the sleep and dream database.
Unveiling The Dream Persona — A workshop
Unveiling the dream Persona is the second phase of the Dream Mapping Project. Through a series of collaborative discourses between participating artists and dream researchers, scholars and spiritual guides we will lead a three day workshop aimed at unveiling the artists dream personas.
The foundation of this workshop will be selected dreams from the participating artists’ journals initiated six months prior to the workshop (which also include any dreams of memorable impact throughout the course of the artists’ lives.) Whether we believe these dreams have foretold of valuable events, are of repetitive nature or have an alchemistic essence that seems to come from beyond our own psyche, we will dive into their fiber using various techniques such as Jungian dream theory, Gestalt psychology, and guided spiritual meditation techniques to revisit our path through the dream realm and to discover the mystical self who inhabits it.
The Dream Mapping Project — Group exhibition
The results of the workshop will help set the groundwork for the third phase of our project, creating the dream map. These maps will be inspired by a culmination of data prepared by Kelly (using the resources of the Sleep and Dream Database, a digital archive and search engine designed to promote scientific dream research) which will aid us in recognizing the dream persona's whereabouts, physical traits, emotions, interactions, abilities and behaviors within our dream experiences as well as discoveries made during the course of the workshop.
The maps may take on any form which the artist envisions, from hand rendered to digitally created and will eventually become part of a group exhibition in which participating artists can use any and all mediums including drawing, installation, video, photography, writing and performance to express what they have learned through this metaphysical expedition. Site of Exhibition and work shop TBA.
Alisa Minyukova. Born in Leningrad, living in New York City.
Victor Mutelekesha. Born in Zambia, living in Oslo.
Jennifer Cabrerra . Born in Mexico, living in Venice, Italy.
Viktoria Sarochinski. Born in Odessa, living in Berlin.
Lana Nasser. Born in Jordan, living in the Netherlands.