Lucid Dreaming a Storyworld

Posted June 22, 2014 by Alkan Chipperfield

“Everything is reflected in the Statue of Mirrors if you stand there long enough and empty your mind of everything else but the mirrors, and you must be careful not to want anything from the mirrors. They just have to happen.” – Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar

Following the Data Ecologies symposium and the Booksprint, we held a two-day workshop whose brief was to use scenario-building methods to design one or more storyworlds that could be implemented as a physical narrative and possibly a prehearsal, or a combination of both. As a physical narrative it should be light and portable, for use in a hotel room and an exhibition in Austria and Cluj in September and October, and possibly in Belgium next autumn.

There was one catch. The process was to be designed to mimic as far as possible the experience of lucid dreaming. This entailed a rather different approach to how FoAM has hitherto conducted scenario-building workshops, and included such strategies as meditative free association, game-like improv exercises, and collaborative writing sessions in addition to well-known scenario building methods such as KPU and CLA. The intention was to facilitate conditions in which we could encourage and observe the dream-logic unfolding, at first with minimal intervention, then gradually steering the emergent dreamworld in a more conscious direction. This was at the request of Time's Up, who wanted the theme of the physical narrative to echo that of the exhibition it would be shown at.

And so we gathered together early Monday morning with a brave new storyworld to co-create and two days to do it in. The workshop was held at Time’s Up in Linz on 2–3 June 2014 and facilitated by Maja Kuzmanovic. Participants were Rasa Alksnyte, Tina Auer, Timothy Boykett, Alkan Chipperfield, Nicholas Gaffney, Andreas Mayrhofer, and Marc Schrögendorfer.

…… ?

I closed my eyes and as the room fell into silence, I became aware of the buzzing of flies – or perhaps they were the engines of boats in the harbour. The faint clacking of a typewriter could be heard in another room; or was it an incredibly rapid photocopier? Otherwise the whole building seemed deserted. I thought I could hear a helicopter in the distance, somewhere over Linz. But then we were abruptly guided out of our meditation with a warning that we might not know exactly what was coming next. And indeed, the workshop seemed to suddenly be over. We went to the basement of Time’s Up to fetch several boxes, loaded them into the car, and set off back to Brussels. On the autobahn everything seemed to be folding up and collapsing into two dimensions. We found ourselves squashed into a two-dimensional car. As it flitted down the road at an impossible speed, the speed of cardboard, we found ourselves folding up and turning into boxes. The boxes were sucked up by a mechanical vacuum tank and tumbled back down into a dusty basement on an endless peninsula.1

Bars within Boxes

I woke up to the sound of a hypnotic voice suggesting that we let our minds loose, watch our inhibitions slip away, trust in the process, the people around us, and ourselves. I checked my hands and feet. They seemed to be intact. I asked Rasa: “Am I dreaming?” She replied: “Smile and wave.” The facilitator abruptly left the room and came back carrying several cardboard boxes of various sizes. She gave each of us one of these boxes. We went outside by the river, and started swapping the boxes with one another. They varied in weight and an indefinable kind of density. Within them were perfect gifts. As we swapped the boxes around, we were pulled from the group one by one and asked: “What is in your box?” I opened mine and a wind scented of roses gusted up around me, a shower of petals filled the air, a fading face appeared and vanished, and time seemed to run backwards. Although it was bright morning a moment ago, twilight now fell. I climbed into the box almost without thinking, and emerged in a bar.

Half-hidden through the misty interior were several other guests sipping brightly-coloured gin cocktails at the counter. Others were lying in the shadows on soft duvets. The last rays of sunset, heavy with golden pollen, struck the translucent walls and ceilings, then dissolved. Rusty tools lay strewn in the corners. I looked down into my cocktail. Icecubes were chinking against the glass, and upon them tiny mechanical insects were dancing. I stood up. Perhaps it was the heady effects of the potent gin they served here, but I suddenly needed to know exactly where I was and what this was all about. I approached two customers, and discerned upon closer inspection that they were Marc and Andreas. “Why is it that, in this bar made entirely of translucent colours and twilight, your shoes are solid and stink?” I demanded. They glanced at one another and shrugged. “There’s only one family living here. They are cobblers. They make the shoes. We are their customers. Don’t ask us,” they replied. “Are you saying that I must find the cobblers?” I exclaimed. Whereupon they chuckled obscurely, mentioned something about becoming a twitcher, and said not a single word more.

Twitcher Seeks Metamorphosis

I heard a pervasive buzzing noise outside, and left the bar to investigate. Darkness had fallen and the air sparkled with obsidian frequencies, though the world was eerily dense and noiseless. Sometimes I heard faint voices whose murmurs rose to a crescendo before dying out, and then there was nothing but the sound of drips and drifting echoes. Stretching before the bar some way off was a canal lit by enormous candelabra floating in the darkness. Beyond the canal were rolling hills made out of huge piles of discarded shoes and, far beyond them, almost obscured in the shifting, melting gloom, was what seemed to be a transparent box of indeterminate size, standing atop a massive block of melting ice. I heard the buzzing again, and looked up into the woolly heavens. I was confronted by the vast twinkling prismatic eyes of a mechanical dragonfly. I felt each of the facets of its eyes poring over my skin, scanning me for precious drugs. Almost instantaneously it collapsed into itself and rapidly oscillated in a movement that seemed to unfold simultaneously backwards and forwards, and before I could blink it had vanished fluidly into the low-hanging, woollen clouds. The atmosphere seemed to flex and bend under waves of alternating currents. I turned back to the bar and it seemed to be seeping into another form, shifting shape and floating away. Curvilinear lines started to flow into its place, resolving themselves into the complex ideographs of a flowchart on a blackboard.

I looked at my hand and it was holding a piece of chalk. My mind was burdened with a dense fabric of porous, shifting architectures, the quanta of as yet undiscovered universes. Blinding daylight flooded a room full of human particles that could merge into a resonant organism of unexplored potentials, if only the flow and sequence were precisely and malleably delineated, if only the algebra of their communication and interaction were carefully articulated. With the right alchemical ingredients and tools it could be done. As workshop facilitator, it was my task to draw all the threads into a tangled network of mutual interdependencies that could nevertheless blend and fuse into emergent, holonomic structures. Yet something was the matter with my hands: they seemed to be mutating and spreading; my fingers seemed to be growing and shrinking even as I drew on the blackboard. One hand seemed to have seven fingers, then two; the other started to sprout so many I lost count after sixteen. Then they started twitching uncontrollably, I dropped the chalk, and each bone in my body, from my limbs to my spinal column, started turning to jelly. I heard a voice enquiring, “Maja, are you OK?” whereupon I screamed “no, I’m not!” and then everything went black.

I was standing by a dusty grave lying beneath the sedimented particles of sparkling drug dust, the thick, misty twilight pressing in around me. Presently I became aware of two enormous eyes, glumly surveying me from across the grave. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m waking up,” the owl-like person replied. “When I’ve done that, I can forecast your future. I’m very accurate, you know.” “I don’t believe in the future. But I’m sure you can tell me what it is I really want to find.” “Well then,” the Owl Person sighed, and his enormous eyes seemed to cloud over in gloomy reflection. “It’s just too bad. All I can say is: beware the ID Traders!”

Apothecary of the Species

The distant sound of gigantic insectoid propellors crept into the quiet, as if from below the horizon. At the same time, faint, coruscating eddies of purple and yellow plasma unfolded like rapidly blooming flowers across the sky, emanating in serpentine threads from the south. Melting and reforming, they trickled to the ground and congealed into shapes suggestive of deformed homunculi, which started moving of their own volition only to dissolve and merge with the surroundings a moment later. As the noise of the propellors grew louder and louder, a wind, or rather more a streaming magnetic pressure that felt like the reverse gravitational pull of many moons, started blowing against our faces. Our bodies seemed to begin secreting a sticky glowing sap-like substance that trickled into the atmosphere and mingled with the plasmatic emanations. My thoughts and senses were bloating and contracting, trickling out of my body like blood from a gaping wound. I felt an irresistible attraction to the source of the wind, but simultaneously a livid repulsion. Everything began to shudder and suddenly the horizon went completely dark, seemingly drawing all light and substance from the surroundings.

A vast, ungainly, semi-transparent gelatinous structure emerged in the darkness from below the horizon and consumed the sky. It appeared to be the accretion of billions of jellyfish shaped in the form of enormous alembics, test-tubes, retorts, petri dishes, and medicine vials. Erratically, the structure shuddered with intense, prismatic emanations of light, pulsating from its depths and fading into a lattice of complicated filigree across its surface. Then, within one of the embedded alembics, a streaming, fluctuating concentration of movement began. Glowing particles started to flow in lemniscade patterns, with increasing frenzy. A form began taking shape from the swirling agitated movement. It had six legs. It was a gigantic ant. A blinding flash of darkness, and for a while nothing was visible. Gradually, luminous strands of plasma started uncoiling through the darkness again, and I saw that the cavity had split open. The ant monster was descending to the ground, nestled in a lattice of jellyfish-like fibrous tentacles that flowed out and attached themselves to everything in the vicinity.

Horrendous Pancake Abattoir

“An ant! hooted the Owl Person. “Whatever next! I just don’t see the point.” But I had forgotten the Owl Person. I rushed towards the ant. A whirl of dust disturbed the grave, then slowly pirouetted into stillness. A rickety road unfolded beneath my feet, and tentacles of sap-like plasma began fusing me and the Apothecary together, drawing me onwards, encoiling me in its antimatter embrace. I was darting between the legs of the enormous ant, still fragile and embryonic, then felt myself decomposing into several oscillating membranes and gliding upwards. From this vantage point the ant seemed to have shrunk to microscopic dimensions, while my organism was becoming diaphanous, luminous, and unbearably vast. I could see across the entire peninsula. I could see beyond the horizon, to where the sun was about to rise and flicker briefly, then shrink and die. I could see, far away, the transparent box on the ice cube.

Even now it was flashing with sequential bursts of radiation, ceaselessly copying life forms. The Apothecary was slowly converging on the photocopier palace, and as it did, the first crepuscular rays of dawn fingered their way across the world. The palace disassembled into see-through black-and-white Xerox-like bones. At the same time, I perceived several dozen figures lurking in its vicinity. Another flash, a wailing sound, and the pattern of an entity was ejected from the photocopier’s underside. One of the figures intercepted the newly copied entity, folded it up and put it in an enormous folder, then started slinking away with the folder under its arm. But then a convulsion shuddered through the massive gelatinous membrane I was attached to. I was falling again through a thousand shoeboxes. Images in sequence in despair of time, a key, sparkling powder, wings, ink and paint dribbling over pebbles on a stony beach, an empty void, then a mountain of shoes and a bed of marvellous grass. A slight bump and I seemed to come to rest. I squinted through thick eyelids and could only discern a blurry, pancake-like blob in front of me. Gradually it became clearer, until it resolved itself into a face. The face was attached to Nik and it was scrutinising me with twitching eyebrows. We were having lunch outside by the harbour at Time’s Up and he was apparently questioning me sternly about pancakes.


Written to the cacophonous tooting of a Belgian victory at the World Cup. 2–1 on day six. N’importe quoi!

Metadisclaimer: Gonzo blogging of the highest order, this post nevertheless manages to miss the all the essential points of its topic, and while every effort has been made to adhere to the facts, several liberties have been taken, especially with regard to sequence and continuity between dimensions. Furthermore, due to the overwhelming fecundity of the storyworld under consideration, glaring omissions have been unavoidable. The full extent of this prolific subcreation, and a more sequential outline of its development, can be gleaned from Lucid Dreaming a Storyworld and Scenario Building as Lucid Dreaming.