Things To Do

Jason Allen 06/07/23


Dreamachine | A hallucinagenic art show in East London

This is an art show that you watch with your eyes closed.

The strikingly colourful works are entirely created by your own brain, by computer-controlled flashing lights that project onto your eyelids. Thus, everyone sees something different, and very few people are prepared for the vividness of the waking hallucinations that are created by the Dreamachine.

It’s an eye-opening experience.

Obviously this isn’t just your average, garden variety pseudo-psychedelic experience. So we’ll just start with the simple stuff: Dreamachine first launched in London last year as a pop up while it went on tour across the country. It booked out in what seemed like seconds, and was a genuinely moving experience. So now it’s back, running until December in a shiny new space over in Hackney Downs Studios.

The idea is that you sit in a massive, windowless room, lie back, close your eyes and have ambient music and strobe lighting designed to trigger a hallucinogenic state. The science behind it all is actually about 60 years old, having been invented by artist Brion Gysin in the late fifties. He discovered that pulsating light (anywhere between 8-13 flashes a second) synchronises with the brain’s alpha waves to make you see illusions, patterns and explosions of colour in your mind. Now, a little 21st century tech has souped the experience up and put it into a huge room with fancy ambient music and stuff.

Dreamachine - David Levene

Credit: David Levene

Here’s how it all goes down: after heading down to their Hackney Downs Studio space you’ll walk into the circular chamber, with space for around a dozen people. You’ll all then run through a little medical stuff, while being reassured that it’s all totally harmless, and that you can leave at any time, etcetera, etcetera. Everyone takes a seat, closes their eyes, and the show starts. And by ‘show’ we mean the lights start flickering in the exact way that pushes your brain’s imagination buttons.

What proceeds is then totally unique to you. The show could be literally anything that your own brain cares to generate, but experiences seem to be universally quite benign and playful. Colours, shapes, patterns, visions, you name it. It’ll last for about 20 minutes, though it may well seem to be longer/shorter depending on your own experience. If flickering lights aren’t your thing? There’s another experience called ‘Deep Listening’ in which the same kind of idea is expressed in pitch darkness, through an audio landscape, in which you’re curled up in a blanket.

Afterwards, people are invited to share their experience with the others in the room with the help of a few prompts & some paper to jot down or draw the thoughts that will inevitably come pouring out. Which is probably the closest you’ll get to sharing this show with anyone else.

Because this? You cannot Instagram.


NOTE: Dreamachine runs in Hackney Downs Studios until 3rd December. You can find out more, and book tickets (£15), right here.

Hackney Downs Studios | 17 Amhurst Terrace, E8 2BT

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Hackney Downs Studios, 17 Amhurst Terrace, Hackney, E8 2BT