Unconscious communities

Certainly, one has to be careful about with whom one shares one’s dreams. Some people have absolutely no patience for it, and are liable to cut you off as soon as they realise what you are doing – in their mind, you are forcing them to indulge your low-rent creativity. But things are usually different when the nocturnal soap opera features them – they are usually all ears, because who is not curious about how we appear as characters in the reveries of others? It is clear that there is some kind of compelling communality to our unconscious lives. In the spirit of exploring the supporting roles we play in these shared fantasies, James Lynch has, since 2001, been making work based on instances where he appears in the dreams of friends and family. Sometimes he plays bit parts, other times more leading roles, but, ultimately, Lynch is more interested in what the dreamer identifies with him, and in this process of identification. His is a consideration of the role of fantasy in supporting everyday life, or, in other words, of the social dramas played out to support the waking hours.

Just as the subject of these dreams is not the artist himself, nor is it the repressed opinions harboured by those he spends his time with (psychoanalysis is, after all, increasingly unfashionable, as are the various forms of social micro-fascism). The subject of this body of work is not even necessarily dreams per se – that would be far too reductive, and Lynch does not wish to be thought of as “one of those dream artists”. However, if we think instead of dreams-as-trope, dreams can become allegorical figures that are consistent with some of the apparent concerns of Lynch’s work such as shared fantasies, symbolic networks and unconscious communities. We could also visit striving and haste, biopolitical rebellion, hope, delirium, human intimacy (without this, part of our brain does not develop, which makes us physiologically dependent on love, it would seem), sharing experience as radical political act, the approximation of language and memory, entropy…  1  We could even go so far as to imagine that the act of recording dreams (or making work for that matter) mimics the way in which an animal might incrementally grow itself a shell. Come to think of it, Lynch did talk of dreams as “a collective container”…

This body of dream-based work has manifested variously as animations, paintings, drawings, and installed conglomerations of the above so that it lives in and across all media. More other people’s dreams that Lynch has made for “New05” involves video animations of several friends’ dreams projected onto a screen built within a fantastical home-made outdoor movie theatre, seemingly set up for a familial crowd, which might be as much invoked as invited. His dream narratives have become less traditionally treated over time, the latest more fragmented, convoluted, experiments, he says, with different ways of remembering and forgetting. A dislocation starts to happen, following, apparently, how things fall away in the brain. The texture of forgetting is evoked in the dislocation and different textures of the video work as if the drawings are stuck in some sort of oneiric video world. Indeed, setting up an open-air theatre inside a gallery has the squiffy, leaping logic of a dream, which, like art, trades in lateral thinking, drift and a sort of heightened, even intoxicated, response to a surface – a literal operation, but by no means finite.

Some of the dreams in this body of work are told and retold, and in the repetition, the work becomes as much about retelling as anything else. It is not just dreams that Lynch recounts, for example, in related work, he is presently developing a series of video recountings of earliest memories; and he previously recounted in paintings ambivalent emotions – “sad and horny”, “angry and helpless”, “anxious and lonely” etc. – evoking neatly the failure of living up to fantasies. Even the way in which Lynch might, say, meticulously redraw a newspaper could be seen as a kind of graphic retelling, or dealing in the afterlife of images. This could, in turn, be seen to echo the way the brain creates memories and tried to hold them: hastily-drawn pictures, incomplete, sketchy, impressionistic, breaking up by degrees over time. (Retelling could even be seen as an analogy for drawing, for capture, of which there is a huge amount in Lynch’s work.) What is remembered starts to represent everything that has been forgotten before, of which there is much.

One thing I have noticed from collecting dreams myself is that a really interesting thing about them, beyond the stories spun, is their form – they are intensely and searchingly social, tracing as they do the breadth and history of our relationships with others; hence their displacement of an easy subject. It is here that we come to a vitally important facet of Lynch’s practice: the relational. An ever-present feature of his work is the crowd form – firstly, it is a function of the way his work involves others at a subjective level, and a consciousness of art’s (and revolution’s) basis in social life. Lynch is himself somewhat of a pioneer of group art activity in this neck of the woods, formally and informally, both as a member of super-group DAMP, formerly of Rubik, and as a tireless giver of energy to various art community projects. Secondly, he often establishes social space in his work, for example, with seating, an implicit invitation to take time out and be together. The human psyche is, as Jung put it, only unique and subjective to an extent, the rest being collective and objective.

The dryness of any intellectual exercise lessens when one realises that the ultimate point of any such undertaking is to understand the social effect of our work, or so asserted Elias Canetti, author of the seminal Crowds and Power. Dream interpretation might not be the strategy best suited to approaching this work, but, quotations, tropes and displacements aside, some subjects are difficult to discount, dreams being one of them – delinquent symbols, perhaps, of resistance to times in which everything seems to militate against communality, reflective time, and living labour. Furthemore, recent medical research indicates we are never entirely asleep or awake, just at some hormonal point on a continuum between these two unreachable poles, and therefore are always delirious to a degree (even if, as adults, we are encouraged not to be). This factor, among others, makes James Lynch’s dream works appear as allegories for quasi-comic human endeavour; yet, at the same, time they sit as unselfconsciously as a dreamer in the entropic shadows at the edge of the alphabet, trying to catch the slippery tails of dreams.

  1. Recently I began to wonder if the symmetry contemporary physics has recognised across many universal systems might extend to dreams. There is an idea that wherever order is created, a corresponding quantity of disorder is also effected; and all this within a system in which entropy (general cosmic disorder) is generating. Far from fiddling while Rome burns, my enjoyment of this possibility is that the higher the levels of entropy, the higher the levels of spontaneous change. Given that dreams have been thought of as being part of a self-regulation of the psychic system involving some sort of compensation – inhibited gives way to the uninhibited, for example – maybe this compensation is to generate disorder proportionately to the amount of order we are forced to create and adhere to as conditioned selves in capitalist society. Dreams then might become a necessary, change-making, generative void in which to escape official value and authority where movement happens. The night sky, which is the implied backdrop for Lynch’s car-less drive-in, is perhaps an Altamont sky…