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UNBOXED Dreamachine

Consider the statements below. What do they describe? A trip on psychedelics? A dream?

"I felt I could reach through the screen to get to another place."

"Lasers became entire fans of light sweeping around, and then it felt as if the screen began to expand."

"I saw old stone buildings … like a castle … I was flying above it."

Flicker-effects entered art when, in the early 1960s, the painter and writer, Brion Gysin collaborated with the mathematician Ian Sommerville to produce what he called the Dreamachine: a cylinder with slits cut in the sides and a light bulb suspended at its centre, placed on a record turntable and rotated at seventy-eight revolutions per minute. As the viewer looked towards it with their eyes closed, the flickering light produced caused trance-like hallucinations.


Officially unveiled in March 1962 at an exhibition at the Museé des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Gysin’s Dreamachine followed on experiments in collage (inventing the ‘cut-up’ technique that was taken on by his friend, the writer William Burroughs), calligraphy, then sound works, using magnetic tape and early computer technology.


Gysin thought of Dreamachine as both a new kind of artwork - ‘the first art object to be seen with the eyes closed’ (ref) – and a potential form of mass entertainment, which could ultimately replace the television in people’s homes. His fellow artists and writers saw the Dreamachine’s potential to be a source of endless artistic and spiritual inspiration. Burroughs thought it could be used to ‘storm the citadels of enlightenment.’ (ref) The poet Alan Ginsberg was similarly moved: ‘I looked into it, it sets up optical fields as religious and mandalic as the hallucinogenic drugs – it’s like being able to have jewelled biblical designs and landscapes without taking chemicals’ [quoted in ter Meulen et al., 2009, p319].


1. Situate yourself in a dark room and open the Youtube video below on your mobile phone. Turn the brightness up!

2. Start the video, close your eyes, and hold your phone directly in front of your closed eyelids.

You should see patterns flickering through your closed eyelids!

If you would like your experience to be shared in the virtual and live exhibition, please send a written description and/or a drawing of your experience to Dr Reeder at

What do people see in the Dreamachine?

Research: The Perception Census

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