Breakthrough

By Meredith Tromble
Dawn working on Dream Vortex Prototype 4 in her Middlebrook Studio at the Djerassi Resident Artists program. Dawn working on Dream Vortex Prototype 4 in her Middlebrook Studio at the Djerassi Resident Artists program.

Finding something that I have been longing for happens so rarely, at least for big things, that I don't quite know how to manage. Dawn Sumner and I have been working on the Dream Vortex for three years. The project has survived Dawn's long stays in Antarctica for her own research and in Pasadena for the Mars Curiosity mission, in part due to our wonderful collaborators in the Macroscope group at Jim Crutchfield's Complexity Sciences Center. For the past few months that group was led by research programmer Jordan van Aalsburg, who figured out how to program a vortex spinning with images while Dawn was in Pasadena. We were closing in on the mechanics of the 3-D, interactive digital installation — when Dawn said "yes" to my storyboard vision in 2011 it was feasible but not at that moment technically possible — but the aesthetics of the prototypes were, necessarily, just bits and pieces of the vision. In our first two days of real work together at Djerassi, building on Jordan's work, Dawn nailed the look and feel. She called me in to look at the vortex on the 3-D monitor and I saw a tantalizing, slightly dangerous looking dust-devil of whirling images. I hooted with joy, I cried. And then it got better. We showed it to composer Ari Frankel, and he suggested a way of structuring sounds with the piece that might work (I have been wary of sound, as so many videos and installations are ruined by over-deterministic music.) Then it got even better. We showed it to Jim (who is also here at Djerassi) and he not only gave us a stream of good responses and ideas, he played us a sound piece from his Theater of Pattern Formation that might fit the elusive, unpredictable vibe of the vortex. This sudden leap towards the dream we've been pursuing left me stunned, barely able to eat dinner or carry on a conversation. But after the meal, poet Pireeni Sundaralingam and resident manager Laura Amador organized adverb charades. Fifteen minutes of silliness and laughter brought me gently back to earth. Then it was back to the studio, with profound gratitude for the opportunities the Djerassi Residency and Leonardo are providing.