When I awoke from a dream a few mornings ago still hazy and feeling lost, I wondered, "Did I really just defend the Spice Girls when the police tried to arrest them for pornography? Was I really sticking up for them, or was I just trying to finish an interview for a story? When did Ginger rejoin the band?" I'll never know. The details were swallowed by my morning fog. It's like trying to find the car keys when you're in a hurry. They were just here, now they're gone.
Which is why we all long to have a record of our dreams to read or hear later. (Frankly, I'm afraid of what I might learn.) Susan kae Grant isn't, though. Seven years ago the artist volunteered for a dream project at the Southwestern Medical Center's sleep laboratory. Each night she'd sleep hooked to sensors that would signal when she entered REM sleep, the state in which dreams occur. Then a technician would awake her and ask her to describe her dreams, beginning with the last mental image and working back. Using the transcripts and audio recordings, Grant, a photography and book arts professor at Texas Woman's University, created the exhibition Night Journey, which is on display at 5501 Columbia Art Center.
Individual images or scenes from her dreams inspired her, and she re-created them using models and props placed close to a spotlight, which created shadows on a wall, which Grant then photographed. Night Journey features 24 scenes from her dream records. Some are set in a house with spiraling, wrought-iron furniture; others take place outside. In one scene a girl with a long, straight ponytail sits among tree limbs filled with sparrow-like birds. The model delicately holds an object. A box? A book? Like a dream, it's not distinct. Next Grant shaded the photos with hues of lavender in PhotoShop and printed them onto 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of chiffon.
Night Journey isn't an exhibit where viewers simply look at the shimmering pictures. The panels are hung in a maze-like pattern in the middle of the art center's ground-level gallery, where fire trucks parked when the building was a fire station. Viewers can walk through the panels or view them from afar. From the side they look like dark sheets of solid plastic. From the front they're practically transparent, like purple smoke that forms pictures as it rises. Images glide through images as one is seen through the one behind it. A hidden speaker system pipes whispered phrases from Grant's dream study into the room, adding to the feeling that this experience is a dream filled with disconnected images and thoughts.
While Night Journey began in a laboratory and ends with the viewer entering a dream state, Genie Shenk's exhibit Dream Logs features dreams locked in display cases and placed in a controlled situation, like a clinical end to her nightly dreams. Shenk has recorded her dreams daily for more than 30 years, and uses each day's dream to make a page for that year's book. Every entry in one of her books has a basic format, such as two pieces of paper with a plastic circle sewn to it and decorated with materials such as graph paper, paint, foil, construction paper, rubber stamps and ink, and newspaper clippings. The date is written below the illustration; a tagline describing the dream is below. One book is strung across the upstairs Book Art Gallery in a brainwave formation. Another has pages decorated with small, embellished circles that look like coins in a jeweler's case. Others resemble flipbooks or Rolodex files. The number of pieces is overwhelming.
Some psychologists say dreams tell more about a person than their words or actions, but these bits and pieces of dreams create moods rather than paint a psychological profile through dissected symbols. Still, that Spice Girls dream looks tame compared with Shenk's remembrances of a bag of blood.
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