The Djerassi Dream Vortex
By Dawn Sumner
The Dream Vortex, a collaboration between myself and Meredith Tromble, reached a new level during our residency at Djerassi. It is finally artistically interesting, with two scenes and several interaction opportunities in full 3D. In Scene 1, fleeting images of dreams spiral up out of the floor in a vortex. The dreamer glimpses ideas, but they are just beyond grasp, an experience much like when we are floating at the edge of the dream world trying to make sense of vague memories. Colorful sprites provide extra light and trigger soft sounds that complement a background soundtrack of noise - often David Dunn's bark beetles. Special emblems representing specific dreams occasionally float upward in the center of the vortex: a shoe, glasses, a sphere, the letter C... When the dreamer chooses one of these emblems, it starts to slowly float downward toward the floor as the vortex continues upward. A specific dream image emerges on the floor in place of the vortex and absorbs the emblem. As Scene 2 emerges, ghosts of other dreams appear around the focus dream. These dreams can be arranged and overlapped by the dreamer to create visual patterns. Suddenly, a ghost dream disappears. A new dream fades slowly in. There is an illusion of control, but only enough to make associations, not enough to create a story. After some time, the focus dream fades away and fleeting images and sprites begin to emerge from the floor in a spiral. The ghost dreams persist for a while, but disappear one at a time until the vortex dominates the return to Scene 1. The dreamer can only get back to Scene 2 by choosing another emblem, when one finally appears. Meredith and I showed the Dream Vortex at the open house, and it had a great reception. It took a month of hard work to restructure the Vroom - Python program we started with, add interaction, and create Scene 2. That was my focus, and my programming skills developed substantially, skills I'll use for my scientific work comparing representations of microbial structures in rocks and growing in Antarctic lakes. Meredith created substantial content for the vortex with new drawings, manipulation of digital images to make the fleeting images and dream drawings compatible with the visual requirements of the digital context, and insights into how to shape the visuals. She met a specific goal of my giving her a dream from the night before and completing an image before the end of the day (the red capoeira-traveling salesman dream above). In addition to working with me on the digital Dream Vortex, Meredith completed an entire installation based on the same content in her studio for open house. We showed them at the same time so people could experience the physical and virtual implementations one after the other. I contributed a bit to Meredith's installation, too, in the form of a sculpture, Farm Dreams. One Sunday, when I was tired of working on the computer, I made a physical dream vortex from barbed wire. Co-resident Budi Prakosa built a solar-powered LED light system for enhanced night viewing, when dreams are the best. Farm Dreams is now mounted on a fence post along the road into Djerassi. Many thanks go to all the Djerassi residents and staff. In particular, Jim Crutchfield was instrumental in helping me with the programming as well as providing important insights into the Dream Vortex visuals. Ari Frankel suggested the sound, and Jim created the Python module that I integrated into the vortex. Feedback from many others helped us in more subtle ways, with small changes in visuals or interactions. And thanks to all of those that spent some time with the Dream Vortex at Open House. Watching your reactions, listening to your questions, and learning from you will feed directly into the many Dream Vortex implementations yet to come.