by Ludovica De Santis

‘Onironautica’ is the title of my latest photography exploration. The term derives from the Greek words ‘Ὄνειρος’ (dream) and ‘ναύτης’ (sailor). The concept of ‘Onironautica’ involves the exploration of dreams, as a sort of “navigation of our unconscious.” Thus, the goal of this project is to photographically recreate dreams and lucid dreams, focusing specifically on my own experiences with them. But what does “lucid dream” mean? The term was introduced by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in 1913. He began documenting his dreams, keeping a daily dream diary, and thereby marking the beginning of dream research in psychiatry. Inspired by van Eeden’s work, I’ve embarked on a journey to delve into my own unconscious state, stimulating dream activity through various techniques, such as the WBTB method or the MILD technique and experimenting infusions of Artemisia and African Dream Root to enhance dream brain activity at night.
While I started reproducing my own dreams, I realised that I was emulating a creative process similar to AI platforms such as Midjourney and OpenAI. I was doing exactly what AI is doing nowadays, i.e.“crafting scenarios from the void”. Later I began to compare my creative self to that of the “machine”, observing what differences actually occur when both have to generate content. AI developments are clearly taking over humankind, both in the arts and elsewhere, but I am deeply convinced that AI is helping in what should only be an implementation, and not a replacement of humans’ creative, scientific or cognitive capabilities. This project has prompted me to want to challenge the contemporary and reconsider artificial intelligence solely and exclusively as a means for aiding all kinds of cultural activity. How? By putting myself in the place of the machine, making myself a content generator through HI (Human Intelligence). Ergo, this project is serving also as a conduit for a real comparison between AI and human intelligence: it enables me to analyse the interplay between my creativity and that of the AI, helping me to notice and discern elements that may be distinctive qualities in human or AI creative formulations of new realities, including storytelling, visual layer conception, original abstraction, and more.
However, I did not decide to explore my dreams just to fuel contemporary debate. I am sincerely intrigued by the process of dream abstraction. As André Breton wrote in the first Surrealist Manifesto, attempting to articulate an artistic approach that delves into the unconscious: “[Surrealism] resolves the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality.” There is always a “contradiction” in dreams which occurs as an illogical response to reality. What I have been trying to do with Onironautica is to “capture” or “reproduce” that contradiction that turns reality into a super-reality.