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Some years ago, in a dimly lit room, a 10-year-old girl started to describe her dream of the previous night to her grandmother who was in her last few days. ‘We were all around you. You looked tired. The light arrived, with a pair of huge wings, super bright, too bright to see. They did not come from outside the window, but from above… Sat between the wings, you were lifted – no longer skinny or swollen – with a perfect body. That light magically launched into the sky all of a sudden, like the thing in the middle of the theme park, and then landed on a beautiful cloud, from which we heard your laugh.’ It was a shared dream: a true dream retold by the girl the dreamer and, also, a dream of the grandmother, who was the protagonist and who believed in her destination after the secular life. In the dream, we see the invisible light configured by the wings and the restored body, and yet, at the end, they were all veiled by the cloud, or the distance, and became unseen again. We could only understand beyond our mortal eyes, and feel relieved to hear the happy voice of the grandmother, a dreamt sound. I was the third person in the room, listening to the retelling of the dream by the girl, my daughter, and watching my mother, who was too weak to hear but peacefully praying, in order to receive every detail of the happening, and assurance.
The dream-work is not simply more careless, more irrational, more forgetful and more incomplete than waking thought; it is completely different from it qualitatively… It does not think, calculate or judge in any way at all; it restricts itself to giving things a new form.
(Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899)
In the West, there is a tradition of dream representation that goes back to early romanticism and even to the Renaissance, but Freud’s book has influenced numerous artists – for example, one thinks straight away of the Surrealists. In the East, Zhuangzi’s (c. 369–286 bc) classic dream parable reads: ‘now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.’ By problematising the distinction between being awake and dreaming, the text challenges our understandings and definitions of reality and illusion, and can be extended to reflections on the separation between life and death.
Dreams are timeless. They cannot be prearranged or controlled in our daily schedules; they do not derive from, or necessarily portray, the past, the present or the future; and they are only symbolic or indicative, rather than representational of any real time span. Dream, strictly, is a private blessing. It can only be received, possessed and reinterpreted in whatever form by a singular authorship, with no possibility of collaboration.
The twenty-first century started with the advent of completely novel media and technologies; and yet, human problems remain, old or new. Between the West and the East, we dream, as usual, of exploring and representing our problems, or of constructing a distant space to reflect the temporality of this world. Dreams travel not only through our unconscious minds, but also through our imaginations, as invented dreams in our waking life, and through the processes of art production and perception.
These five leading artists from Norway work with a wide range of artistic practice, but one thing they have in common is that they all work with sound- and time-based media in this exhibition. Derived from curiosity, I Hear Your Dreams explores, interprets and extends our imaginations and desires, and, more significantly, the ways in which we make visual and/or audio narratives through our daily experience and, at the same time, to distance ourselves from it. Between day and night, between truth and lie, and between the real and the imagined, we meet our dreams.
Professor Jiang Jiehong is Head of Research at School of Art, Director of the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts, Birmingham City University, and he is also Principal Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Intellect). Jiang has extensive research and curatorial experience in contemporary art and visual culture. Jiang curated the Guangzhou Triennial: the Unseen (with Jonathan Watkins, 2012), the Asia Triennial Manchester: Harmonious Society (2014), the Shadow Never Lies (with Mark Nash, Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, 2016), the Distant Unknown: Contemporary Art from Britain (OCAT Shanghai, 2016) and most recently, the First Thailand Biennale: Edge of the Wonderland (Krabi, 2018-19). Jiang’s book publications include Burden or Legacy: from the Chinese Cultural Revolution to Contemporary Art (Hong Kong University Press, 2007), the Revolution Continues: New Art from China (Jonathan Cape, 2008), Red: China’s Cultural Revolution (Jonathan Cape, 2010) and An Era without Memory: Chinese Contemporary Photography on Urban Transformation (Thames and Hudson, 2015).
A K Dolven, to you 1994-2018, video still
Performer: Tale Dolven
Photo courtesy of the artist