Turner Prize* explores dreams in New Gallery photography exhibition

 Take yourself back to your most vivid dream: possibly the horror of decrepit disembodied hands reaching out from under your bed, or maybe the excitement of being a muscle-bound superhero able to defy gravity.

We all visit these dreamland sequences from time to time and the artistic trio Turner Prize* explores the mind in its dream state. The group produces an eclectic array of photos scooped from the minds of everyday people.

Their work can be found at fairs, conventions, and art openings.

Artists Jason Cawood, Blair Fornwald and John G. Hampton make up Turner Prize* and they all take roles in the process of creating dream portraits.

Their photography exhibition, titled “Other Peoples’ Dreams,” has just opened at the New Gallery in Calgary’s Art Central, running through April 28.

The trio derives its name directly from the well-known U.K. award, the Turner Prize, saying that the irony of a well-known name for a lesser-known artist group was too lurid to pass up.

The asterisk was added strictly for the purposes of legal security, which means that they are not affiliated with Turner Prize.

Three costumed figures in black and white facing into an empty field while holding whale cutouts before a cardboard rocket, or four figures in a convertible wearing white — one dressed as a lion snarling at the camera — are some examples of the fascinating peculiarity that characterizes the trio’s work. Jason Cawood(back) and Blair Fornwald fix the name of the dreamer below their portrait.
Photo by: Kammryn Dancy

The process involves subjects talking their way through a recalled dream.

Fornwald spoke of the procedure, “To understand, you need to know about the mind’s eye plus, which is an old mechanism that used to be used in psychology.

“Basically it wraps around your eyes and ears blocking out sounds and it flashes light and the dreamer narrates what they are seeing.”

The mind’s eye plus looks similar to common sunglasses, annealed lenses, but with lights installed on the sides. A cord leading from the arms of the glasses connects to a controller that allows the user to manipulate the flashing of lights.

Hampton discovered the mind’s eye through his mother, who is a psychologist, and had one of the devices in her basement.

Upon discovery and with a few adjustments, the artistic trio decided to utilize the device to amplify the dream recollection.

The trio’s process for creating a new photographic work goes something like this: While the subjects describe their dreams, one of the trio – often Cawood – wears an identical mind’s eye plus device while listening to the narration of the dreamer.

This acts almost as a dream conduit, Hampton says.

“People have been surprisingly open about their experience, and what they saw and dreamt,” said Cawood of the effect the device has for people revealing their dreams. “The process is very intuitive, you just open up to your dreams.”

After the subjects narrate their dreams, the artists then collaborate and discuss how to create the dream in one scene.

“We try to take the something from their dreams that represents the dream in its entirety,” said Cawood.

“Sometime we have trouble agreeing on what we want to photograph; sometimes it is just more difficult to recreate the scene.”

The trio is adamant about not manipulating photographs after they are taken. Said Fornwald, “We try to create the scene in real-time, that is where we want to make the manipulation.”

One of the trio’s artists Jason Cawood poses for the camera.
Photo by: Kammryn Dancy

Hampton knows that creating the scene as faithfully to the group’s interpretation as possible is what dreams are all about. “Dreams have such variability, that is what we want to show,” he said.

Fornwald spoke on how the dreamers react to the photographs, “One guy saw our photo and said, ‘That is exactly what I was seeing, you got it exact,’ while others immediately tell us that they’re nothing like they dreamt.”

The photo that most accurately interpreted what a dreamer saw was of a small blond boy, with words scrawled in red across him. The boy was dressed similar to a soldier and he was surrounded by red money.

What the dreamer thinks about the work doesn’t matter in the end, Hampton said, adding that the work attempts to demonstrate how malleable our subconscious is.

When you try to describe individual pieces, there are always unique descriptions, which aide the work process and its affect, said Cawood.

The types of dreams are also quite varied from place to place. The trio insists that most places have been evenly varied in the types of dreams experienced by residents, but said that Regina and Saskatchewan, where the group is from, had an oddly high number of nightmares.

Fornwald was adamant that nightmares are her favourite types of dreams, saying, “There is some richness to nightmares that just make them worth it, and there is nothing to get you going like a good nightmare.”

The trio has worked with nearly 50 separate dreamers, which has resulted in the production of 41 photographs simulating people’s dreams, all of which will be on display during the exhibition.

kdancy@cjournal.ca