Museum Appetite 2: The Mixed-Up Files

Six weeks ago, I spent the night in UCLA’s Hammer Museum during an event called the Dream-In, curated in conjunction with the Machine Project and artSpa. The Dream-In was an investigation of dreams and dreaming, held in conjunction with the Hammer’s Red Book exhibit, the first public presentation of Carl Jung’s rarely seen text on dreaming. My good friend and performance artist/musician, Claire Cronin, was invited by the Machine Project — a “non-profit community space in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles investigating art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food,” according to their website — to lead a dreaming workshop.

Claire told me to sign up as soon as the $25 tickets went on sale and I did.   Most of our friends who tried to get tickets were unsuccessful; the event sold out very quickly.

Claire’s involvement alerted me to the event, but I would’ve been excited to attend even if she wasn’t participating.   I hoped to live out a childhood fantasy of becoming Claudia Kincaid, the 11-year-old protagonist of the young adult novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In the book, Claudia runs away form home and lives in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.   As an 11-year-old girl, I imagined running away to the Art Institute of Chicago and surviving like Claudia survived: sleeping in on the antique beds, bathing in the fountain and living on the coins people throw in to make a wish.   Though I did not expect to bathe in any fountain (or at all), I had wanted the Dream-In to feel like I was violating the sacred space of the museum.

It was nothing like that.   There were too many people in the museum with me and the event was too regimented by museum staff to feel like I was defiling some kind of barrier.   The closest I came to breaking the rules was smuggling little bottles of Sutter Home wine in my overnight bad (alcohol was forbidden) and drinking them secretly, avoiding discovery, and turning away from the pack of photographers that were documenting the event.

Even without magically transforming into Claudia Kincaid and satisfying my childhood self, I enjoyed the event.   Claire’s seminar on Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, was illuminating and extremely satisfying.   The musicians that played “bedtime music” were mostly good and drinking illegal wine was fun.   The sleeping areas were nice enough; the bulk of the gallery spaces are built around an inner courtyard, where some people slept.   The others, including me, slept on the second floor balcony that overlooked the courtyard.   We were assigned designated “campsites,” big enough for two.   We went to bed early and I slept poorly; it was an extremely cold night and the marble floor of the courtyard was very hard.

The next morning, I woke up with the sun, walked to the Coffee Bean down the street to get coffee, and returned to the museum to watch Claire play wake-up music.   Then we packed and left by the designated time of 9am.   The Hammer staff needed to get us out early so they could pull up the masking tape denoting the campsite areas and clean up after us before the museum reopened at 11am.   The event was fun, but it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

The next Monday, the Hammer and the Machine Project started posting pictures from the event.   They had also complied a video of people explaining their dreams; I had volunteered to be woken up at 6:45am and talk to the camera.   (I show up in the video at 11:50, in a brown sweatshirt, cuddling my brown comforter.)

As I was looking at the pictures and watching the video, I realized that the Dream-In was a kind of exhibit, a one-night performance art piece.   The dreaming workshops and music and sleepover setting were intended to educate and inspire us, but the event as a whole was a piece of art that had no audience except its participants.   Actually, we were both part of the piece, moving around the museum at night, and audience, watching the other attendees as they moved around the museum.   The Hammer Museum employees herded us into designated campsites in the courtyard the way exhibit curators arrange pieces of art on the walls of the museum.

Even though I had an emotional response to both Claire’s workshop and the event as a whole, thinking of myself as a piece of art, or even as a cog in a machine of a performance piece masterminded by the Machine Project and the Hammer, inspires me just as much as participating in the event did.   I like to think of myself as part of a painting hanging on the wall and — as an extension of that idea– feeling like the Dream-In wasn’t really meant for me.   I’m not really sure who it was for, but I think it was successful.

Catie Disabato lives in Los Angeles, 5.0 miles from the Hammer Museum.   She has written essays and conducted interviews for The Millions and The Rumpus and writes about music for Venus Zine.

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