This post is the first of six for La Alquimia de los Sueños (The Alchemy of Dreams), a multi-sensory dinner performance by Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick, in collaboration with Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern.
“One night, a strange being entered through the window and threw itself on top of me; it was like the devil. I resisted, but his heat was immense. The following day and without [my] having said anything, at the table my grandmother said to me, ‘Remedios, what has happened to you? Your hair is burned.’”
This account is from Spanish-Mexican artist Remedios Varo (1908-1963), known for her surrealist drawings, paintings, sculpture, and ideas. She experienced life as if it were a lucid dream, yet she had a firm grasp on reality. For Varo, there was no need for sleep, let alone drugs, to induce an extraordinary alternate world.
Science tells us that dreams serve an evolutionary function, replaying and processing the day’s events, filtering out the unnecessary, cataloging and then hard-wiring the valuable. Also, it’s generally understood that the subconscious mind practices being in danger: safely rehearsing threats to prepare to manage anxiety, terror, and other responses (fight or flight) that might lead to death.
Processing the previous day often results in problem solving. "Sleeping on it" allows for the mind to think beyond the confines of earthbound reality. Provided with enough freedom from the distractions of consciousness, the mind cycles healthfully over night. The result is reordered priorities, recovered ideas, and solutions that present themselves to pressing concerns. This behavior isn’t restricted to sleep — it bleeds over into reality when we’re in the shower, or waiting at a red light, or washing dishes.
Maybe it’s possible, when the constraints of consciousness are removed, that the mind becomes open to alternate universes or alternate dimensions — a situation that triggers déjà vu, in turn forecasting and even guiding our daylight activities. It’s certainly been our own personal experience. When Julio, age 11 in Mexico, was visiting a town with his grandmother for the first time, he got lost and then made his way home thanks to visions, as if he had already wandered the town’s streets. Until recently, I used to have dreams of the future, sometimes several years in advance; out of nowhere, I would realize I was in that known future. The realization was always as jarring as a splash of chilled water on my back.
Varo believed strongly in this realm of magic. Her imagination blurred such boundaries, not just in the worlds that emerged from her work, but in reality as well. In collaboration with Leonora Carrington, Varo built surrealist “recipes and advice for scaring away inopportune dreams, insomnia, and deserts of quicksand under the bed.” Some examples of these recipes stimulate a dream of being the King of England, or stimulate erotic dreams with an ingredient list that includes “a kilo of horseradish, three white hens, a head of garlic, four kilos of honey, a mirror, two calf livers, a brick, two clothespins, a corset with stays, two false mustaches, and hats to taste.”
Julio and I are moved to investigate these ideas in a multi-sensory dinner performance, which we have titled La Alquimia de los Sueños.
Leading this experience is Sensory Conductor Norma Listman, with perfumer Mirjana Blankenship, printer Rocket Caleshu, food anthropologist Joe Evans, sound designer Guillermo Galindo, photographer Andria Lo, artist and engineer Paolo Salvagione, graphic designer Brian Scott, and writer Marc Weidenbaum.
Together, we will soon travel Varo’s world of dreams, reality, and myth — an organized and beautiful collision. And by multiplying mysticism, alchemy, science, and magic, we will attempt to discover the neglected associations of reality and the omnipotence of dreams.