Dream Syntax VR

Back in January I spent about 2 weeks working on a VR interpretation of the material from my old project Dream Syntax. Dream Syntax was a project in which I tried to map out all the dreams I had in map form. Those of you who know me when I first started doing it will also know that I had also wanted to map it all out in 3D but this was simply too time consuming. So I made a selection of 10 of my dreams from 10 years ago to visualise in 3D, and then stitched them up together so that one could walk through them one by one – in VR.



100 dreams

On the wall: “100 Dreams”

I originally meant to spend much longer building the project, but I was still adapting to teaching full-time alongside my artistic practice at that point, so in reality when I look back on the madness that was this project, I realise that I only really spent 2 weekends developing this project. I slapped it together in Unity with VRTK because it was just the fastest to work with – although it does seem that VRTK has since reached its end of life.

Here is a list of some things I discovered whilst developing the project:




Stairs. People really do have great difficulty with stairs in VR. Your position is partly determined by the location of your head, therefore if you stand on the edge of a step and lean your head out over it, you will involuntarily ascend or descent to that new step without even having to move the rest of your body. A BUCKET OF SIMSICKNESS FOR ALL! At this point, I don’t know how to get around this besides making it a third person experience rather than first person experience.



Too many people may block the lighthouses or if the room uses false/raised hollow flooring, footfall may shake the lighthouses and stop the vive from working entirely. The user experience is also really strange – you come into a room full of people wearing headsets – tell me what kind of weird dystopia of technological escapism is this?


The idea of a VR exhibition with several VR works sounds nice, but logistically it presents many new challenges. If you put several lighthouse setups in close proximity there will be intermittent tracking interference (ie: controller or headset position jumps around) and grey-outs (ie: headset loses sight of the lighthouse and compositor goes grey). I learnt this the hard way on opening day, where it became clear that my installation was repeatedly getting tracking interference from the lighthouses of the tiltbrush demo right next to me. One solution would be to NOT PUT THESE INSTALLATIONS SO CLOSE TO EACH OTHER in the first place. But if that is not possible, these following sketches should be self explanatory about how to solve the interference issue.


Wired connection and position of lighthouses

Technically speaking the lighthouses are “dumb” and just need to be correctly PAIRED with the headset when you set things up. That means you could actually have TWO headsets using the same lighthouses. The only issue with having two headsets with two different games in the same play area is all the hitting and accidents that would happen from two people with headsets and controllers wildly flailing in each other’s direction.


Both the Oculus and Vive don’t seem designed with the spectacle wearer in mind. My glasses are big and wide (all the better to see you with!) but with such a large frame which also had to be crammed inside the space of the headset, the load of the headset began to hurt my nose after a short while. The solution I found was to take off my glasses, position them deep INSIDE the headset, and then don both glasses and headset at the same time. Otherwise, you will find yourself squeezing your glasses hard into your face when putting on the headset, causing this kind of injury to your face.



As a medium for telling stories or producing work, VR headsets are just so expensive that most users haven’t had much experience with them. The result is that people coming to see your interactive may get more excited about other accidental features you introduce rather than the work you originally meant to make using the platform. For example, I had a error/glitch in my app where at one particular position on the map you ran the small risk of leaning your head over the parapet and falling off the spiral staircase (damn you, stairs!!!) into the infinite galaxy skybox. Now, some users discovered this error, and when this happened a volunteer on site would help you restart your experience.

But no, as it turned out, some people really got big on “falling into the galaxy” and after discovering they could do this, they just kept on doing it over and over again – although that was not the point of this work…


Other works from the show













With thanks to Meshminds for organising the show and making it all possible.

Dream Syntax: 10 years on

I’ve been working on a Blender/Unity/VR remake of the dream maps in my book Dream Syntax. Because I had changed computers so many times since then (and have not installed any fonts on the new laptop), this is what my original illustrator working file for Dream Syntax looked like when I opened it:

Pictured is the map for a dream I had 10 years ago, in 2008.

Dream Syntax: The Book – PREORDER IT NOW!


After days of intensive work, I’m glad to announce that Dream Syntax the Book is almost complete and ready for preorder! NOW WITH 102 MAPS FOR EACH OF THE DREAMS – the most time consuming part of this project ever. And I’ve even made a mockup of what it might look up above there, in case you can’t imagine how the book will look like. Yes, I was so excited about it that I even photoshopped an image of what I imagined the book should look like.

Dream Syntax is the first book by Debbie Ding, containing maps and stories of Debbie’s dreams, 102 of them, from the last 6 years. It is written, illustrated, designed, and self-published by Debbie. I’m only doing a small limited edition of 500, which will be individually hand-numbered, and it should arrive on 5 Sept 2013, just in time for my solo exhibiton on the 6th at Galerie Steph (MORE ABOUT THAT COMING SOON).

If you’re in Singapore, you can even place a preorder for the book now at http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com/. You can self-collect or add a little bit more for local postage within Singapore. I should be figuring out the postage rates for International postage in the next few days, so stay tuned. Please support Debbie’s first book!

Here’s a peek at the wet proof from my printer (First Printers):






So how did this book come about? Well, 6 years ago I began collecting my dreams in map form, over various notebooks and papers. Eventually I realised this could take the form of a book. The book became a never-ending project. Eventually, a line had to be drawn! I decided to arbitarily stop at 100 entries for this book. But in the course of working on the book I had two more dreams. So I added them in. And then there were 102 dreams in the book. So that was the final cap for this book. But of course, the dreaming still goes on and on and on…

This is what the first notebook looked like from 2008:


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When I was hard at work laying out the entire book at breakneck speed, I had another peculiar dream about numbers. Obviously, it did not make the date cut-off for this book, but I think its still worth a mention:

Now, I’ve had many dreams about words and letters, but never any dreams about numbers. But after spending hours wrestling with page numbers and entry numbers, I had a dream that was basically all about numbers. In my dream, I was at the computer, writing out another dream in which there was a character called “3” and I was known as “1”. My father came into my room and saw me typing out the story, and asked me “Why do you always have to play character 1? 1 is the smallest number! Why don’t you play a bigger number?” And I said, “Don’t be silly, 1 is also the most important!” I also knew that “1” was merely a role, a kind of stock character that many actors might play at a certain point in the course of one’s acting career, like Hamlet or King Lear. At that point I decided to go outside to buy an unagi eel for my supper (this must be because that day at dinner, Kent had been going on about how his favourite food at a certain Japanese restaurant was UNAGI fried rice). Stepping out of the house, I walked down the street and past a room full of girls who were all 7s, past a middle-aged 26 sleeping inside a clear perspex box. The person at the 7-11 was a 47. I realised everyone was actually just a number, but I just hadn’t properly noticed it before because I was not looking at it in the right way. I got back to my computer and started drafting out a map of these numbers I had seen. Over the internet, I also told George this strange revelation, “people are all just numbers!” When I told him this, he asked me what number he was. But then, I realised that I did not know what number he was…

Anyway. For more dream stories like this…





First Published September 2013
ISBN: 978-981-07-7491-2
Designed by Debbie Ding
Written by Debbie Ding

Dream Syntax (A Collection of 102 dreams from 2008-2013), and a Dream Generated from Other Dreams.


In 2008 I began a small project called Dream Syntax – a dream journal which not only collected stories of my dreams but also the drawings of the spaces within my dreams. I have just self-printed and hand-bound the textual portion of this project, which consists of 102 dreams from the years 2008 to 2013.


On Dream Syntax: If the spaces and urban configurations of a city have the ability to affect the way we inhabit it, shouldn’t the spaces in our dreams have the potential to influence us as well, since we experience them just as intensely as our everyday reality? The city exists largely in the memories of its inhabitants, and places in a rapidly changing city may be erased from existence as quickly as a hazy dream evaporates in the early morning. Who is to say then that dreams are of no consequence? Our memories of our dreams are no less tangible than the memories of the real places that we remember ourselves once inhabiting—places which, in reality, exist only in our imagination.



For THE ARTIST, THE BOOK AND THE CROWD, I was asked to rewrite a book that was of significance to me. There are very many books that have influenced me and my own work; my first degree had been in English Literature, and you could say that reading and writing will always be my first love. Although there were many works to choose from, I decided to rewrite my own book.


On A Dream Generated From Other Dreams: “Since 2008, I’ve been collecting my dreams in the form of texts and maps of interior spaces, in an attempt to articulate a ‘dream syntax’. In 2013, I began experimenting with a simple Markov Text Generator written in Python. I was interested in using it to generate ‘predictions’ of what I might be dreaming next by applying it to the data I have collected from my dreams over the last few years. A Markov text generator uses a Markov chain to generate the next word in a sentence, and it is commonly used to generate spam text which looks superficially authentic. The choice of the next word depends only on the word preceding it, and there is no real memory or computation of grammar involved. The entire text is simply assessed in terms of what words have a higher probability of being used after each subsequent word. This allows one to generate a ‘real-looking’ text that repurposes words from a master text, through a very simple mechanism. This is a generated ghost of a dream, parsed from the last 6 years of dreaming.”

The book and the print will be at shown at THE ARTIST, THE BOOK AND THE CROWD at The Substation Gallery, from 2 to 11 August 2013, a show about artists’ relationship with books and the written/spoken word. Curated by Ho Rui An, Ang Siew Ching and Karen Yeh, THE ARTIST, THE BOOK AND THE CROWD features new and recent work by Song-Ming Ang, Stephen Black, Sze-Yenn Cheong, Heman Chong, Debbie Ding, Ho Tzu Nyen, Ho Zhen Ming, Godwin Koay, Michael Lee, Lee Wen, Susie Lingham, Joyce Teo, Yu Mingyi and Zhao Renhui.

You’re invited to come to the opening tonight (1 August 2013) at the Substation at 7pm! I will be reading excerpts from my book.

More Information:


The Book Binding Process

I read books all the time, and going by my pigheaded kind of logic, since I read so many books I should KNOW how to make my own books. Piffle and bosh, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately this is a very labour intensive work. This took numerous hours to complete at a time that I already had too little time to spare. I was there sewing for hours. I decided to embark on it because I already had all the tools – a suitable awl, a bone folder, some thread, a needle, some PVA glue, and a cutting board. Actual professional bookbinders, PLEASE AVERT YOUR EYES NOW, or else you will see that my stitching is horrifyingly messy and because I made it up.




I used Cheap Impostor to do the imposition for this book, which consists of 208 pages, or 13 signatures of 16 each (4 pages). Its a shareware program which costs USD$35, and I know there were many many “free” alternatives but to be honest I didn’t have so much time to waste tweaking things forever and this just did the job. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I will pay for applications and software if they do the job, especially coming from the perspective of someone who has gotten paid to write code before. So I registered the licence, and within 5 minutes of downloading it, I was on my way to make an imposition of the book that was absolutely perfect for my duplex printer. One another note is that you must select LONG-EDGE BINDING when printing with a duplex printer that ejects paper the short side first.

The Final Binding


Book aficionados may describe my binding as a “creative mix between a coptic stitch and long stitch”. Or, a big amateurish mess of red thread. You may be wondering, “Debbie, why did you use red thread to bind your book together? Was it because red threads represent the red string of destiny or fate in many east asian cultures including our own?” Well the answer is a lot more quotidian. I mainly had four spools of threads in my posession at the time of binding. I could have bound it with white, red, yellow, or green thread. However, I had a lot more of this red thread than the white, yellow and green threads. The white, yellow, and green had come from a pound store in London in a box of 12 spools for a pound, so you can imagine it seemed a little dodgy as well. The white would have been my first choice but i was almost out of it as white is often one’s first go-to colour for sewing things back together. But… I had lot of red thread because these had been cast-offs from a friend’s overzealous shopping trip at Ikea…