Interview with Nathalie Regard & Roberto Toro
by AmanPreet Badhwar and Ekaterina Dobryakova
“...I wander all night in my vision,
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and stopping,
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers …..
The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day sleeps,
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions, all, all sleep …..
I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in whom I lay so long,
I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you, but
I know I came well and shall go well...”
-Walt Whitman, The Sleepers, 1892
The Mesopotamians archived their dreams on clay tablets, the Egyptians wrote down their dreams on papyrus. While many throughout history have recorded dreams, at OHBM 2017 we were provided with the opportunity to view their tangible form in 3D representations of brain activity. This art and neuroscience initiative, entitled Dream Sessions, was undertaken by professional artist Nathalie Regard in collaboration with neuroscientists Roberto Toro and Guillaume Dumas. Creative pieces from Dream Sessions (both 80 Days in Dreams and 101Nights) were showcased at this year’s OHBM art exhibit, entitled “Levels of Thought”, along with artworks from other artists and neuroscientists.
Initiated in 2011, the ongoing goal of Dream Sessions is to confront the subjective perception of Nathalie’s dreams with an objective, quantitative analysis through brain recordings. This journey to bridge the dream world with brain mapping required considerable effort, and had to overcome the challenges of being based in two different continents. Nathalie resides in Mexico City, while both Roberto and Guillaume are based in Paris. We caught up with Nathalie and Roberto at this year’s Art at OHBM initiative in Vancouver, Canada:
Q&A with Nathalie Regard and Roberto Toro at OHBM 2017
Nathalie Regard (NR): Hello, I am glad to introduce our new project which is kindly supported by Electrical Geodesics Inc. and The Neuro Bureau. This is a protocol that is half art and half science. My friends Roberto, Guillaume, and I are doing the piece 101Nights. For this project we’re recording EEG while I dream over a period of 101 nights.
Ekaterina Dobryakova (ED): What encouraged you to do this work, and how do you combine neuroscience and art?
Roberto Toro (RT): Nathalie has been keeping track of her dreams for more than 20 years, writing down every single dream as soon as she wakes up. She is now able to remember most of what she dreams.
With this project, we are creating a dialogue between what she does and what I do. In our first project she slept with an EEG headset for 80 nights, in continuity. I wrote a little program that played sounds – words, names of people she knows, etc. – at random times during the night. After she woke up we could read her dreams and find out if some of those words managed to enter into her dreams. Because we knew the exact time each word was played, we could get the part of the EEG signal corresponding to that part of her dream. After that, for each word that entered into Nathalie’s dreams, I did a laser cut bas relief confronting the EEG recording and the text corresponding to that part of the dream.
I think the approach is interesting; it’s very different from my day-to-day activities in science, and offers me a different perspective on the data. For me, there is also a humble message: on the one hand there is such a rich subjective experience in someone’s dreams, with all those links to different aspects of what we are, and on the other hand, there’s so little that we can finally see in the data, even if we dig very deep into it. These bas-reliefs show us how far we are from reaching a true understanding of one individual’s subjective experience.
ED: So what is it that motivated this type of work, and what is it that made you bring it to the science realm from the art realm?
NR: We have worked with Roberto for many years, probably since 1995. We met in Valparaíso (Chile) and started working together for a mentor of Roberto, who was the head of the science faculty of the University of Valparaíso at that time. We discussed a beautiful book, the Theory of Colours (by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe). That was the beginning of this long conversation that continues to this day.
RT: We worked on many things with Nathalie. I started making a video of Nathalie when she was doing a big mural painting in front of the pacific ocean in Chile. Later on, I recorded videos and created time-flattened pictures of Nathalie while she was painting in Paris. 101Nights is one in a series of works that we have been doing together. I really value these exchanges.
NR: Part of our collaboration comes from the ability of Roberto to build a chronology of things, something that he enjoys doing very much. This has been very nice for my work, which is often related to painting very large formats, or recording dreams for very long periods. Keeping a record of these processes would be very challenging for a video camera or a photographic machine.
RT: That is interesting, as my neuroscience work focuses on the study of brain development and brain evolution, so basically I work on tracking weird stuff through time!
NR: So we are made for each other (laughs).
RT: (laughs as well) So in addition to tracking brain development and brain evolution, I track the evolution of Nathalie’s art. I think I can add that to my CV!
This project is supported by Electrical Geodesics Inc. and The Neuro Bureau, a non-profit open initiative for international collaboration, in anything related to brains and new ways of thinking about them.
More information can be found at dreamsessions.org
With thanks to Sarabeth Fox for filming, and Catherine Monahon for onsite photographs.