Tag: uc davis

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













The Djerassi Dream Vortex


The Dream Vortex, a collaboration between myself and Meredith Tromble, reached a new level during our residency at Djerassi. It is finally artistically interesting, with two scenes and several interaction opportunities in full 3D.


In Scene 1, fleeting images of dreams spiral up out of the floor in a vortex. The dreamer glimpses ideas, but they are just beyond grasp, an experience much like when we are floating at the edge of the dream world trying to make sense of vague memories. Colorful sprites provide extra light and trigger soft sounds that complement a background soundtrack of noise – often David Dunn’s bark beetles.


Special emblems representing specific dreams occasionally float upward in the center of the vortex: a shoe, glasses, a sphere, the letter C… When the dreamer chooses one of these emblems, it starts to slowly float downward toward the floor as the vortex continues upward.  A specific dream image emerges on the floor in place of the vortex and absorbs the emblem.


As Scene 2 emerges, ghosts of other dreams appear around the focus dream. These dreams can be arranged and overlapped by the dreamer to create visual patterns. Suddenly, a ghost dream disappears. A new dream fades slowly in. There is an illusion of control, but only enough to make associations, not enough to create a story.


After some time, the focus dream fades away and fleeting images and sprites begin to emerge from the floor in a spiral. The ghost dreams persist for a while, but disappear one at a time until the vortex dominates the return to Scene 1.  The dreamer can only get back to Scene 2 by choosing another emblem, when one finally appears.


Meredith and I showed the Dream Vortex at the open house, and it had a great reception.  It took a month of hard work to restructure the Vroom – Python program we started with, add interaction, and create Scene 2.  That was my focus, and my programming skills developed substantially, skills I’ll use for my scientific work comparing representations of microbial structures in rocks and growing in Antarctic lakes.


Meredith created substantial content for the vortex with new drawings, manipulation of digital images to make the fleeting images and dream drawings compatible with the visual requirements of the digital context, and insights into how to shape the visuals.  She met a specific goal of my giving her a dream from the night before and completing an image before the end of the day (the red capoeira-traveling salesman dream above).


In addition to working with me on the digital Dream Vortex, Meredith completed an entire installation based on the same content in her studio for open house.  We showed them at the same time so people could experience the physical and virtual implementations one after the other.


I contributed a bit to Meredith’s installation, too, in the form of a sculpture, Farm Dreams.  One Sunday, when I was tired of working on the computer, I made a physical dream vortex from barbed wire.  Co-resident Budi Prakosa built a solar-powered LED light system for enhanced night viewing, when dreams are the best.  Farm Dreams is now mounted on a fence post along the road into Djerassi.

Many thanks go to all the Djerassi residents and staff.  In particular, Jim Crutchfield was instrumental in helping me with the programming as well as providing important insights into the Dream Vortex visuals.  Ari Frankel suggested the sound, and Jim created the Python module that I integrated into the vortex.  Feedback from many others helped us in more subtle ways, with small changes in visuals or interactions.  And thanks to all of those that spent some time with the Dream Vortex at Open House.  Watching your reactions, listening to your questions, and learning from you will feed directly into the many Dream Vortex implementations yet to come.

Nature in Action at Djerassi


Basic RGB

Snakes dance beautifully, providing their own music with rattles in dry grass. Their tiled patterns shift as skin stretches to consume other tiled patterns. So many subtle features are tuned by evolution to make snakes what they are in all their biological and social complexity. This one was a mild danger to unwary artists, so we relocated it to a slope far from the artists’ barn, saving the rest of our local lizards in the process.

A Night Out


"camp" Full moon (behind fog)
Estaciones de Luz
Walled in
Rain under trees
Great horned owls
One scuttling animal
Still no moon
Damp morning
Squirrel squabble
Mourning dove
Misting misting misting

Dream Vortex, Djerassi Draft One


Meredith Tromble and I have been working on the Dream Vortex for a bit over three years – or I should say we started the project three years ago.  We’ve made some progress but approaching the vision for the project has been variously limited by too little time and limited software capabilities.

A network of plants in my yard to demonstrate to Meredith how the program Mycelia could be used to show dream networks

A network of plants in my yard to demonstrate to Meredith how the program Mycelia could be used to show dream networks

Meredith's drawing incorporated into a network that can be manipulated and explored - but doesn't move well on its own.

Meredith’s drawings incorporated into a network that can be manipulated and explored – but doesn’t move well on its own.

Jordan VanAalsburg worked with Meredith to create better visuals and dynamics using Vroom.

Jordan VanAalsburg worked with Meredith to create better visuals and dynamics using Vroom.

A good programming platform and dedicated time have merged with our joint residency at Djerassi, and the results were immediate: We have a vortex of images from dreams that evokes the anticipation, reticence, confusion, and mystery of entering the dream world.

Video: Dream Vortex Djerassi Draft 1

Our next step is to invite (and technically allow) an explorer to interact with those dreams, to experience the feelings and associations triggered by the network of vortex dreams.