WAKING LIFE. Escape the bright light of a Tucson afternoon this week and duck into Shelley Lawrence's installation at UA's Lionel Rombach Gallery. Step into the cool, dark dream space. Don't be afraid to put all your trust in your senses.
Lawrence's installation, titled allusion, offers the viewer a chance to eavesdrop on her own dream world of the last couple of years. By doing so, she's hoping to raise questions about our perception between our waking and dream life. She's been collecting video images to reflect her somatic dreamscapes. But the seed of inspiration actually came as a soundtrack.
"I had an auditory hallucination in bed one night," admits Lawrence. "I heard crickets--those summer sounds of my childhood growing up near cornfields and apple orchards."
Not something you hear very often in the desert.
When you enter allusion, what you hear is nearly inaudible--like the soundtrack of most of our dreams: There are the crickets, but also gibberish, a line or two of recognizable words and whispered stories. The mumbling comes from the periphery of the gallery, tugging at you to listen, despite not understanding what's being said.
What you see is something far more confounding, as most dreams are--a cinematic smorgasbord. A huge, bulbous orb of visual ephemera swims by. The images are projected onto a convex pool of water--2 inches deep, 5 feet in diameter--perched on a slightly raised mound of sand.
And it's that sand--4,000 pounds of it--that fills the gallery's entire space with a tactile metaphor for sleep. It's the first perceptual shift that greets you at the door to the installation. On the other side of that blue, narrow, Alice in Wonderland-evoking entry is the world of the everyday, waking life. Once you remove your shoes and stoop inside, you are greeted with a myriad of sensory alterations.
"My interest is to disorient the viewer," explains Lawrence. "The piece is experiential like the dreams we all have.
"But dreams are mirages, they're illusionary, a common metaphor. Here I'm alluding to perceptual space."
The double entendre in the title is an eloquent way to talk about the basics of perception. Lawrence adds, "It's amazing to me that people ignore their dreams, considering we all spend a third of our life asleep."
Lawrence has mined her own nocturnal scenes to investigate bigger issues. "Learning how dreamlike our waking life is teaches us about life itself. For instance, Tibetan Buddhists have a greater understanding of the relationship between our waking life, dream space and death."
This quest for hyper-awareness fuels allusion. Images float by metonymically in the six-minute video loop. A jet quietly flies by, and then there's someone swimming in slow motion, and then a dress is floating in the breeze. Whispered details from Lawrence's dream journal are intentionally off-kilter with the images. The huge orb blinks back at you. The darkened, blue-hued space and sandy cushion below your toes pulls you into the peaceful twilight.
"I'm not doing dream analysis. It's more about awareness, about being more present. But if you teach yourself to remember your dreams, you start to realize how much of your day gets into your night."
Lawrence adds that some recurring dreams can reveal more than just traces of the day's thoughts and activities.
"I use my nightmares, like my tidal wave dream, to face my fears," she says. "It's helpful to ask your dream characters who they are, though I've had one say to me, 'I'm your left ear lobe.'"
Pulling herself out of the dream space and into an artist's rendering of that space has been the challenge for Lawrence, whose primary medium has been photography. She spent the last two years collecting video footage.
"Half of it is original, just things or spaces that I really had no idea why I was videoing them," she says. "I just knew intuitively that I'd use them. The other half is appropriated images from documentaries that added to the ones I filmed myself.
"They're really dream cues that I've been collecting. The video camera was just a way of dream journaling," explains Lawrence.
"I saw this red dress swinging in the wind, hanging outside a vintage store on Fourth Avenue one day. It was one of the first images I captured, not really knowing why. But now I understand that it had everything to do with wind and flight, two important metaphors in my dreams."
Lawrence wonders how lucid we are in waking life--a question usually raised about our dream life. Both the grainy and the vivid images float by in the floorboard sphere. Standing above and at the edge of this "screen" beckons you to peer into your own dreamworld.
As for building the elliptical, watery bubble, Lawrence says, "I did it on blind faith. I took my ideas and worked with a carpenter to realize them.
"For an artist used to making objects, it's strange to work so ephemerally, to put so much energy into something that ends up as a two-dimensional slide or Web installation."
Shelley Lawrence's allusion is in its last days at Lionel Rombach Gallery, located in the Fine Arts courtyard east of Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue. The show stays up through Sunday, May 18. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
For details, call 626-4215.