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Saturday, 5 February 2011

Susan Derges- Dream Landscapes

When my first medieval dream supervision came to an end I was brave enough to ask my supervisor, James Wade, about the prints I had been distractedly glancing at as we discussed the Kingis Quair. He called these etchings of beach and sea 'a kind of dream landscape'. Ever since then I have been searching for my own anachronistic dream landscape with which to approach some of the difficulties of the medieval dream. One of the artist's from the Shadow Catchers symposium, who produces photograms by exposing photosensitive paper beneath the surface of water, has gifted me with connections and openings.

Susan Derges' obsession with drawing the moon and its cycles in to her work points towards a medieval conception of the importance of the heavenly spheres ascending in intensifying circles. 'The moon was just always there in my work' it is an inherent part of her artistic and spiritual practice. In medieval cosmology the moon formed the border between the unchanging aetherial regions and the changeable nature below, in many ways it becomes Derges' border land between states of consciousness. Derges cites a connection between her work and the illuminations of Hildegard von Bingen:

A.C Spearing, author of medieval dream poetry, explains the long inductions to dreams as an attempt to negotiate 'being and non-being'. Comparing it to Gothic Architecture which 'cannot simply stop, it has to fade away' in curves and spikes 'by which the physical presence is gradually withdrawn and the dense material mass is dissolved into the empty air.' The medieval dream has a tendency to dissolve distinctions between narrator and reader and their sense of dream and physical world. It resists definitive ends or beginnings by moving through disorientating layers of consciousness and narrative reality. There is something in Derges too which resists finite ending; the flow of water moves out of reach of the paper, wisps of air rise out of our vision.

These Arches recall illuminated windows as they make the same vibrant, if secular, gesture upwards. The dream is a window on to another world, it offers us a chance to step in to it, however temporarily. It is a mirror of elements of reality which reflects and echoes but also inverts. In Derges' Arches we lose our memory of what comprises the real, tangible element and what is pure fantasy.

Derges' produces much of her work at night, taking prints of the river's flow, she works in the dream-time in an attempt to uncover the things which are beyond the visible. In the same way, the medieval poem uses the dream to escape corporeal restraints and access a higher spiritual knowing; those intangible, invisible concepts. The symposium wasn't an entire distraction, Derges draws me back in to the medieval dream.


  1. And just like real dreams which "borrow" images from waking life, so does she. Great post.

  2. I loved these at the V&A exhibition :)

  3. These are all really beautiful =) Very dreamy indeed. Thanks for sharing lovely xx

  4. Dreams are illustrations... from the book your soul is writing about you.

    Marsha Norman

  5. Intriguing post! I've been a dream collector for many years now, but have never successfully translated the images into my artwork. Fascinating work!

  6. Very interesting blog. Thanks again for your comment :-)

  7. The arches are fantastic. I notice arches everywhere I go, and often include them in my doodles. Your medieval dream research has me fascinated. Now that I am back from London (so sad I didn't get to see the exhibition at the V&A) I will do the post on one of my dreams as promised. The other I have never attempted to draw, but it has never ever left me, though the dream was years ago. I think its time in history would have been early Medieval.