Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dream Tree Project

Wow, packet two is coming around quickly! Wonderful posts everyone, thanks for sharing.

I wanted to talk a bit about my Dream Tree project. I mentioned it in the last conference call but didn't really get to share much of the story. I will try to give a condensed version and am happy to answer any questions.

While reading "New Creative Community," I realized that, while my performance work is often participatory, my visual art work is very much an alone process (or one only assisted by a learned elder). The book inspired me to stretch myself and try a visual art project that involved people from my community who might not even consider themselves artistic. (I know, a little scary maybe when one is a bit of a perfectionist). I admit that the project is not Community Cultural Development, as Goldberg describes it, but thank you JuPong for your comment about your own work, which is very validating that art can involve community without having to fit within Goldberg's perameters and still be meaningful work.

Because my study is also looking at Native arts and issues of Native and non-Native cultural practices, I have been grappling with the question of "what can I do" as an artist to help open a space for reflection, for discussion, for sharing that could help to heal some of the great wounds between Anglo and Native cultures. I know that I can't "fix" it, but we can do something. One thought that came to mind was that we can dream. We all have dreams for what we would like to see in the world. What if we could share those dreams with others and wish them such dreams in return?

The Ojibwa peoples of the Great Lakes Region (my home area tribe is Ojibwa) have a tradition of making dream catchers. The belief is that bad dreams are caught up in the webbing while the good dreams are allowed to pass through. They are often decorated with beads and feathers and placed near sleeping quarters. As I was thinking about this project, I made many dream catchers of traditional and non-traditional styles and materials (all of found objects) and hung them on the branches from a dead tree planted in a pot filled with sand.

But that was only my part of the project. The collective part has just begun and I hope will continue for a while. The "tree," though covered with dream catchers, still looked rather barren with the stick-like branches. So I ordered a special maple leaf punch that scrapbookers use and some green card stock and started making leaves. On the leaves I write "dreams of" and attach a piece of string. People are invited to write or draw or use whatever means they like on the leaves and tie them to the tree (also wherever they like). So far, some of the leaves include "dreams of lovingkindness" and "dreams of mental health" to name a few. As the leafing continues, the Dream Tree comes to life. So far, only my family has contributed to the Dream Tree (the paper arrived yesterday), but I hope to engage more people within the community and other communities. I hope to be able to bring it to campus for next residency and set it up someplace where people can add their own dream blessing leaves at their leasure unpoliced by the "artist/author." I may even get brave and hold a class on making dream catchers, if that would be interesting for anyone to venture into this style of Native practice.
It may be a small step towards more participatory art, but it is a step. Already, members of my family have been both nervous and honored to make a contribution to "my" art piece. But it is not "mine"--I want it to be OURS, all of ours because we all have dreams. I want it to be a project of honoring. I'm not telling anyone that they're dream blessing isn't worthy. And I'm not telling anyone what they "should" put on their leaf, or where they should put it. It is also honoring because, at least in my area, dream catchers have become such a commercial product--far from their original intent--and I wanted to create them in a more ritual environemnt (the environment of art making and dream blessing).
The only thing asked is a question: What do you want the world to dream about?


  1. Laura,

    Your question is wonderful and took me to the place in my own dreamtime, if you will. I wrote my answer in a poem.

    I want the world to dream about the hidden rainbow that lives in each and every soul.

    I want the world to dream that all the dreams woven togehter cover Mother Earth.
    Regenerating and transforming the dream. The dream to just be.

  2. "The only thing asked is a question: What do you want the world to dream about?" Laura

    Laura yes this is a beautiful question. It brings to my mind something called the "waking dream' that I know about from a close friend of mine. He says that dreams come to us while awake as well as asleep. Personally, I am beginning to like the 'waking' kind of dream as they remind me that I am only a tiny bit "conscious". The rest of my mind is beyond my direct reach and doing other things even as I exist in the here and now, logically speaking. I also like the Native idea that the bad dreams are 'caught' in the dream catcher and the good ones are allowed to pass through. What a beautiful thought. triada