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6th Clark Bursary

The Dream Director

by Luke Jerram

Films | Journal | Writings | Proposal | About Luke

The following texts were written by an anthropologist, a curator and a psychologist, in response to Luke Jerram's The Dream Director and provide reflection and context to the artwork from different perspectives.

Dream Director
By Dr Tom Rice – Sleep Anthropologist

Malinowski, the founder of British Anthropology, complained bitterly in his fieldwork diaries about being kept awake at night by pigs and chatting natives. Other anthropologists have been similarly disturbed by nocturnal singing and storytelling among the groups they study. Still others have had to adjust to sleeping in the daytime. Evidently just as language or religion varies from culture to culture, sleeping practices do too. The Dream-Director event in June represented a significant change from my own usual sleeping arrangements, and those typical in Western culture. I have very seldom slept as part of large group, but here were a group of twenty of us all bedding down together. It was funny to see what kind of pyjamas people were wearing, what kind of duvets they had brought for themselves. It felt like a childhood sleepover, or an inventively-themed party.

But the Dream Director didn’t only bring about a re-configuration of the practical aspects of sleeping. It also created a new kind of engagement with dreaming. The Dream Director seeks to harness the activity of the sleeping brain, bringing it into an engagement with an artwork. It is an adventure in dream aesthetics, the artist and the sleeping subject collaborating in the production of a positive dreaming experience. As the experiment ran, I lay in my pod listening to the snoring of the other participants. But it was not the noise they made which kept me awake. It was the noise in my head telling me that if I didn’t sleep I would be wasting the whole occasion. Like other anthropologists, I felt I needed a chance to adapt to this new, proactive way of sleeping. But there was a louder voice, too, namely the realisation that the Dream Director was waking me up to a new concept of sleep. It was no longer a state of intensely private secluded darkness, but had become a space to explore and in which to interact. Sleep was undergoing a cultural transition.

Dream Director
by Amanda McDonald Crowley
Executive Director, Eyebeam art and technology centre in New York

Luke Jerram is an inventor, a researcher, an amateur scientist, an artist: a chameleon of sorts.

Like artists and scientists before him, Jerram is interested in exploring the world.  He interrogates knowledge, explores ideas and wants his audience to share his enthusiasm and his wonderment at the world around us.

To explore big ideas, Jerram collects people: the production of his works require conversations with people with a broad range of skills, knowledge, and expertise.  Jerram is expert and drawing people in; getting them excited about his ideas. And although he enlists scientists, artists and musicians, his approach is less about gathering specialists from divergent fields to inform his work than it is a gathering and sharing of knowledge and experience: his practice is inherently collaborative.

With a background in sculpture and performance, his interests extend from research in visual perception in early works, Retinal Memory Volume and Matrix for which he collaborated with optometrists, to the gravitational pull of the moon and sun on the earth in Tide, where resonating spheres of glass create a chorus of sounds which fill the gallery space. For Tide his collaborators and consultants included astronomers, Medieval musicologists, Clear Night Sky campaigners and a 17th Century glass harmonica maker.

Since 2003, he has been investigating the affects of sound on sleep. First with the beautifully poetic Sky Orchestra delivering a seven channel sound work to sleeping audiences at dawn (though I have to admit that when I experienced the work, the temptation to wake and view the sight of hot air balloons floating above the town of Yverdon les Bains, as I listened to the soundscape was too great!).

Dream Director, the third work in this series, promises to be an exciting progression not only as an extraordinarily complex experiential artwork, but also for its potential scientific research outcomes.

Luke’s practice makes manifest my firm view that the space that artists provide for an interrogation of a creative (public) imaginary provides real possibilities for informing scientific enquiry; art has the potential to provide a forum in which to examine scientific and intellectual inquiry in very real social and cultural contexts.

Working with Chris Alford (sleep phycologist), Oliver Humpage and Dave Boultbee (technical experts), as well as Dan Jones (composer who has worked with Jerram on several works including the Sky Orchestra), Jerram in effect operates as Creative Director of a core team of extremely creative individuals where each brings their particular expertise, but all gain amateur knowledge of one another’s field.

In addition to the sleep pod installations, sound composition and complex computing solutions developed to deliver Dream Director, for this installation, the team have also developed sleep masks fitted with electronics for the audience to wear during the sleep ‘performance’.  In the Clark Bursary blog, Jerram has written that he “found something really nice about sewing electronics into material, which make the wearer look a bit like a cyborg which is fun!”.   

Artists are increasingly drawing from a vast range of disciplines to develop new work.  A field increasingly understood as (new) media art, Christiane Paul has suggested that the art form itself “…is by nature hybrid and participatory... The artist often becomes a mediatory agent and facilitator-both for collaboration with other artists and for audiences’ interaction with and contribution to the artwork. The public and audience often turns into a participant in the artwork - a notion that runs counter to our idea of the museum as a shrine for contemplating sacred objects.”  (Christiane Paul, Collaborative Curatorial Models and Public Curation, Switch Journal, 2002.

So, now it is over to the audience at the Watershed: without you, the work is little more than a nice idea.  You are its activators.  So will Jerram and his team curate your dreams, or will you participate in that process?  Whether Dream Director is research, art, or science, it is a cultural experience that has been informed and developed by drawing a vast array of creative and scientific knowledge and expertise.  At the installation at Watershed, you will be the key players!

The Dream Director – Art & Science Sleep Well Together
By Chris Alford Sleep Psychologist at UWE

The history of sleep is at least as long as human history, with dream interpretation considered important in past ages and now reflected in our present interest in the musical ‘Joseph and the amazing technicolour dreamcoat’.

The earliest sleep recordings in the modern scientific era were made by Richard Caton who went on to become the mayor of Liverpool.  Long before the advent of vacuum tube based valve amplifiers led to the first modern electronic brainwave/EEG recordings by Adrian and Matthews in Cambridge (1934), he was successful in using a string galvanometer system to note the differences in brain activity between sleep and waking.

‘a variation of the current frequently occurred when the rabbit awoke from sleep…’ 

(Caton, 1877). 

Some 60 years later the development of polygraph recorders with the ability to record over a whole night of sleep enabled Loomis, Harvey and Hobart (1935-1937) in the USA to classify different sleep stages based on brainwave/EEG frequencies, with Dement and Kleitman (1957) then making the important link between rapid eye movement or ‘REM’ sleep and dreaming.  This led to the proliferation of sleep laboratories in the United States, partly supported by a cultural interest in psychoanalysis and the meaning of dreams.  Classic work in the US studying the possible incorporation of sound stimuli into dream content presented stimuli such as sounds or water spray during REM and then awakened sleepers to ask what they had been dreaming (e.g. Dement and Wolpert, 1958).  The American approach to the scientific analysis of dreams has been based on Hall and Van de Castle’s (1966) content analysis system which itemises the numbers of characters and events – but tells little of the textural richness of pervading emotions or the dream ‘story’. 

A new era in sleep research has demonstrated the importance of REM sleep for memory consolidation (Stickgold, 2005) and a cultural move to study sleep and dreaming in a more natural context has led Jennie Parker (Dream Psychologist at UWE) to develop diaries and questionnaires to capture the rich emotional environment of dreaming.  Findings have shown that two-thirds of dreams are unpleasant and dominated by negative emotions, and that there are clearly different identifiable categories of dreams including nightmares.  Our work has studied presentation of sound stimuli when sleeping at home to inform the development of the Dream Director, enabling music and soundscapes created by Luke Jerram and Dan Jones to be presented to sleepers with the aid of modern technology to determine dream status.  Preliminary findings from sleep concerts suggest a shift to predominantly nice dreams and positive emotions (to be presented by Jennie Parker and Justin Boult at the International Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference in September 2007).  Waking music therapy was used by Florence Nightingale to aid healing and has been linked to improved sleep in troubled sleepers (Clair, 1996; Chlan, 2000).  It is hoped that the new technique of presenting music and soundscapes during sleep may have clinical applications, perhaps helping sufferers with bad nightmares, post-traumatic stress disorder or other problems. The phrase ‘good-night and pleasant dreams’ is becoming more than just a wish.

Chris Alford (Sleep Scientist UWE Bristol) July 2007


Adrian ED and Matthews BHC (1934) The Berger rhythm: the occipital lobes in man.  Brain, 57, 355-385.

Caton R (1877) Interim report on investigation of the electrical current of the brain.  British Medical Journal, 1 (suppl.), 62.

Chlan L (2000) Music therapy as a nursing intervention for patients supported by mechanical ventilation.  American Association of Critical Care nursing (AACN) Clinical Issues 11: 128-38.

Clair AA (1996) Therapeutic uses of music with older adults. Baltimore, USA: Health Professions Press, pp. 314.

Dement W and Kleitman N (1957) Cyclic variations in EEG during sleep and their relation to
eye movements, body motility, and dreaming.  Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 9, 673-690.

Dement W and Wolpert EA (1958) The relation of eye-movements, body motility, and external stimuli to dream content.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 55, 543-553.

Hall C and Van de Castle R (1966) The content Analysis of Dreams.  New York: Appleton Century Crofts.

Loomis AL, Harvey EN, and Hobart G (1937) Cerebral states during sleep as studied by human brain potentials.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 21, 127-144.

Stickgold R (2005) Sleep-dependent memory consolidation.  Nature, 437, 1272-1278.