Posts by: Meredith Tromble

Dream Vortex: It’s All The Real World


As Dawn and I were making the Djerassi version of our interactive, 3-D installation Dream Vortex, I also turned Barn Studio B into an installation about the creative process: It’s All The Real World. My dirty-work coveralls hung next to the door…

It's All The Real World, SW corner

The green tape anchoring the drawings refers to a grid feature of a CAVE (Computerized Automated Visualization Environment), the digital environment for which the Dream Vortex was originally envisioned.

…the door covered with “find me” messages to Dawn, notes to keep our collaboration flowing.


In the rafters high above the door was a drawing of a sleeper, dreams dripping from her hair.


 North of the door were objects showing how a dream becomes a Dream Vortex drawing: a scroll with dream stories collected from researchers at the Complexity Sciences Center and KeckCAVES at UC Davis, drawing boards, source photos, preliminary sketches, and a mop modeling for a dream drawing.

04_Tromble_Real_World 04.5_Tromble_Real_World

Dream drawings filled the walls on the other side of the door.


These drawings were flanked by panels with excerpts from key passages of Dream Vortex code. The code is part of the pulse of the dreams through different forms — they start as images in a mind’s eye, turn into texts (stories), turn back into images (drawings) and then texts (code) again, becoming mind pictures once again as you look at the Dream Vortex.

Code written by Jordan Van Aalsburg to create the vortex

Code written by Jordan Van Aalsburg to create the vortex

The installation’s centerpiece was an easel with a drawing in progress, standing on a ball-and-arrow diagram. On the little table by the easel were drawing materials and pages from the scientific paper for which the diagram was originally created. The paper talks about the way channels change the information that flows through them. Physicist and fellow resident Jim Crutchfield worked on it during our time at Djerassi; he understands the diagram as beautifully specific physics and mathematics.  I understood it as a metaphor for what we were experiencing in the residency: DRAP channeling our creative energies together and thereby changing the way they flow.


Turning to the fourth wall, you see a silk print of a dream in which a physicist lectures to daisies, more drawings and raw materials…


And, completing the circle, a mangled toy lion considers the dream scroll. Perhaps he dreams of himself as a strong young lion, as in the yellow drawing on the wall opposite. Or perhaps he knows that his scars give him soul, and that in the dream world he is both young and old. Maybe he even knows that body, mind, and code — it’s all the real world.

It's All The Real World















After the live music, we made quick studio visits.

Watching Mandelbrot sets in Jim’s studio. Counterclockwise from Jim, in foreground: Meredith, Henry, Anwyl, and Dawn. Photo: Ari Frankel

Djerassi fellows cook for each other on Saturdays. Dawn and I planned Ethiopian food for the first Saturday, when guitarist Henry Kaiser, artist Brandy Gale, and musician/engineer Anwyl McDonald were scheduled to be our guests. Serendipitously, Pireeni offered a Sri Lankan fish curry, pointing out that Ethiopian and Sri Lankan foods share many spices, and Devavani joined our kitchen crew. After dinner, Henry brought out his guitar and gave us a living room concert (or porch concert, in Brandy and Ari’s case. They sat just outside and told us coyotes howled with the music).

Henry has been living the art/science life for decades as a musician, videographer, and research diver. First he improvised in response to the place and the evening, then he played us compositions based on places he’d been in Antarctica. Anwyl joined him on bass for the finale, while Sasha dished up two flavors of her homemade ice cream (peach and chocolate chip). The best word I can find for the feeling of the evening is “generous.” It wasn’t work at all, but it was, somehow, a primer for the art/science work we might find together.



Dawn working on Dream Vortex Prototype 4 in her Middlebrook Studio at the Djerassi Resident Artists program.

Dawn working on Dream Vortex Prototype 4 in her Middlebrook Studio at the Djerassi Resident Artists program.

Finding something that I have been longing for happens so rarely, at least for big things, that I don’t quite know how to manage. Dawn Sumner and I have been working on the Dream Vortex for three years. The project has survived Dawn’s long stays in Antarctica for her own research and in Pasadena for the Mars Curiosity mission, in part due to our wonderful collaborators in the Macroscope group at Jim Crutchfield’s Complexity Sciences Center. For the past few months that group was led by research programmer Jordan van Aalsburg, who figured out how to program a vortex spinning with images while Dawn was in Pasadena. We were closing in on the mechanics of the 3-D, interactive digital installation — when Dawn said “yes” to my storyboard vision in 2011 it was feasible but not at that moment technically possible — but the aesthetics of the prototypes were, necessarily, just bits and pieces of the vision. In our first two days of real work together at Djerassi, building on Jordan’s work, Dawn nailed the look and feel. She called me in to look at the vortex on the 3-D monitor and I saw a tantalizing, slightly dangerous looking dust-devil of whirling images. I hooted with joy, I cried. And then it got better. We showed it to composer Ari Frankel, and he suggested a way of structuring sounds with the piece that might work (I have been wary of sound, as so many videos and installations are ruined by over-deterministic music.) Then it got even better. We showed it to Jim (who is also here at Djerassi) and he not only gave us a stream of good responses and ideas, he played us a sound piece from his Theater of Pattern Formation that might fit the elusive, unpredictable vibe of the vortex. This sudden leap towards the dream we’ve been pursuing left me stunned, barely able to eat dinner or carry on a conversation. But after the meal, poet Pireeni Sundaralingam and resident manager Laura Amador organized adverb charades. Fifteen minutes of silliness and laughter brought me gently back to earth. Then it was back to the studio, with profound gratitude for the opportunities the Djerassi Residency and Leonardo are providing.