Dreams, Myths and Remembering

My PhD focus is on the related subjects of dreams, myths and remembering.

It was a personal, life changing experience which led me to the area.

Context

In the prologue to his autobiography, ‘Memories, Dreams and Reflections’ , Carl Jung writes, ‘

‘My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious. Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.

What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life’. 

The reality of my own story is that I stumbled into exploring animation following one of the most uncertain and disruptive periods of my life. As a result of a series of personally and professionally traumatic events, I experienced what is commonly referred to as a ‘breakdown’. While many strands of my life simultaneously crashed around me, I began to question many aspects of my identity and purpose. At times the very core of my identity felt as if it was disintegrating. As everything came to a halt, I remember feeling as if time itself was literally standing still and for a short period I was rendered incapable of doing the things which most of us take for granted. 

With the distance of hindsight, I see that there was an inevitability about how my story unfolded, but I also appreciate that the experience provided an insight into the nature of memory and forgetting. For instance, while I found it difficult remembering how the shower or the vacuum cleaner or the oven worked, I started experiencing uncontrollable floods of memory recall from my childhood. These memories felt very physical, vivid and enduring. They were so palpable that I experienced them as if they were physically happening to me in the present. 

At the time of my breakdown, even though I had temporarily lost the ability to conduct habitual and routine operations, I remember thinking that this was my body’s way of telling me to take notice of the vivid imagery playing continuously like fragments of films in my head. These were the gifts of my condition and a  quiet voice in my head said that needed to do something more with them.

I spent a lot of time on my own, just as I did when I was a child. Even though my breakdown had caused me to lose confidence in who I was and what I could do, there was one activity which I still felt confident about; my ability to draw. Drawing had remained a core part of my identity. I would spend hours on my iPad drawing characters, places and objects; little fragments of recollections from my childhood. I’d reverted back to doing what I knew so well as a child. It was a compulsion which made me feel safe, because I knew it would eventually enable me to find my way out of the darkness, just as it had helped me to do this as a child

In Search of Ariadne’s Thread – Finding Animation

I was desperate to understand what was happening to me and to find a narrative thread that would make me feel more complete. As I worked at piecing the fragments of my life back together, I learned that what I was experiencing was one of the common symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My drawings became my magic comfort blanket. My iPad went everywhere with me and over many weeks of concentrated drawing in a digital journal, I produced many images and fragments of writing. At the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with these fragments. Also, I made a conscious effort not to judge these drawings on artistic merit. What was more important to me was to use drawing as a way of harnessing my unconscious mind. It was an act of faith; in the same way as psychoanalysis  had become an act of faith. I came to trust that each journal entry would eventually lead me to places which would reveal parts of myself that had previously been hidden. 

I often felt like an archeologist coming across buried treasure. For instance, I remember drawing a series of images of large brass candlesticks sitting on a large oak sideboard and realizing that I was back in my grandmother’s living room. I was there, watching the candlesticks cast their shadows on the wall in the wavering light of the coal fire. I could smell the peaty coal burning in the grate, hear it spitting into the hearth and see the shadows turning into vague bull-like figures, the candlestick holders became horns and the foot stand became hooves. I remembered my grandmother telling me the story of the Minotaur and I could vividly see her Victorian reproduction Greek vases depicting the story of Theseus in the labyrinth taking pride of place on the mantle shelf over the fire.

Another time, I was sketching an image of the moon seen through a window. I placed a figure of a man sitting next to the window, gazing intently at the moon. I immediately recognized this figure as my father, at which point I  drew a picture of myself as a child sitting next to him, also looking out of the window. It is an image which continues to stay with me, as my father believed that the moon had a strong power over his mood swings, to the extent that he was afraid that he would turn into a ware wolf! 

I realize now that these were the ‘…personal recollections…’ , examples of those  ‘…singular small moment(s) (which) can contain a universe’ which Collmer talks about. Of course, what Collmer is also referring to here within her pithy description is the unique nature of animation’s ability to treat time and space. 

At this point in my evolution as an artist, I was still not quite aware of where this work was going to take me, but from where I am now in my development, hindsight shines a clear light showing me that it was these imaginings, these ‘…personal recollections…’ that were soon going to form the basis for the work that I would produce through the medium of animation.

The process of psychoanalysis is one which unearths broken things; things which first present themselves as random fragments. In my own therapy sessions, these fragments revealed connections and sometimes new stories. In time, these stories started to shed light on my understanding of the present. Just as in therapy, my journal entries initially presented themselves as broken things or stills from a film. Organizing and ordering these turned me into a sort of archival detective, sifting through the fragments and shards of words and images, looking for hidden clues and threads and attempting to see the whole picture. 

The subject matter of my drawings were very different to what I used to depict. Dream topography and creatures half man and half animal populated imaginary settings. My viewpoint was usually first person, where I often imagined myself taking on the guise of one of these imaginary creatures. I also depicted physical sensations such as diving into deep water, sinking, swimming, drowning, flying and floating. Episodes as if from ancient mythology and folklore started to find their place within the journal. Tentative narratives began to emerge; metaphorical threads such as finding buried treasure, unearthing ancient artifacts or hidden mosaics under shifting sand. Rooms with locked doors, mazes, getting lost in my own house, and broken, fragmented remains were also recurring in various guises. It gradually became clear that I was drawing upon archetypal and collective metaphors to represent landmarks in the stages of my recovery. Therapy enabled me to make connections between the images and, in turn, I started to become more confident about using these connections back in the studio.