Joris Lacoste on Making Dreams
“I’m not that interested in hypnosis itself. Mostly just one specific application, which is the possibility of guiding the listener into the dream.”
French director and artist Joris Lacoste was telling me this over drinks recently, explaining how he incorporated something best known as a questionable therapy or parlor trick gag into one of the most provocative pieces at this year’s Crossing the Line Festival, where he’s presenting 4 Prepared Dreams (Oct. 10-13; tickets $10-$15), an experiment that blurs the line between ephemeral performance and art object, artist and spectator.
Lacoste began his career as a poet, but through acting he arrived at theater-making. His work is highly diverse and wide-ranging in terms of investigations, often exploring the ways in which language is used and exploited. One piece he mentioned, quite different from 4 Prepared Dreams, was a duet between an actor and a drummer. The actor would speak fake translated lyrics from American pop songs while the drummer played the rhythm, the only part of the song that was kept. The piece ended with part of the set collapsing to reveal a chorus, who proceeded to intone a sing vocal chord for an extended period of time.
It was an experiment of a different sort that led Lacoste to hypnosis as a practice for art-making. “I have this project called l’Encyclopédie de la Parole”–a collaboration between a group of artists, which presented a work, Chorale, at Performa 11–“This project is all about collecting and studying and indexing all kinds of speech through recording. And we collected some hypnosis recordings, like these CD’s you can buy or find on the Internet, self-hypnosis kinds of things,” he explained. “Things you’re supposed to listen to at home lying in bed or on the couch, listening to these very relaxing things that are supposed to help you quit smoking or get more charisma or not be lazy anymore. So the first time I listened to these I was really impressed by the quality–not of all of them, but some of them–as sound pieces.”
“I started to think this could be interesting as a literary form,” he added. “I’ve always been interested in dreams–my own dreams and the dreams of others. So I had the idea that through hypnosis there was the possibility to create to suggest or to design dreams.”
His first experiment with using hypnosis directly was in 2009, with a radio piece entitled Museum of Dreams. Lacoste wrote a script (about a trip to a museum) for seven people, each of whom had a character within the piece. Each was then separately hypnotized and given the “dream” by Lacoste. Afterward, he had them recount the experience and recorded the interviews, editing them together as a sort of audio documentary about a shared dream between seven people.
His next major experiment was a theater piece, Le Vrai Spectacle (2011), in which he sought to hypnotize an entire audience of a few hundred people. Rather than limit the experience to the dream, Le Vrai Spectacle offered a multiplicity of ways to experience it, the name (“vrai” implies both “true” and “real” in French) acting as a sort of double-entendre.
“We created this distinction between the vrai spectacle–the ‘real’ spectacle that we did onstage–that people could watch the real spectacle, if they decided to just stay very conscious and very aware,” he explained. “And the other level was the vrai spectacle, the ‘true spectacle,’ the mental show that each spectator could produce himself.”
It was an impressive feat, debuting at Paris’s Festival d’Automne and touring to a couple other cities in Europe, but for its success, it left Lacoste feeling there was a different direction he could take the practice in.
“My main interest now is the question of whether a dream–not the performance, not the text–but the dream that’s produced, can it be an artwork? That’s my challenge,” he told me. “Because when I did the theater show, of course you can say the dream is the art work, but still the show itself is such a big thing, it’s still the spectacle réel. But when you have no witness, the only way to enjoy the performance is to dream it. So there’s no other existence of the script of the performance than the dream that you’re producing.”
“And that’s something very paradoxical–and I like this paradox–that you cannot really enjoy the art itself, all the aesthetic means I use,” he continued. “When you’re hypnotized, you’re not really conscious of the poetic elements of the text, you’re not really conscious of the artistry of the performance. You’re just enjoying the dream.”
Presented with the challenge to turn a dream itself into an art-object, Lacoste arrived at the same sort of solution that artists have for decades: economics.
“I said okay, the best way to assert this idea of dreams as artworks is to sell them.”
The first iteration of the sort of work Lacoste is presenting at FIAF this week was a gallery show in Paris this past spring called “12 rêves préparés” (“12 Prepared Dreams”). The conceit was fairly simple: Lacoste wrote out a dozen dream scripts (each 30-40 minutes long), then prepared a brief synopsis of each dream that could be framed and placed on the wall of the gallery like an object. Collectors interested in purchasing the “dream” had to negotiate directly with Lacoste over the price, which could include non-monetary compensation; through this process, Lacoste could determine why they were interested in purchasing specifically this dream, and could decide who he was most interested in working with. The buyer awarded the dream then became the sole recipient; the text is never used on a different person and is confidential.
“They’re not receivers [of the dream as entertainment] because they have this kind of responsibility, as collectors,” Lacoste explained. “The dream can only exist for one person, but of course they can tell the experience to other people. So the dream can have its own existence through telling.”
The implication of it is kind of staggering. In performance, we often highly discount the artist’s intent, focusing instead on the spectator’s experience of the spectacle. What’s truly fascinating to me about Lacoste’s experiments in hypnosis is how far he shifts the production of the spectacle away from himself; Lacoste as the artist materially creates the frame for the experience (through hypnosis) but is only a part author of the actual experience itself.
“Maybe fifty percent, maybe more, of the dream that is actually produced is not something I can predict,” he stressed. “I have no idea. I give propositions of the story, but if I tell the same stories to different people, they will have completely different dreams.”
This was what emerged from his initial experiments in the form. “I tried it the first time with a friend of mine. I really prepared myself as for the performance, I wrote it down and I rehearsed it then I performed it in front of him and I had no idea what of what it would be like.
“Actually, when I was doing it, I really thought that nothing was happening. I had no idea because I wasn’t asking what he was feeling or seeing. And it was only when I woke him up after the performance, I asked him how was it, what did you feel? Then he started to relate everything that he had gone through. And it was so amazing,” Lacoste recalled. “First in terms of density–the density of the fiction for him was so vivid, so realistic it was impressive. And also in terms of how far it was from what I told him. That’s something which is very important for me, there’s always a very unpredictable margin of interpretation.”
For 4 Prepared Dreams, Lacoste is tweaking the conceit of “12 rêves préparés” slightly. Technically the way the work is being produced is as a visual art commission; Lacoste received a commission from Crossing the Line to prepare four more dream art works, and he was invited to choose the four collectors: singer April March (Weds., Oct. 10); director Annie Dorsen (Thurs., Oct. 11); filmmaker and musician Tony Conrad (Fri., Oct. 12); and filmmaker Jonathan Caouette (Sat., Oct. 13). Each one will receive his or her dream the day of the “performance,” which will essentially be a discussion between the subject and Lacoste onstage, reconfigured as a performance.
“It’s really a experiment,” he said laughing, and encouraging me not to scare people off. “The fact that I’m going to ask these four people to tell about what happened, in front of an audience, an audience of people that bought tickets to see something. That’s a big responsibility! Because people come in, they are in the position of wanting to see a performance, something entertaining. Which is great, but thing is I have no idea what is going to happen, because after the session, then we’re not going to talk at all. So I’m going to discover the contents of the performance at the same time as the audience. I have no ability to make sure something interesting’s going to happen.”