the day I imagined the ocean
about this contribution
While a sleeper may seem inert, their brain is going through subconscious creative states. Nonrapid eye movement sleep in particular is associated with a lesser perception of their self and their environment. During this stage, intense exchanges occur between brain regions.
The brain is a fathomless entity involving billions of interconnected neurons exchanging electrical, chemical, and physical signals. The electronic activity is described by the Schrodinger equation of quantum mechanics for the wave function associated with the electrons shared between all the cells. The wave-particle duality applies and, depending on the measurement apparatus, electrons may be observed as a coherent wave pattern covering large regions of the brain or as particles localized on individual neurons. Thus, thoughts and dreams belong to the wave functions space, neither undulatory nor corpuscular, and any measurement corresponds to an arbitrary projection. Alpha, beta … delta waves are such observables, traditionally used to project quantic states of mind onto a predetermined representation. But what is lost or gained in such a simple abecedary?
To explore the richness of brain activity during sleep, sleep artist Virgile Novarina, in collaboration with digital artist Walid Breid, has teamed up with physicist-artist Jean-Marc Chomaz and architect-designer Laurent Karst of LABOFACTORY, who produce art installations to question our relationships with wind, waves, clouds, and oceans.
“Full fathom five thy father lies,”1William Shakespeare. The Tempest. Act I, Scene 2. the ocean, origin and close, limbo and shroud. The ocean transmits electromagnetic signals only a few meters down. Deeper data may only be collected through sound scattering or water-born measurements from ships, buoys, or gliders. The ocean is animated by streams, vortices, and waves at all scales. Water masses retain the elusive memory of the Earth’s climate at the time they left the surface and sunk deep. The associated vertical circulation is slow, one thousand years to close the loop. It is called Thermohaline Circulation, driven by heat and salt density variations. Presently, it is tempering global warming, returning the heat of the past. But its fate in the changing world is unknown. Could the oceanic circulation stops leading to the next anoxic event as in previous geological periods?
Rêve quantique, the Day I Imagined the Ocean is conceived as an immersive installation that creates connections between the brain and the ocean, both unfathomable. An installation that keeps the quantum idea of projection onto observables that define a system of states, similar in their semantics for ocean and brain: waves, vortexes, streams, and pulsations. What would happen if the semantics of one universe is translated into the other, in a kind of inside out automatic writing? Would the visitor entering the transcoded world feel themselves diving into the dream or falling into the ocean or would reality itself be subdued, the visitor drowned in their own unconscious?
The documentary film traces the project’s genesis and the research involved. The film brings together the two unfathomable worlds, sleep and the ocean. It constitutes a visual exploration of the space opened up by the imbalance between the poetic dimensions of the project, the scientific facts and knowledge, and the human experience of shared research.
The documentary also interrogates the experience of a visitor entering the intimate space with the sleeper in his bed, close to a sort of a lighthouse that contains a miniature ocean. Getting closer, she notices the headband, the cellphone monitoring the brain waves. On the floor she observes the shadowgraphic projection of the internal oceanic movements making a bright changing circle 4 meters in diameter. What is the connection? The artists have patiently built an abecedary of delta wave states from measurements. The time series of different states forms a never-ending phrase transcoded live into a second abecedary to control a motorized device at the surface of the ocean mimicking the wind-driven entrainment. Could the visitor perceive that? Or be lost in the translation, dreaming with the ocean, flowing with the sleeper?
authors: Virgile Novarina, sleep artist
Walid Breidi, digital artist
LABOFACTORY: Jean-Marc Chomaz, physicist-artist (CNRS, École Polytechnique) and Laurent Karst, architect-designer
in collaboration with: Didier Bouchon, computer engineer, Chaire Arts & Sciences
Antoine Garcia, engineer, LadHyX, École Polytechnique
Giancarlo Rizza, physicist, LSI, École Polytechnique
“Entre deux insondables
À la recherche de Rêve quantique”
film direction and editing: Hélène Bozzi
sound composition: Walid Breidi
interviews and editorial mediation: Julie Sauret, Chaire Arts & Sciences, assisted by Anna Acevedo and Lior Toledano
captions integration: Christophe Pornay
sound mixing: Frank Williams
guitar: Martin Machieu
piano: Stéphane Cochet
stock footage: Frédéric Picazo, Lasse Ronne
3D images: Vladimir Kolosov
ship images: Océane Richet
acknowledgements: The installation-performance “Rêve quantique: The Day I imagined the Ocean” was collectively conceived from 2018 to 2022 at the Hydrodynamics laboratory of École Polytechnique (LadHyx), CNRS – École Polytechnique, with the support of La Chaire Arts & Sciences of École Polytechnique, École des Arts Décoratifs, and La Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso.
We would like to thank the places and structures that have supported and exhibited the successive prototypes of “Rêve quantique” during the research period: musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris – Night of Ideas 2020; CC91 La Science de l’Art Biennial – la Piscine d’en Face, Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois; Festival access)s( – Le Bel Ordinaire, Pau; Nemo Biennial – La Scène de recherche ENS Paris-Saclay; Festival ZÉRØ1 – La Coursive, La Rochelle; Festival Les Nuits d’Orient – Un singe en hiver; Dijon; Institut Français, and La Chaire Arts & Sciences.
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This article is using Chicago format for its references
Novarina, Virgile, Walid Breidi, Jean-Marc Chomaz, and Laurent Karst. 2023. “Rêve Quantique, The Day I Imagined the Ocean.” .able journal: https://able-journal/reve-quantique