Dreams are Black

"Dreams Are Black"
Video and Sound Installation, 2007




Four children, two English and two Italian, aged between six and ten years old where asked to tell about their dreams.

The children’s voices alternate and, at times, mix up making it difficult to recognize the two different languages. One dream follows the other in an incoherent way, and yet there are elements and situations that seem to recur in all of the dreams and that somehow contribute to create a link between them. The use of these two languages is also related to my personal situation. Being Italian my first language but speaking and listening to English very frequently, I now dream in both Italian and English.

Unpredictability is a fundamental element in this work. The children interviewed reacted in very different ways to the situation. Some of them described their nightmares and recurrent dreams and then started to make stories up or even read fairy tales from books pretending to be telling their own dreams. Others recalled just a snap of something that is as dreamlike as it is rationally similar to a memory.

Recognisable symbolic elements and archetypes recur in the various dreams.

Winged horses, castles, obscure figures, guns and battles, the act of flying, roaring voices. Furthermore, the difference between the description of a dream and a fairytale is minimal. The symbolic elements appear, in fact, very similar.

Very interesting is Josh ‘s recurrent dream where “it’s dark at night in our school and this monster comes in, he’s got a red face and looks really freaky […] He says ‘I’m going to kill you every time to me’”.

In the painting The Triumph of Pan (1636) by Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) we see satyrs and nymphs dancing around the statue of the wild god Pan. Interestingly, the face of the statue is red and quite scary.

In the book An Essay on Pan (1972) by James Hillman, the author describes how, psychoanalytically speaking, most of the children’s nightmares are provoked by the presence of Pan, as the panic spirit in their dreams.

He says, “Pan still lives. […] He lives in the removed memories that come back, in the psychopathologies of the instinct and, as Roscher suggests, above all in the nightmares and in the erotic, panic and fiendish qualities to them associated.

The nightmare, then, really offers the key to bring back the nature we have lost.

In the nightmare the removed nature comes back, and it is so close and so real that we cannot avoid reacting to it in a natural way, thus becoming entirely physical, possessed by Pan, crying for some light, comfort and contact. The immediate reaction is the demoniac emotion. We are taken back to the instinct by the instinct.”1

Josh’s dream seems then to be a coherent example of Hillman’s theory. It also represents a stereotype that can be found in art history, as in Poussin’s painting.

The title Dreams are Black is also related to the absence of any visual stimuli. The images provoked by the narration of the dreams, then, can only rely on the sound of the voices. The imagination of the listener is then free to create images out of the dreams’ descriptions.

Quite significantly relating to this subject, the poet Louis MacNiece has written in the poem Autobiography:

“When I was five the black dreams came;
Nothing after that was quite the same.
Come back early or never come.”2

1 Hillman, J (1972) An essay on Pan, Adelphi, Milano, p. 59
2 MacNiece, L. Autobiography, from the book Because a Fire Was in my Head, Faber & Faber, 2001