A single bed is placed at an angle at the centre of the dark room, set upon a large nest of twigs. Beneath soft, white linens sleeps a tiny figure, breathing gently. Above is a series of lanterns that hangs from the branches of four slender trunks that stand in for bedposts. Not only the source for a warm glow, these lanterns contain beautifully intricate dioramas that tell the stories of the sleeper's dream.
The dreamer is a crow. The maker is Julia Hepburn. And the bedroom is on the second floor of the Gladstone Hotel.
Part of the Come Up To My Room show during Toronto Design Week, Can You Remember My Dream? was a delightfully haunting installation that transported viewers to a magical place where wounded seagulls can practice butchery, spiders spin on exercise bikes and where there's moose, there's fire.
Each lantern diorama tells a different story, all fragments of the dreams experienced by the crow sleeping peacefully in the bed below. How did the sleeping crow become part of the big picture?
Originally I was thinking of putting a human figure in the bed but quickly realized that it would not be a good fit. People would want to know who the figure is and a person did not lend itself well to the "fantastic" atmosphere I was hoping to create. The Crow or Raven image is very charged with poetic and mythological references and can even be frightening to some people, which I liked. Plus the fact that it is sleeping in a full sized bed normally meant for humans is a image that I felt would stimulate the imagination.
Are your dioramas part of one big story or do you make up the narratives as you go along?
I usually let the ideas that inspire the pieces develop naturally as they are being made and as a result there is no specific story that the viewer is meant to understand when they look at the piece. The narratives in each piece are not meant to be linked to one another but the mood that each piece is meant to invoke in the viewer is definitely the same. The scenes are meant to walk a line between light and dark and the result, I hope, is a work that anyone can identify with.
Birds play many roles in your narratives. Is this by chance? What is the connection?
There are lots of reasons why I use birds. Firstly they are beautiful and graceful creatures that are a lot of fun to model. Secondly, birds are generally not viewed by people as having a great deal of personality or smarts, I believe that because of this perception seeing a bird with human characteristics and personality traits may seem more unusual or even more interesting to a viewer. I have learned, however, that the crow is one of the most intelligent animals on the planet and their problem solving abilities are greater than a chimp or bonobo. I love it. Thinking about what more we don't know about what goes on in a little bird's mind, or the mind of any creature for that matter, is a great source of inspiration for me.
What were some of the viewer reactions as they walked into the installation and then as they took in the details?
That part of showing is always so much fun, I usually just perch myself in a corner and watch. Everyone reacts differently, some people won't get within 2 metres of the lanterns while others leave nose prints on the glass or even try to grab at them. The most entertaining part of this show in particular was watching people's reactions to the crow, especially when they noticed it was breathing, more than one person screamed. My absolute favorite is seeing kids' react. My feeling is that if a child finds it interesting or even exciting, then the work will excite something in a grown up that maybe they forgot about. That is the utimate goal of the work.
What was the best part of your Come Up To My Room experience?
I'm not sure I could pick one thing. On a personal level I suppose the best part of CUTMR was the chance to create a full installation. In the past I have always created each piece knowing that it would most likely stand alone and probably not lit up in the dark. But from the very first lantern diorama I created I had always hoped to show the piece hanging in the trees. I was just really happy to have the chance to do it. All in all the experience of doing CUTMR was amazing. Everyone involved incredibly supportive of one another, be it the curators or the artists. I felt really lucky to be working with such genuinely nice people. I would recommend it to anyone.