Zachary Kaiser
The Pawel Norway Dream Machine is a collaboration with Gabi Schaffzin and Sofie Hodara. Together, we are Culture Industry Dot Club.

The Pawel Norway Dream Machine is a hybrid transmedia performance-exhibition. The project explores the work of the fictional Dr. Pawel Norway, a visionary (if misguided) doctor from mid-19th century London, and attempts to recreate his experiments utilizing modern technologies, specifically those of the quantified self.

The term “quantified self” (herein, “QS”) “overtly refers to using numbers as a means of monitoring and measuring elements of everyday life and embodiment,” allowing individuals to engage in self-tracking and analysis through the collection of data about everyday activities (e.g., walking and sleeping) as well as other data, such as DNA (Lupton, 2013, p. 3). The QS “movement” is “an ethos and apparatus of practices that has gathered momentum” in today’s world of sensor-laden wearable devices (ibid). The QS movement privileges a purely quantitative understanding of the world, eliminating from a consideration of existence those aspects of life that cannot be quantified or that companies choose not to quantify. We argue that this rationalist proposition is absurd, reductive, and ultimately dangerous for the human condition. The Pawel Norway Dream Machine aims to underscore the absurdity of the QS movement as well as the pseudoscience of many of the technologies its adherents use.

In order to critique the QS movement, we employ the story of Dr. Norway as a fable of sorts—a rhetorical device intended to operate as a cautionary tale:

Dr. Norway's brief 1841 treatise, Computable Transformation of Human Qualities to Those of a Visible Dream Memory, is an obscure but intriguing thesis on the possibility of inferring dream content from the behavior of a subject after he or she has awakened. Developed over 100 years before the discovery of REM sleep, Computable Transformation argues that human bodies produce residual energy—a type of corpuscular molecule—that emits all day. He believed that this energy could be collected and measured, including its velocity coming off the body, temperature, etc., which could make it possible to reconstruct the prior dreams.

The connection between Dr. Norway's “work” and the contemporary QS movement is strong: both seek to infer a macro-level understanding of a body by measuring its micro- qualities. Dr. Norway never fully implemented his theories, though he produced a number of etchings, which sought to translate collected data points into visualizations.

In our project, we draw a correlation between the absurdity and pseudoscience of contemporary QS technologies and Dr. Norway’s work through three core components: 1) an “exhibition” of Dr. Norway’s etchings and his book; 2) an interactive experience in which, using the data gathered from various QS devices, we (the artists) visualize and sonify visitors’ dreams, using proprietary algorithms that we have developed. The resulting visualizations are projected at a monumental scale, immersing visitors in their “dream data;” and, 3) a panel discussion on the implications of QS technologies on both medicine and human subjectivity.

We first produced and performed this piece at in November of 2016 at the Calit2 Theater at UC-San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute. We produced a second iteration of the project at Icebox Projects, a unique and high-profile exhibition space in Philadelphia, in the summer of 2017. 

Lupton, Deborah. (2013). The Quantified Self. Cambridge: Polity.