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James Clar Turns His Dreams Into Artistic Reality

James Clar Turns His Dreams Into Artistic Reality

Media artist James Clar’s latest installation blurs the line between technology and dreaming—but not in a creepy Smart House kind of way.

In addition to a variety of striking light sculptures, his current exhibition, “Iris was a Pupil” at Carbon 12 Gallery in Dubai, features an installation that combines the human REM cycle and new media, literally transforming his dreams into physical reality.

In One Minute Dreamstate (1.4 AM), a brainwave sensor was used to record Clar’s brain activity during one night of sleep. At 1:40 AM his brainwave activity reached its peak, REM occured, and he entered dreamstate. A single minute of brainwave data from the transition into dream sleep is what you see above mapped onto light filters. These lights are then arranged into the shape of a clock’s face with the red lines representing the hands.

Albert Allgaier for Carbon 12 writes:

“Lights and filters, brainwaves and diagrams: Clar deals with raw material and raw data. His approach towards subject matter is physical and analytical at the same time, direct in implementation, but meta in discourse. Where new media minimalism meets information theory, Clar is on the bleeding edge: self-sufficient but far from self-contained. The works not only keep exploring the entanglement of aesthetics and theory, but Clar fuses these to something that deserves to be called true media art.”

One Minute Dreamstate (1.4 AM), 2012


Here’s what Clar had to say about executing the piece…

The Creators Project:You literally used your dreams to create art in One Minute Dreamstate (1.40 AM). Would you say that you look towards your dreams as sources of artistic inspiration in a less literal sense?
James Clar:
Definitely. I think the best dreams are the ones where you come up with an idea for a piece. It’s the ultimate form of multitasking, working while you sleep! This happens less frequently than I’d like though. Mostly I’m just happy to remember what I was dreaming about.

What prompted you to track and analyze your sleep cycle? Why the data viz approach here?
This work is one of the centerpieces for my exhibition “Iris was a Pupil” (currently on view Nov 5—Dec 8 at Carbon 12 gallery, Dubai) that deals with the creative process and the struggles to maintain creativity. An artist’s ideas come from the brain, and one state in which the brain is creatively open is during dreamsleep. So what I did is record my brain through one night of sleep, and then narrowed in on the stage where I hit REM sleep aka dreamsleep. So the piece visualizes the electrical signals my brain was making during this abstract stage of consciousness.

What the EEG graph looked like in the process


How complicated was it for you to set up the EEG reading? Had you ever worked with this technology before?
I never worked with this kind of technology before, but it wasn’t too complicated. Technology is becoming more advanced and easier to obtain. I used the MindBand from Neurosky, a company that specializes in portable EEG units. With this piece of hardware I got software that could log the data of the various signals (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, etc) into a spreadsheet. Then I used that information to map it onto the lights.

Your work often deals with media and perception. How do those influences come to play here? Or do they?
I think the work calls into question the idea of creativity and also authorship. Since the piece is a mapping of my brain activity, I’ve called it a self-portrait. If you strip away our physical form, what we are left with is our brain activity. That’s the starting point for who we are.

A still from a brainwave recording.

Do you think that computers can someday dream or think the way a human brain can?
Haha! And will they dream of electronic sheep? I don’t know. I think sooner than dreaming, computers will have the ability to augment our dreams. But before that we’ll be augmenting our reality, and we’re getting close to that, right?

“Iris Was a Pupil” is on view at Carbon 12 Gallery, Dubai through December 8th, 2012. Images courtesy of James Clar.

@embovoy