Former Belfast church hosts immersive art experience Dreamachine

Audiences lie back and close their eyes for a performance of music and light with each individual having a different experience.
Audiences lie back and close their eyes for a performance of music and light with each individual having a different experience.

One of Belfast’s oldest former churches has been transformed into a powerful new immersive art experience for the next six weeks.

Carlisle Memorial Church has become the latest venue in the UK to host Dreamachine, where audiences lie back and close their eyes for a performance of sound and white light.

The experience has been described as both highly personal and collective, with every participant seeing something different, before getting an opportunity as a group to share what they saw through words and drawings.

Dreamachine is in Belfast until September 4 (Liam McBurney/PA)

Some report witnessing a kaleidoscope behind their closed eyes, with others describing a rainbow of different colours, shapes, scenes reminiscent of a sepia film and the dappled effect of sunlight on water.

The free experience follows sold-out shows in Cardiff and London, and runs in Belfast from July 25 to September 4.

It was created by Collective Act, bringing together Turner Prize-winning artists Assemble, Grammy and Mercury-nominated composer Jon Hopkins and a team of technologists, scientists and philosophers.

Dreamachine is commissioned and presented as part of UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK.

Jennifer Crook, director of Collective Act, said the best description of the experience is that it cannot be described.

“The Dreamachine is an artwork you experience with your eyes closed but it’s completely different for everyone that comes through because the experience is generated by your brain, it’s different even each time you come,” she said.

“It’s like a light show, but inside your mind. You might see colours, patterns and shapes. Some people see lots of kaleidoscopes, other people see real-world scenes, almost dream-like scenes but you won’t know until you see for yourself.”

Dreamachine participants in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

It is inspired by a 1959 invention by artist-inventor Brion Gysin.

“The original dreamachine was a very rudimentary device, a patterned cylinder that you’d put on a record player, hang a lightbulb inside and it would spin around and flicker. This is realising it on a much bigger scale but also as a collective experience,” Ms Crook said.

“What we have seen from touring over the UK this summer is some really incredibly rich profound experiences that range from joy, sometimes sadness. It depends what the person brings in with them.

“One of the most beautiful parts of the project is the drawing table, this is the space where you’re invited to reflect on your experience, and draw it or write about it or even just discuss it with others around the table.

“You never know what people are going to say, you never know what they saw and it’s an endlessly fascinating conversation to listen and learn how individual people’s experiences are.”

Ms Crook said ultimately they would like to tour the experience around the world and see how it is received in different cultures.

Sam Hunt, programme director for UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK, described a “collective experience that you have on your own”.

“It’s something you are sharing with people in the space but it’s absolutely completely unique to you,” he said.

“UNBOXED is 10 very large-scale commissions happening across the UK this year, but a lot of them are predicated on the idea of a collective experience of thousands of people gathered together or witnessing something.

“But this is totally unique, and what is very special about it is the opportunity to experience something genuinely new, and I think that’s been achieved.”