I have been living with dreams for 3 weeks now. Other peoples dreams. I dream about dreams. Other peoples nightmares have given me nightmares. In Wales May is a time when the veil between worlds is thin, Calan Mai, May Day Eve, is ysbryd nos, a spirit night, much like it’s autumnal opposite Halloween. And while this veil is thin I have been dipping in and out of other people’s dreams.
When I submitted my idea to National Theatre Wales at the beginning of lockdown I though the idea was quirky and fun. But the more I sink into it the more important and deep it feels. Lorne Campbell (NTW’s new artistic director) talked about it functioning like an antenna held up into the static of our collective unconscious, to gauge something deeper than mood or attitude. As so often happens as an artist I had an idea which I didn’t fully understand yet. But other people seemed to and it was commissioned as part of NTW’s Network series.
The title is a slight miss-quote from a 1930’s song, I wanted it to have a lyrical feel. Music and sound are important as this is strictly visual storytelling. The shared language of art and dreams. Luckily I am in lockdown with my dear friend Henry Sears who happens to be a fantastic multi-instrumentalist. As dreams started to trickle in via an online form, my studio – usually a very multi-purpose space – began to transform. Right in the centre of this old 19th century weaving shed in my garden I built a little puppet theatre booth complete with gold proscenium arch and red velvet curtains. Lighting has been installed, microphones, various other pieces of mysterious technical kit and of course a webcam. My studio has been refigured. It feels like a totally different space. A space for dreams to take shape in, it is like walking into the inside of someone else’s head.
The dreams are like ancient scripture, we treat them reverently. These are fragments of peoples subconscious. There are personal things: mothers appearing naked, neighbour disputes, jealousy and envy; hilarious things like Neil Kinnock being a modernist poet, penguins for hire, lamb chops getting married to each other; and a lot of anxiety – going on stage unprepared, losing your memory, being chased by scary characters, flooding and even trailer reversing anxiety. And there are truly beautiful things like this:
“three winged horses, black, shining black with silver highlights on wing feathers, wading through shallow waters, going deeper, wading and prancing, stunning. Purposeful, playful.”
Our pattern has been this: we choose a dream on Sunday evening and spend a few days talking about it over cups of tea whilst doing our other jobs and looking after our respective children. Then on Thursday I paint all day. Most of the dreams are made up of puppets painted onto cardboard and painted backdrops. For some dreams this has been a real tour-de-force of painting! But I revelled in how it brought together my twin passions of visual art and performance. I tried to pick a different palate of colours for each dream and we followed any hints or clues we could to give the dreams texture and detail. For instance the first dreamer came from Cornwall so I chose Truro as the town in the backdrop, the third dreamer mentioned a Lars von Trier film and the characters from that film became the inspiration for the people in the dream. On Friday and Saturday we put the dream together with help from the wonderful outside eyes of Nigel and Louise of Shunt and a fantastic technical team from NTW. We broadcast live at 9.30pm on Saturday night.
Dreams are considered important by psychologists and psychoanalysts. Freud thought that dreams provided special insight into our deepest selves. Jung saw dreams as an attempt by the subconscious communicate and an important part of personality development. Many modern psychologists believe that dreams consolidate and organise our memories like a kind of neurological housecleaning, sweeping away trivial memories from the previous day and storing the important ones more securely. It is impossible to say whether dreams foretell the future, allow us to commune with the divine, or (most likely) provide a better understanding of ourselves, but this felt like the perfect moment to celebrate our dreams.
The final dream “Sloth” will be broadcast live at 9.30pm on Saturday the 30th of May.