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Dream Syntax

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. So who is to say then that our 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. And thus, I began a laborious documentation process of my dreams, to see what shapes and what forms would arise from it.

This is a Dream Syntax, parsed from the last six years of dreaming.

I first encountered the idea of viewsheds (also known as isovists) through the work of Space Syntax, a London-based firm which conducts research on the pattern of human traffic through public spaces, and the viewsheds/visibility from various points along streets. Borrowing ideas from Bill Hillier’s studies on spaces, its focus is on studying the way in which people’s perceptions of spaces affect the way they interact with the spaces. As common sense will tell, complicated street layouts and blocked views are likelier to repel people and breed antisocial behaviour in those areas, whereas areas in open view through which people can navigate through in a straightforward manner are likelier to be popular areas, with a correspondingly higher property value; Space Syntax is the sort of research which means to provide information and “academic” evidence which city planners can then use to plan better and safer communities.

Viewsheds are defined as “areas of land, water, and other environmental elements visible from a fixed vantage point”. In architecture, viewsheds are usually defined in reference to areas of a particular scene or of some historical value which is worthy of preservation, such as in the way green/open spaces may be intentionally preserved near public monuments or statuary for the sake of preserving a clear view of that monument. The point of defining “viewsheds” thus arises from the need to evaluate if that particular viewshed is still worth keeping — in other words, whether it should be allowed to be “destroyed” or buried amidst the city. But my interest is not in the physical city; I have no authority to speak on that. I’m thinking more of that magical inner city that comes to life long after the lights have been turned off — the architecture of dreams. In this respect, I think the idea of viewsheds is particularly pertinent to dream spaces; in looking at the viewsheds of dreams, what is brought into question is its worthiness to be preserved.

So what is the value of dreams? My dreams are of no consequence to others. But they are mine still, and just as real as any other experience I’ve ever had. I’m comforted by the glimpses of massive dream spaces which linger in my memory in the morning; these memories are no less valuable than my memories of tangible spaces which I’ve actually been in. For what is the city made of, but memories? Cities where people trail down familiar well-worn paths like pavlov’s dog tugged along by a string of comforting memories, places where one remembers having been in and can almost re-envision in great detail — perhaps cities exist only in the memories of its inhabitants, if the city did not have a view to be admired then it would lose its attraction and we might not stay in the city in the first place. So to turn our attentions from hazy rose-tinted memories of old haunts to those hazy early-morning memories of dream spaces would not be so far a stretch.

Dream Syntax is a book by Debbie Ding, containing maps and stories of 102 dreams from the last 6 years. I have always thought that if the spaces and urban configurations of a city have the ability to affect the way we inhabit it, then shouldn’t the spaces in our dreams also have the potential to influence us, since we experience them just as intensely as our everyday reality?

This is a Dream Syntax, parsed from the last six years of dreaming.
100 Dreams by the artist