I still don’t know whether as Zhuāng Zhōu I was dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether as a butterfly I was dreaming I was Zhuāng Zhōu.
There must be some difference! This is called the transformation of things.
(Quote from the popular ‘butterfly dream’ by 庄周 Zhuang Zhou, aka Zhuangzi 庄子, aka Chuang Tzu, or ‘Mr Tao’ as I like to call him).
Perhaps in an alternate universe there is a famous butterfly, who told his friends of a dream he once had about being an old Chinese man. But unfortunately that universe is not ours and that – my friends – is really all we need to know. Even so, it can be argued that there does exist different states of dream-like existences; the highest state being able to influence and feel our transformations.
Below are some different types of dreams that I encountered in China, plus some experiemts with Augmented Reality (AR) which I think share something in common.
The Chinese Dream, The American Dream… The British Dream? (National Narratives)
The Chinese dream and the American dream are in truth no different. They both desire a collective shared mythology 神话 grounded in individual achievement. It would seem America is hungover from its dream of confident individualism, where Corporate Punk Trump is among a populist trend for dream machine leaders who promise that the current ones are all fake. Mainland China is in full flow of its own dream, whilst Britain, on the other hand 另一方面 never had a lasting official national dream. This isn’t to say we haven’t tried. Whenever times of financial difficulties arise, glorious pasts resurrect from their graves; pasts assembled with dead histories and foreign dreams. We still live among their mythological relics; the silhouettes of donjon walls behind swan infested moats, Georgian entrances, eros fountains and Imperialist stones. Consequently, We don’t like to be too optimistic and ‘we jolly well don’t like to be told what to do thank you very much!’ But the boring saga of Brexit is perhaps some kind of attempt at attaining patriotic individualism…. ‘Charcot-Wilbrand Syndrome‘ (damage to the visual part of the brain) has been known to cause an inability to dream. It would apear that Britain does need some kind of dream, even if this digs up its awkward relationship to patriotism and pride 骄傲. But happiness and wealth are not easy to measure and really only measured by comparasions. In our rigid class based system and diverse cultures that retrace our Colonial crimes any idea of a Government-given collective dream is still laughable.
Sleep Debt Snatches: Stealing sleep space time (or taking a nap) 小睡
Catching extra dreams in-between daily life, the napper 小睡 domesticates the hard working environment and rebels against it. But sadly, the napper is all too often just lacking a good night’s sleep. It isn’t heroic, even though I’d like to believe otherwise. Dreams do help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of experiences and living in 24 hour cities risks inducing insomnia失眠 and as studies have shown, a lack of REM ‘deep sleep’ can increase alzheimers 老年痴呆症 in later life. I wonder whether our hyper-metamorphosing-contemorary-society is already showing this on a physical level, as our sense of time becomes more fractured and memories of place is lost to rapid development. I am typically a late sleeper, somewhere between 12.30am and 3am is my usual point of departure. There is definitely an unfair stigma attached to late-nighters and this I think is due to traditional labor patterns which follow the 9-5 rule. But I rarely if ever take a nap, even after my typical 6 hours of kip. My most productive times sit between 4pm and 2am, but I don’t have an official justifiable role to claim sleeping this late and the career paths that suit this are not exactly desirable.
Sleep Work: Sleeping Efficiently 有效率的
Sleep is one of the final frontiers in which to profit from. Just as dolphins use half their brain whilst sleeping, studies have shown that we too can be more efficient and memorise knowledge during ‘slow wave sleep’, with the help of odors and transmitters… In the future there will be no rest from your dreams! This may have a dystopian 反乌托邦 sound to it, but not if it means we can monetise it and don’t have to work during awake time. Although the subconscious 潜意识 memory-making brain time might get annoyed with all this competition for neuron attention going on in your head. It may be best to not mess too much with what we don’t fully understand. It’s a hard life chasing daily dreams under the Capitalism game, or indeed any game. In the UK you would lose your job or likely get approached by someone if you took a nap in public or the work place ( some might assume you are probably drunk and/or homeless). But -unlike Chinese people – we do show public displays of affection 公共亲昵 , which are often better for remaining in the bedroom. It’s a topsy-turvy world!
Half Awake: 批评 Criticising Reality… With 扩增实境 (AR)
AR has become more available in the past three years. It is quite possible to design and superimpose your own videos and pictures on any person’s camera phone when they use the right apps. Some phone Apps such as Artvive offers this for those with low skills. even more advanced software like Unity 3D and Vuforia have online community help.
Walking around in a daze often happens to me when I go shopping, half awake. A video by Keiichi Matsuda shows life in the near future where we voluntarily drown in the matrix of CGI, AR every day. Of course it is dystopian 反乌托邦 and a moral tale, especially when the head set breaks and she sees the ‘real’ world of dull shopping malls and dirt (the one we often see now). Other artists use AR to make monuments and political comments about the world, as though the battle for truth is already contested in the virtual world. John Craig Freeman*, for example who designed school bags outside the White House which refer to school shootings (reminscent of Ai Wei Wei). ‘Culture Jammers’ who have put up alternative messages on famous companies criticising their buisness morals. And 4 gentleman who made criticism of China by designing new monuments in famous landmarks like Tiannamen Square. But these are introverted 内向 in their influence, relying on shared understanding and voluntary use of the AR apps in order to view these. The AR is symbolic of our individual closed off worlds but also our ability to share these worlds globally. It goes without saying that if AR increases in popularity then new laws and discussions will arise as people’s attention and profit is contested.
Pepsi did a fun advert in London using AR to interact with the public. See below. The playful nature of their work did what all good adverts do;make a distraction 分心
“The old charge that the masses are looking for distraction, whereas art looks for immersion…The person who stands in front of a work of art immerses himslef in it… the distaracted mass on the other hand absorbs the work of art into itself” – Walter Benjamin 1935 ( The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction)
The dream is immersive 沉浸式 and we want an immersive creative life. The masses have gone behind the camera and are now capable of editing it. The argument made today is that we are easily distracted, unable to immerse fully in work or life, due to that damn phone (ask any teacher, they will agree that students can’t focus on their boring lessons!). But I would argue contrary to this; we are more fully immersed by a multitude of distractions. Our phones are hapticless nomadic dream catchers; where your boss, favorite singer, pet, partner and parents can simultaneously appear in the same room at the same time whilst in different desired locations. Overlapping and mutating. We are subtly living in Augmented dream-like reality through technology.
希望 Wish Dreams
Another dream is the personal one. The one we forget later in life. The wish. My dream is to keep learning new ideas and to create them. These type of dreams can be a hinderance and an opportunity. They can give meaning to living.
超现实 Surreal Nightmares / Finding Meaning
Above is my first Augmented Reality experiment which is inspired by a nightmare of something that happened in China last year. I experienced my death in a lake, I was helpless even though I called for help. No one could hear me. I was exhausted and I was drowning and I could only see the sun and the water. When I eventually made it to land two men had to carry me. I know I experienced near-death because I had an immense realisation of reality and it was slipping away. My life did not flash before me. I only thought of how stupid and surreal my death would be. That is what saved me….. This little video also borrows from Surrealist 超现实主义艺术 motifs of enclosure and subconscious representation through dreams in order to question Freudian symbiotic interpretation. Whilst the revelatory zeal of Surrealism as a cannon of art may have been blunted and accused of being too ‘bourgeois’ by critics, its appeal to give birth to new ideas through juxtaposition still, I believe, offers a creative strategy for challenging the status quo.
Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) took up the task of interpreting the meaning of dreams, arguing that while sleeping, the soul can be freed.
‘The Art of Dreaming’ is a 1993 book by Carlos Castaneda. He belived there were different ‘gates’ of dreaming; from changing things in your dream to knowing you are in control of your dream and finally, travelling into other people’s dreams. Dreams are there to be controlled and understood according to him.
But I would say it’s a fine conclusion to propose that the function of any dream is to criticise our current situation. It does this by showing what already exists in our world in a different context, thereby questioning the limits of the current one. It shows our transformations 物化 and futures taking flight.