Dreaming Together Apart

Mala Kline’s durational performance Dream Hostel CII brought together a dozen curious people who were intrigued by the idea of communal dreaming. The invitation described communal dreaming in ambiguous terms: both as “an oracular machine that predicts only possible presents” and as a practice, during which “an alternative vision of community begins to unfold”. The participants were invited to sleep at the venue, and spend the next day there, discussing each other’s dreams as a communal, rather than individual matter. But aren’t dreams the most particular and intimate thing about us? Freud didn’t think so. Neither did Jung. It seemed that the School Of Images Methods™ of “dream opening”, presented by Mala Kline, was based on the same premise, although it differed from Freudian or Jungian dream interpretation/analysis.  

It is true that we live in highly individualist times; your own desires and needs come before anyone else’s, and capitalism thrives on purchasable wish-fulfilment. In addition, “austerity measures” continue to dismantle public services and the welfare state, convincing more and more people that, as Margaret Thatcher wanted us to believe long ago, “society does not exist”. Those are the main reasons why I am attracted to anything that has to do with sharing, community-building, and commons. And yet, while attempts at self-organizing communal spaces and shared activities in ways that contribute to the well being of people, rather than the accumulation of wealth, are a necessity, I have my suspicions towards the transformative potential of communal creative work, especially art that puts its hopes in the spontaneity of the unconscious, even when it is carefully guided by mentors – as in the case of Dream Hostel CII or, to give another example, Surrealist writing games. 

Spontaneous collective writing games are rewarding in terms of socializing and intertwining your ideas with others. However, they tend to promise more than they can deliver. The Surrealists hoped that “automatic writing” would allow them to circumvent the censorship of the normative, rational consciousness, and liberate their art. Inspired by Freud, they believed that it was possible to write without thinking, to verbalise the unconscious, which, in their view, was the depository of socially inacceptable or taboo thoughts. Accordingly, writing would become a transformative artistic practice once you would gain unmediated access to your unconscious, and stop hoping for divine inspiration (by gods, muses, etc.).

This idea turned out to be rather disappointing in practice. When writer Đorđe Kostić reflected on his Surrealist work, he said: »I was looking for mechanisms of liberation. I didn’t care which spontaneity would construct my text. The more spontaneous it was, the quicker it resulted in clichés”.(1) In other words, he began to see the unconscious as an almost oppressive force, as a source of unstructured blabbering, rather than the source of politically transformative art. The latter demands vigorous work, or as theatre director and playwriter Marijs Boulogne likes to tell her students: “Imagination is a muscle”. It is important to flex it.

My experience with collective writing brought me to a similar conclusion: our writing was indeed bursting with imagination (it helped us to relax, to trust our elusive minds), but that was only the beginning. If we wanted to communicate our ideas to others, we had to rethink and rewrite them in a process that was much longer – and sometimes duller – than the initial games. I experienced Mala Kline’s durational performance in much the same way: as a 23-hour-long beginning.

On the first evening, we gathered in front of the venue, a large space with big shopping windows. I wondered how on earth I am going to manage to sleep, let alone dream, in this bare space, equipped with a huge desk and chairs, some snacks and two long rows of beds, reminiscent of hospital wards. There was a mysterious, new-ageish feeling in the air, which made me nervous, so I made myself busy with observing other participants, wondering about their motives for joining the event. Later, it turned out that about half of us were newcomers who had come there to satisfy our curiosity. Two of us were also there as journalists, while the other half consisted of performers, mostly dancers, who have been exploring dreams in the context of performing arts as part of Mala Kline’s mobile laboratory DREAMLAB. 

That evening, we were guided through several breathing and imagery exercises, combining the tradition of Jewish mysticism and the Jungian theory of archetypes. Before going to bed, we were told to ask for a dream and remember it. The next day, each dreamer described her/his dreams to everyone else (“secondary dreamers”) according to Mala Kline’s instructions. At the venue, it was easy to follow individual dreams due to Izar Lunaček’s illustrations. He would draw the most striking images from the dream and project them onto the wall. A week later now, the instructions sound abstract, which is why I met with Cyprian Laskowski, one of the participants, to prepare an example for those of you who want to know more. Mala Kline’s explanation is written in italic, followed by our dialogue. Since it is irrelevant whose dream is being discussed, we didn’t add our names.

The Dream Opening
We will be working with the technique of dream opening. It is called opening because we will be looking at the dream from different perspectives of secondary dreamers. It is not fixing the meaning or looking for phallic symbols. All the images' meaning is conditioned by the context of the dreamer, by the relations in which the image is placed.
The dream opening consists of four levels.

Phase 1: The Story
First, there is the level of The Story. It is the linear story, the sequence of images that we see in a dream.

- So, what did you dream today?
- I dreamt that I had trouble sleeping because there was a mosquito in the room. I tried to kill it, but it was on my face, and I soon got tired of hitting myself in the face. With five bites on my legs and arms, I managed to fall asleep, and I dreamt of a big juicy watermelon. When I awoke – still in my dream – my upper lip felt really weird. I touched it and I didn't recognise it. I looked in the mirror and was horrified to discover that I look like a cranky Mick Jagger. Then I went back to bed, but I had trouble sleeping because there was a mosquito in the room.
- I see. How many times did you try to kill it?
- Several.
- Which part of your lip was Jaggeresque?
- The upper right, from my point of view.
- What did it feel like?
- Heavy, bloated, foreign.
- How did you think you managed to fall asleep?
- Easily, I was exhausted from chasing the mosquito.
- Was your lip swollen because of a mosquito bite?
- Right, I never thought of it; that must've been it!
- What do you think of Mick Jagger?
- His lips are overwhelming.
- Are you sure that all this was a dream? Maybe it really happened.
- Hmmm ... no, definitely a dream ... well, unless I'm still awake.
- Have you always had issues with mosquitoes?
- No, they have issues with me. They love me!
- Hmm, what's your blood type?
- 0 negative.

Phase 2: The Patterns
Here, we are reading the patterns of this imagery; the numbers, the shapes, the shades, the colours, emotions or locations where the dream happens, everything that repeats itself. We observe how they fit or oppose each other.

- So, let's see ... well, the mosquito keeps biting you ... 5 times.
- And you are repeatedly trying to get the mosquito.
- Also, there are some negative feelings: annoyance, pain, weirdness, being horrified, crankiness.
- And you had troubles sleeping a couple of times, and had a dream within a dream.
- Also, both Mick Jagger's lips and the watermelon are red and swollen!

Phase 3: The Opening
The third level is the level where the real opening happens, so you retell the dream through your perspective, how you are experiencing the dream of another person in this moment. You can actually go again through the story, but you let all these patterns that you have recognised influence your reading of the story. This is also the level where we try to locate what is actually the real question of the dream. Every dream poses a question; it is the body speaking through itself, addressing itself through what it is lacking or what it needs. So, we are looking at what the dream is actually about.

- I, as a secondary dreamer, can't get over a recurring problem. It keeps coming up, but every time I try to solve it, it evades me. Eventually, I think I find the answer, but it turns out that it actually brings me back to the same problem. That loop, that is the real horror that I can't escape from. I keep looking inside for a deeper solution and I feel myself swelling with frustration and getting red with rage. It's overwhelming.
- I, as a secondary dreamer, feel that my confrontational attitude is doing me no good. The harder I try, the more I just end up hurting myself. And when I look in the mirror, I am in shock at the damage I've done and yet I refuse to accept the fact that my attitude is counter-productive. Instead of changing my approach, I give up and go back to bed, and yet, sleeplessness reigns supreme.
- So, it seems like the dream is asking me to think outside of the box in order to find a new approach to my issues.

Phase 4: The Mystery
The last level is the level of Mystery. Once when you recognise the question, what the dream is asking for, you are asked to respond. At this point, you think about the right response to the images in the dream. If the dream is presenting you with a question about a need, what your body needs in this moment, you ask yourself: How do I respond to this need? What do I have to do in response to the dream?

- I would light some citrus incense and then open the window, encouraging the mosquito outside.
- I would try to capture the mosquito before I go to bed.
- I would try my best to accept what I see in the mirror, even if I look like Mick.
- I would share the watermelon with Mick Jagger and the mosquito.

This would be our short demonstration of dream opening, as practiced by the School Of Images Methods™. The technique is based on the assumptions that every dream detects a lack or need, and that by responding to that need, we are not only able to influence the course of events in our dreams but also in our day-to-day life. In The Hourglass (1972), writer Danilo Kiš describes dreams in poetic, contradictory terms, saying that he appreciates both their similarity to life and difference from life, the depth of their falls and the height of their flights, their similarity to death and their power to evoke eternity, their similarity to madness without the consequences of madness, their soothing silence that know how it is to scream, their coded language that can sometimes be understood and translated, their length which is hard to measure, their freedom and the possibility to direct them with will power and suggestions (a perfumed handkerchief under your pillow, quiet music on the radio), their ability to evoke long-forgotten memories, their ability to seep into your waking hours. (2)

The contradictory assumption of dream opening insists on the particularity and irreducibility of each dream, yet claims that secondary dreamers can see it in ways that resonate with the dreamer, creating sensitivity for shared visions of community in the process. The difficulty of applying this idea to our experience became obvious towards the end of Dream Hostel CII when Mala Kline asked us to find similarities between our dreams. As I looked at Izar Lunaček’s drawings, I couldn’t find any. You could find them if you generalised the content of individual dreams, but the similarities seemed arbitrary, even forced. For example, some participants noticed a recurring fear of loneliness, of being abandoned or left out, in connection with anxieties about acceptance among friends and family. Others noticed repeating images of messiness and filth – in contrast with cleanliness, which, in the West, as anthropologist Mary Douglas writes in Purity and Danger (1962), symbolises order, self-containment, self-control and civilisation.

Were we able to find common dream patterns because we spent 23 hours together – or because we happen to share the same cultural values and norms? In either case, the final discussion at Mala Kline’s durational performance suggested that our understanding of dream images follows predictable guidelines (learned from various theories of dreams, novels, dream books, common knowledge etc.), that we relate them to our day-to-day life, rather than alternative visions of future, and that our spontaneous individual imagination is not as unique as we would like it to be. In that sense, Dream Hostel CII turned out to be a humbling experience: instead of pretending that we can gain direct access to the unconscious or claiming that the content of our dreams must necessarily be liberatory or collective, Mala Kline presented a series of exercises for flexing our imagination-muscle – by ourselves or with others. I was quite happy with this conclusion of the event. Let the dreaming begin!

Tea Hvala


(1) Quoted in Miklavž Komelj: Nujnost poezije. Koper: Hyperion, 2010, p. 159 (my translation).

(2) Danilo Kiš: Peščena ura. Novo mesto: Goga, 2014, p. 106 (my translation). There is a lot of literature on ways to understand your dreams and influence their course, for example Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheinhold, Dream Yourself Into Being by Dr. Bonnie Buckner or Kabbalah and the Power of Dreaming by Dr. Catherine Shainberg. The latter two are directly connected to the School Of Images Methods™.

Dream Hostel CII photos and video. Nika Leskovšek's review (in Slovene).

Related project: 
Dream Hostel CII