Crystal Visions: Adventures in the Subconscious with Jacob Watkinson | Interviewed by Millie Norman

Created by Tazz Edwards, Callum Rawe and !GWAK member Jacob Watkinson, Exquisite Dreamscape is an online project that facilitates a space for any visitor of the site to post and share visual interpretations of their dreams. By asking submitters to tag their visualisations, images are categorised - revealing common ground, or frightening disparity, in the 'pleasures', 'wotsits' or 'cow births' of our subconscious. Inspired deeply by dreams in his own creative work, Jacob Watkinson speaks to us about the team's influences and aspirations for the future of the project.

MN: What prompted your idea for the site? Did you envision it as an inspiration resource? An online gallery? A void to banish repressed childhood nightmares?

JW: We wanted to create a project that was truly participatory, where we relinquished all control and allowed the audience to decide on the fate of the site, to some extent. We were inspired by the Exquisite Corpse parlour game that the Surrealists created, and wanted to create an online, digitised version for the twenty-first century. Upon seeing it had already been done, and done quite well, we took a step back and thought about what the Surrealists were trying to tap into - which was always dreams and the unconscious. To visualise a dream is a difficult and, perhaps, futile task, so we wanted to give that task to the public and encourage their participation.

MN: The tags are chaotic and wide-ranging, from as simple as 'Lady' to as specific as 'Venus Fly Trap'. Uncategorised, the torrent of, in equal parts, disturbing and hilarious capitalised tags look almost like they could be an experimental poem or typography piece. If you are looking for a dream symbol in common with someone, there is no way to find it without scanning through the rest - almost propelling the visitor into a vivid dreamscape through the site itself. Was there any conscious reason to leaving the tags disordered/unalphabetised?

JW: We are working on including a ‘word cloud’ feature - this will mean that the more a tag appears, the larger its bubble will be. This will be a way for us to visualise the frequency in which tags appear; however, the site is still in its early stages. We considered limiting the kind of tags people could put to streamline the process, but found it unethical in terms of what we wanted to achieve. We didn’t want to impose restrictions on categorising something like unconscious thought. We also love the crazy juxtapositions and supposed randomness of all of the tags together, but even within a single image. We created the site so that when you load up a specific image you can click on the tags above and be taken to images tagged the same way. We still wanted a chaotic and unpredictable nature to the site to suit the theme of unconscious exploration – you never know what will load up with the next image.

MN: Was there any idea behind leaving the published dream drawings anonymous?

JW: The artists retain all ownership of their work. We liked the idea of it being anonymous so that visitors of the site might recognise things from their own dreams, and then participate. We want the site itself to form a large database of abstract images, with no context in which you can view them other than exactly what the artist has shown. We considered including people’s written recounts of their dreams, but ultimately decided against that, as we think the images speak for themselves - in a fractured and abstract way.

MN: A lot of your work plays with the strange and surreal - the absurd and often tongue-in-cheek horror of your animations and pottery, the Lynchian dread of your short film 'Hollow', the visual and audial hallucinatory aspects of your video installation 'Transcendence' - to what extent do/have dreams played a role in your own creative work?

JW: Dreams are everything to me creatively. They’re the heart and soul of my work. I make it a habit to write them down if they’re particularly distressing or profound, and it’s great to look back on them - you learn things about yourself in many ways. I’ve noticed I’m petrified of heights in my dreams, yet not as much in reality. I also have a recurring dream of the tide coming in faster than I can get away - it’s terrifying but I love it. The profound emotional impact of a dream is what makes it so pure. I’m slowly building a portfolio of every time I appear in someone else’s dream, in an attempt to build up an abstract reflection of how I’m perceived by those close to me.

MN: That's a really interesting concept. How do you envisage that project?

JW: I’m not really sure yet. I think it will take a long time to gather enough dreams from people, but I think a really internally-focused portrait series, or an animation that explores the Self and the multi-faceted nature of our personalities. It would be interesting to see how accurately the vignettes from peoples dreams I appear in actually reflect the way I see myself. The art would be an exploration of that and whether you can really know yourself, and, by proxy, if people can ever know you. It would feel quite hopeless.

MN: What has the response been like so far? Do you have a favourite submission?

JW: Overwhelmingly and surprisingly, we’ve received over a hundred submissions so far - each in their own distinct style, with very drastic and often reoccurring imagery. Clowns keep popping up, and I think ‘Fear’ is our most common tag at the moment - it will be really interesting to see how that changes over time. I think my favourite submission is probably from this one guy who sent in 6 amazing digital pieces. Their surreal nature evoked the dream-realm so perfectly. His work can be seen in the background of the site, and buried within it. Fundamentally, people love talking about their dreams - and I’ve always loved hearing about them. We were surprised at how much many people took to the idea and ran with it.

MN: What do you see in the future of the project?

JW: So ideally, we hope to implement the Word Cloud feature where there will be more of a visual emphasis on reccurring images and themes. We can then get a larger picture of how the site changes, alongside the content of people’s dreams. We are just trying to push it out there as much as possible at the moment, but asking people to sacrifice a good portion of their time to articulate something as abstract and random as dreams is a challenge. Hopefully as it expands, we get a larger pool of data and interesting pieces that’ll warrant people engaging with the work as it grows out.

If people want to see more they can follow the link to the site and hopefully they become inspired to participate. Thank you for the opportunity to get the word out there about the site, and thanks to !GWAK for supporting this.