An Immersive Art Installation Designed to Be Experienced With Closed Eyes Will Debut in a Rebranded ‘Festival of Brexit’ in the U.K.

Feb 16, 2022

An ambitious immersive artwork designed “to be experienced with your eyes closed” will begin touring around the U.K. in May as part of the rebrand of a pricey initiative originally planned to celebrate U.K. culture in the wake of Brexit.

Inspired by an experimental 1959 creation by artist-inventor Brion Gysin, Dreamachine promises audiences—with their eyes closed—an opportunity to experience colorful, kaleidoscopic patterns and hallucinated visions created by flickering light. The experience will be accompanied by a tailor-made soundscape, as well as what organizers describe as one of the largest scientific research projects to take a deep dive into the collective human psyche.

Bryon Gysin, right, and his Dream Machine, with William Burroughs, ca. 1970, London.

The work is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Collective Art, which brings together Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble and Grammy- and Mercury-nominated composer Jon Hopkins together with a team of technologists, scientists, and philosophers. It is one of the 10 projects commissioned as part of “Unboxed: Creativity in the U.K.,” formerly nicknamed the “Festival of Brexit,” the £120 million ($163 million) extravaganza initiated by Theresa May’s government to celebrate British culture after the country cut ties with the European Union. The festival is funded by the four governments of the U.K.—England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales—and commissioned in partnership with Belfast City Council, Creative Wales, and EventScotland.

The work will tour London, Cardiff, Belfast, and Edinburgh between May and October 2022, presented with Cardiff Council, Northern Ireland Science Festival, W5 Belfast, Edinburgh International Festival, and Edinburgh Science Festival. More than 100,000 visitors are expected to be able to experience this mysterious work for free.

Collective Art, Dreamachine (2022). Photo: Christa Holka.

Gysin’s original vision was to create a device that could replace television, allowing each individual to “create” their own cinematic experiences by immersing themselves into the images generated by the flickering light. Gysin hoped such unique viewing experiences could keep people away from passive consumption of mass-produced media.

More than six decades later, Collective Art pushes Gysin’s vision further, creating an immersive environment woven from layers of music, technology, neuroscience, philosophy, and architecture. Visitors are led to a room and seated in front of the machine with their eyes closed. A soundtrack by Hopkins, who has worked with Brian Eno and Coldplay, guides visitors to a transcendental state.

Audiences will be asked to participate in the science research project “Perception Census” to look into “the unseen diversity of the nation’s inner worlds,” organizers said. Details of the project, as well as dates, ticketing information, and venues, will be announced in late March.