The Dreamachine is a stroboscopic apparatus that when sat in front of with the eyes closed induces a hallucinogenic, hypnagogic state. It was invented in the ‘60s by Beat writer/poet Brion Gysin with the help of Ian Sommerville after being inspired by W. Grey Walter’s book, The Living Brain. William Burroughs had long been an advocate of the machine and helped it gain more widespread attention.
The Dreamachine Exhibition documents the 2008 installation at Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, birthplace of the Dada movement. The feature speaker at the presentation is David Woodard, who, after corresponding with Burroughs in the ‘90s tweaked and perfected the Dreamachine, subsequently constructing models for celebrities such as Kurt Cobain and Iggy Pop. The other guest speakers include Swiss author Christian Kracht and infamous “cult” personality Ma Anand Sheela.
After readings from Dr. Woodard and Christian Kracht (whose ode to the elegant aesthetics of Japanese toilets is most charming), Ma Sheela speaks about her art therapy with mental health patients incorporating the Dreamachine. Then the floor is opened for a short Q&A in which Dr. Woodard expounds on the history of the Dreamachine and its uses.
Afterwards we are taken on a tour of the actual exhibition which includes a video introduction to the Dreamachine by Dr. Woodard, photo documentation of Ma Sheela and her patients interacting with the machine and some of their artworks, a preview of Jon Aes-Nihil’s upcoming documentary William S. Burroughs and the Dreamachine, and a darkroom housing the machine where observers are able to experience it for themselves.
For an 83 minute film purely documenting the Dreamachine Exhibition, this is surprisingly fascinating viewing. Admittedly the opening readings could be considered a little dry for home spectators, but once the exhibition is opened up things get more stimulating. The most interesting segment for me personally was the excerpt from the Burroughs documentary, as it showcases the aged junky shuffling about his house wrapped in an old army coat tending to his kitties, preparing his drink of choice – Vodka ‘n’ Coke, and chatting with Dr. Woodard and Aes-Nihil on the subjects of hallucinogens and L. Ron Hubbard.
Recommended viewing for Beat fanatics and transcendental enthusiasts alike.
- Director: Jon Aes-Nihil (USA, 2008)
- Studio: Aes-Nihil Productions
- Runtime: 83 minutes