[dream] ENGINE (offline memory processor)

27 04 2023

[dream]ENGINE Offline memory processor

[dream] ENGINE (offline memory processor)                            

by Inesa Vėlavičiūtė 

Inspired by neuroscience, memory and surrealism, the [dream] ENGINE invites the audience to explore the phenomenon of sleep and the mysteries of the human consciousness in a dreaming state. Weaving a dizzying fusion of contorted choreography, dynamic physical storytelling and immersive AV design, the circus artist Hannah Finn and visual theatre and scenography makers MegaHertz (Bex Anson and Dav Bernard) cast the performance in three short episodes adapted for online viewing. Behind the closed eyelid curtains, through the digital eye of a dreamer, the unseen world of the sleeping mind is opened through the symbols articulated by the sleeping self, featuring dream concepts, sleep patterns and their recurring stages.

Opening with a white barren landscape encircled by a black vignette, the production creates the impression of someone just closing their eyes and falling asleep. This inventive visual arrangement of the eye-shaped setting builds an immediate connection with the audience, working as a tunnel into a space where the entire dreamland is broadcast before the eyes of the spectator, as if peeking into someone else’s mind. A crackling sound of a device losing its power also suggests a “disconnecting” of sorts from what exists. The word Engine in the title itself allows a comparison between our brain’s physiology and the computer system: the electric signals are transmitted to our brain through the nerves, lighting up the imagery just like on a computer screen. Offline memory processor refers to the brain’s phenomenon of actively sifting through the day’s events, information, memory fragments and more while sleeping and sweeping away those which are not needed while recording the ones of value – much like a computer’s “save” function. These concepts of the brain activity are beautifully represented by the projections of geometrical figures and words filling the landscape, constantly interchanging in forms and positions as the conscious mind slowly drifts off to the lightest sleep stage. These same graphic designs are utilised throughout as transitional intervals between the dream stages, marking the starting and finishing points of further episodes.

The artistic vision unfolds as a sleeping mind’s journey through surreal dreams expressed through a distinctively personal character’s body language. Known for her eloquent physical virtuosity, Finn blends acrobatics and modern dance to communicate with the audience, leaving no space for empty gestures. The performer infuses her choreography with the many connotations and associations of the intensely kinetic contortions, constructing a narrative through moving images. For example, twisting and turning in all directions, trying to find a comfortable place for her body to rest, the performer appears to be in a twilight zone between dreaming and waking. Fragmentary movements including jerking arms and brief twitches could also signify the phenomenon of the myoclonic jerk, which often occurs at the point of falling asleep.

The visual metaphors’ language in the second episode portrays a strange, less coherent dream where images seem so garbled, they skew the sense of what is real. The dream body is crawling towards the spectator in slow, fluid movements, both enchanting and disturbing at the same time. An ingenious optical illusion is created by the performer wearing  black clothing embellished with white lines, enabling the appearance of no bones in the body or control over the movement in this hypnotic dance. The peculiar detail of the hair cast over the artist’s face supports the image of a subdued state of mind. It can also symbolise a dream quality where nothing appears as is, as the character’s face cannot be recognised. An intriguing aspect of this athletic creation is the parallel that can be drawn between her movements and the art form of puppetry, the visual elements of which can be perceived through the marionette-echoing body movements. It is especially evident during the second episode where the artist’s shoulders are holding the weight of the body while the arms and hands, in contrast, are loose, hanging. It brings forth a suggestion of the subconscious controlling what is experienced while dreaming.

The storyline ends with the episode featuring smooth and floating but more sculpted movements, followed by the frenzied expression of hysterical chaos and possibly a night terror: the character’s erratic, out of sync movements displaying panic. Another impressive element here is the unique portrayal of REM (rapid eye movement), characterised by the quick gaze-sweeping from one side of the eye to the other. To depict the eye fixed tenaciously upon the character’s movements in the dreamland, the MHz’s creative duo have chosen to encircle her by what seems like a pupil of the eye; when the human form is immeasurably exploding with frantic movements, the circle of the pupil is doubled and tripled as if to symbolise the gaze losing its precise focus.

The intricate language of the movements is reinforced by the accompanying technological audio-visual effects and lights. Set inside an unfurnished room, a blank mind canvas, the performance demonstrates the brain’s capability of creating an entire parallel reality. Developed upon a black and white film, the video projections of the entangled, maze-like lines, little dark dots and circles are filling the volume of the space, representing the brain waves and the different levels of their activity occurring while dreaming. Playing with the scale and perspective of these multi-directional electrical impulses, Anson and Bernard illustrate the fragmented, supremely messy and impossible to comprehend moving imagery, varying in depths of light. Incorporating both the dim and the intense ends of a spectrum, mixing haziness with strobe lightning the artists explore different atmospheres. The correlation of the light and colour grades can be seen as a rounded dance, with gesticulations of one being transformed into the gesticulations of another, making it difficult to take in all the aspects at once.

The sound here also plays an integral part of a puzzle piece. The body-shaking electronic beats combined by the new and old technologies are exploring the dreamland through the prism of musical dualities and opposites. Not disjointed but polar, they stand as prompts of the conscious, subconscious and unconscious selves. The images, lights, sounds and dance become a continuous warp and the whole dimension feels like a single continuum, creating a surreal atmosphere.

A collaboration across art, technology and science, [dream] ENGINE charms and captivates from start to finish. The visual journey offers a unique, modern take on the wondrous dreaming mind and it is the supreme achievement of the artists in sparking the imagination and leaving all the possible meanings of the rich imagery for the audience to explore. Although presented as a work-in-progress at the Manipulate festival in 2021, the performance seems more like a never ending search and creative process of understanding one’s mind, digging deeper and deeper into the hidden and unspoken sensations rather than as an unfinished piece of art.