The New Daydream Imaginary: On the Ethico-Aesthetics of Spontaneous Thought

June 15 – 17, 2023 | FREE
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre + Cinema
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver

In his 1972 essay “Passing for Human” (which was read at the second annual Science-Fiction Convention in Vancouver), Philip K. Dick observed that The State was unable to tame the erratic behaviours associated with youth culture, and predicted that burnouts, paranoids, and heavy trippers would therefore be the salvation of the future in North America. However, Dick’s prediction has not exactly come to pass, for today we see such modes of thought as co-constitutive of the attention and information economy. Furthermore, daydreaming itself is undergoing rehabilitation. Formerly understood as a waste of time, or an idle indulgence, daydreaming is coming to be treated as an adaptive faculty and health-giving activity. Although the concept of “positive constructive daydreaming” was proposed over fifty years ago by Jerome Singer, only recently, in the wake of neuroscience’s discovery of the “default mode network,” have scientists and philosophers begun to systematically investigate the wandering mind and develop what we might want to call a new daydream imaginary.

Largely driven by a rhetoric that takes the figure of the “brain at rest” not only as an evolutionary adaptation but as evidence of our essentially creative nature, this new imaginary comes at a moment in our history when we appear to have less time to indulge its refrains, and strangely, at the same moment that a pathological form of daydreaming is being diagnosed as “maladaptive.” Yet as daydreaming acquires a new imaginary so, too, does reality. This suggests that the study of daydreaming might be usefully conducted in a mode of thought less concerned with the facticity of its expressions than the efficacy of its fabulations. As such, current research into daydreaming might be productively linked to a growing trend in the (post)humanities to explore fiction as a method for conducting scholarly research. A consequence, albeit an oblique one, of daydreaming becoming integral to daily life is that the act of imagining alternative realities is beginning to overlap with contemporary media’s way of playing fast and loose with the categories of reality, truth, and reason.

Thus, as we indulge our reveries we also experience an anxiety concerning our ability to distinguish news from fiction, conspiracy from criticism, a joke from an offense. Gathering a variety of non-productive cognitive modes—from doodling to tripping to doom scrolling—within the genus of “daydreaming,” we might then ask: What role does the wandering mind play in the productive operations of cognitive capitalism, and what remains of its potential for resistance? How do cognitive processes such as distracted fantasizing figure in the current marketplace of meaning? Is there any hope left for the safeguarding of unruly and non-commodifiable forms of thought? Is Dick’s vision of individual unpredictability now more urgent than ever before?


Jalal Toufic: The Matrix for AI et Al trilogy screening

15 June | 6:30 PM – 9:00 PM | Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema

The Matrix for Realists (aka Reviewing The Matrix in Terms of One Cypher)—A Time-saving, Perception-Taxing Version (138 minutes, 2018)

The screening will be preceded with introductory remarks by the artist.

June 16 – 29 | Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM + Saturday, 12:00 PM – 5:00 PM | Lobby Screen Array

The Matrix for Realists (aka Reviewing The Matrix in Terms of One Cypher) (50 hours and 48 minutes, 2018)
The Matrix for Radical Simulationists (aka How to Read The Matrix as a Cypher) (72 hours and 36 minutes, 2018)

For more on the screenings, please visit HERE ~

16 June | Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre  

Coffee / Tea | 08:30 – 9:00

Introduction | 09:00 – 09:30

SESSION 1 | 09:30 – 11:15

  • Dave Biddle (Simon Fraser University): Novopoiesis
  • Emily Scherzinger (McMaster University): Ghosting My Body: On the Power of Disassociating
  • Diana Lengua (University of Essex): From collective hallucination to neosomnambulistic perceptual act: Being half awake in virtual reality

Break | 11:15 – 11:30

SESSION 2 | 11:30 – 12:45

  • David Cecchetto (York University): Napping Technics
  • Sharon Sliwinski (Western University): The Politics of Reverie

Lunch | 12:45 – 14:00

SESSION 3 | 14:00 – 15:45

  • Mena El Shazly (Simon Fraser University): Bring Thirst: On the Poetry of Wine in Pre-Islamic Era
  • Ted Hiebert (University of Washington, Bothell): On as-ifs and what-ifs and imaginaries and data and bats
  • Gabrielle Moser (York University): Ego Deathtrip: Three episodes in 1970s feminist daydreaming

Break | 15:45 – 16:00

SESSION 4 | 16:00 – 17:15  

  • Eldritch Priest (Simon Fraser University): On Musement and C.S. Peirce’s Hol(e)y Science of Imaginary Solutions
  • Erin Manning (Concordia University): Hears in Red, Sees in Wet

17 June | Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre

Coffee / Tea | 09:00 – 09:30

SESSION 5 | 09:30 – 11:15  

  • Peter Morin (OCAD University): This is what the Dreaming made
  • Zachary C. Irving (University of Virginia): Spontaneity in the Age of Distraction
  • Tania Willard (University of British Columbia, Okanagan): Daydreamer’s Tea Service

Break | 11:15 – 11:30

SESSION 6 | 11:30 – 12:45

  • Sylwia Chrostowska (York University): Effective Social Dreaming
  • Kalina Christoff (University of British Columbia): Decolonizing the Mind Through Spontaneous Thought

Lunch | 12:45 – 14:00

SESSION 7 | 14:00 – 15:45

  • Kendall Grady (University of California, Santa Cruz): Un/tamed Love: Daydreaming in the Museum of Broken Relationships
  • Ania Malinowska (University of Silesia): Cutting Up Books: Daydreams of Automated Writing

Break | 15:45 – 16:00

SESSION 8 | 16:00 – 17:15

  • Am Johal (Simon Fraser University): The Politics of Idleness and Inoperativity
  • Felicity Callard (University of Glasgow): Daydream Archive

RECEPTION | 17:30 – 19:30

GCA Lobby, main floor (outside the Audain Gallery)

Speakers + Abstracts

Kendall Grady: Un/tamed Love: Daydreaming in the Museum of Broken Relationships

The Museum of Broken Relationships (Zagreb, Croatia) collects personal ephemera of love erotic or platonic, active or atrophied, donated by the general public—including myself. In September 2022, I dilated coupling from Nicklas Luhmann’s social systems theory and Peter Sloterdijk’s microsphereology to infiltrate vectors of meaning-making tamed by the museum institution and to reimagine desire in excess of representation. How do individuals signify their status as lovers or the state of their unions? How does the institution mutate and reinscribe self-selection in collective overtures of curated exhibitions and the porous site of the exhibition space? How do documentary artifacts interact with viewers and with each other to express singular and synergic, micro and macro proliferations of love? If the movement in critical love studies is toward unseating love from high romanticism, I weave sensory ethnography, auto-theoretical text, and images to trace my own ecological wandering through the Museum of Broken Relationships. Foregrounding the social-lyric imaginary over argumentative analysis, I hope to activate love as a form of resistance to algorithmic culture (Alexander Galloway) expressed in our most private interiors and our public institutions.

Kendall Grady is an educator, poet, and PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz, where they write toward a media poetics of love and the couplet form. They hold an MFA in Writing from UC San Diego and an MA in Media & Culture from the University of Amsterdam. Grady’s chapbook, 321 Couplets, is forthcoming from COAST|noCOAST, and their creative/critical research has been supported by the Baltic Writing Residency, the LARB Publishing Workshop, and The Humanities Institute at UC Santa Cruz. They live between the mountains and the sea with five housemates and one dog.

Ania Malinowska: Cutting Up Books: Daydreams of Automated Writing

This talk is about writing and automatism, i.e. a form of creative daydreaming that “avoids conscious thought and allows a free flow of ideas” (OED). It taps into personal experience and psychiatric investigations to speak of automated intuitive work which relies on the subject’s “little control over [the] imaginal process” and presents “a surprising, yet often perfectly congruent outcome” (cf. Downey and Anderson, 1915).

This talk contributes to the study of daydreaming with insight into automatism based on existing research (and the practice tradition) and on an experiment in personalized automatic writing termed Textrapolations. A form of unproductive daydreaming, that experiment aimed at reimagining personal and universal circumstances by means of psychography. The experiment’s method, anchored in instinctual kinesis: selecting, cutting, arraying, fastening and non-sensing, situates its processes away from traditional writing (static composition) and within dynamic decomposition: a style in moulding ideas by movement, contingency and intuitive phrasing.

In my talk, I will describe and discuss cutting up books as a hypnotic design wherein books serve the role of “machine[s] to think with” (Richards 1926), “simultaneously sequential and random access device[s]” (Kirschenbaum 2008), and “spiritual instrument[s]” (Mallarmé 2014, 68). I will examine the flesh of daydreaming by mutilating the sacred that the book object invariably represents. I also dwell on the hypnotic choreographies of cutting and assembling to examine the aesthetics of psychographic reflexes in broad cultural and creative contexts.

Ania Malinowska is a cultural theorist, poet and author. She is Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Silesia in Katowice (Institute of Culture Studies and Centre for Critical Technology Studies), and a former Senior Fulbright Fellow at The New School in New York. Malinowska’s work is associated with critical posthumanism and cultural semiotics, gathering approaches from media and cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy of technology, and digital humanities. Her critical writing focuses on technologically shaped love practices and emotional traditions under digitalism. A licensed hypnotist and an author of fiction and poetry, Malinowska is a proponent of textrapolation, a method of poetic experimentation based on intuitive assemblage she employs for her cutout and stamp poems.

Mena El Shazly: Bring Thirst: On the Poetry of Wine in Pre-Islamic Era

Abu Nuwas, a classical Arabic poet, once said, “Praise its blessings; and call it by its best names”, while referring to wine, a recurring motif in Arabic poetry before and after the advent of Islam in 610 CE.

This presentation marks the passing of ten years since I created “A Hail of Abuse”, a multimedia piece based on the poetry of wine, poetic forms of the pre-Islamic era, and their recurring themes of life and death, passage of time, intoxication and wakefulness, rebellion and sanctity. The project is based on a collaboration with Sufi women weavers in southern Egypt to produce tapestries that act as sites for resurrecting these poetic personifications of wine i.e. the figuration of a loss of consciousness that was once chronicled in oral literature and has since faded from everyday memory. The yarn and the tapestry are all dyed in wine and natural ingredients, and the calligraphy of the collected names is inspired by the earliest readable Arabic script.

By revisiting a selection of wine names and stories, the poetry evokes an allegorical state of drunkenness that has the ability to uncover selves and sensualities. Its poetic forms embody a ritual language with encoded verses. The project’s research was developed in collaboration with Mohammad Birairi, and especially builds on his valuable contributions to the symbol of wine in classical Arabic poetry. Based on Birairi’s readings of relevant verses of the poetry of wine, metonymic and metaphorical evocations of wine, wine drinking and wine drinkers are further observed.

Mena El Shazly’s work is grounded in time-based media and extends to embroidery, sculpture, and performance. Based in Vancouver and Cairo, she is an MFA candidate at the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. She studied performing and visual arts at the American University in Cairo, and was a fellow of the Home Workspace Program at Ashkal Alwan, Beirut. Gaining global attention through her media productions and frequent collaborations, her work has been exhibited widely at venues including Contemporary Image Collective (Cairo), Vivo Media Arts (Vancouver), Palace of Arts- Cairo Opera House Complex (Cairo) and House of The World Cultures (Berlin). She has a well-established curatorial practice working extensively in production and distribution of video art and experimental film. She is the Artistic Director of the Cairo Video Festival, organized by Medrar for Contemporary Art.

David Cecchetto: Napping Technics

My recent work conceptualizes napping as something that is both ontologically self-sufficient and technically situated, and that is best thought less in terms of sleep and more according to the quasi-expressive capacities of daydreaming. I resist placing napping on a continuum between sleep and wakefulness, and consider it more as its own thing—albeit a thing accomplished through techniques that, like other daydreaming practices, sometimes move towards sleep in order to avoid it. Put differently, napping aestheticizes the gap between the fact of sleep and the lived experience of sleeping.

With this in mind, my contribution to the symposium will be to consider an image that was shared online with the following caption:

“My dad swears by his 15 minute power naps during the day, but he doesn’t like napping in bed or on the couch because it’s too comfortable and the sleep will ‘win.’ During family functions he will suddenly lay down on the floor and wrap himself around the nearest piece of furniture to pass tf out for 15 minute increments. Nobody finds it unusual and we all just step over him. Then he gets up and joins us again.”

To consider this particular napping practice, I position the Dad’s napping as converging with the concept of a “clearing,” in JJJJJerome Ellis’s sense. Ellis uses the term to characterize the relational affordance of his stutter (which reads to others as a long pause): the stutter opens a temporal space (or clearing) into which he and his interlocutors can enter together (or not). I argue, then, that this Dad’s napping technique crafts a clearing of a related type, one that offers insight into the relational profiles of bodily techniques more broadly, especially in their indirections.

David Cecchetto is Professor of Critical Digital Theory at York University in Toronto, where he directs the graduate program in Social and Political Thought and contributes to several others. David is President of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts, and co-edits the Proximities: Experiments in Nearness book series (University of Minnesota). His most recent monograph, Listening in the Afterlife of Data: Aesthetics, Pragmatics, and Incommunication, was published in Duke UP’s Thought in the Act series in 2022. As a quasi-practicing nonmusician, David has presented creative work internationally.

Ted Hiebert: On as-ifs and what-ifs and imaginaries and data and bats

An artist sits down in a darkened room, filled with sounds of bats and a large projection of a cave. They have just spent an hour discussing bats, listening to experts on bat behavior and habitat, thinking to themselves about personal associations and experiences they would relate to the animal. Now, sitting down in a darkened room, they have been tasked with silently imagining what it is like to be a bat—in whatever ways their minds wander and meander and dream. While they imagine, their brainwaves are visualized and recorded while others look on. Soon it will be their turn.

When Thomas Nagel declared in 1974 that there was nothing it was like to be a bat it seemed like a conversation stopper. The founder of consciousness research confounded by the inability to quantify experience without resorting to the imagination. In his words: “At present we are completely unequipped to think about the subjective character of experience without relying on the imagination. … This should be regarded as a challenge to form new concepts and devise a new method–an objective phenomenology not dependent on empathy or the imagination.”

I take Nagel’s statement decidedly as a failure to imagine—or perhaps better as an imaginary solution to the challenge of the imaginary, this time the fantasy of a form of experience in which the imagination has no role to play. I worry that it is a prescient pronouncement about the ways that intolerance to unquantifiable forms of experience lead them to be disqualified as eligible stakeholders of the future. I think of the Situationist dérive as a way to free-play within the constraints of an already-imagined city. I think of the Smart City and the predictive algorithms that will shape our future interactions with urban architecture. Then I remember that none of this is ever simply material—it was the psychogeography of the city that alarmed the Situationists, and perhaps the psychogeography of Nagel’s pronouncement that most alarms me. I think of ChatGPT and the question of what it is like to be an algorithm, charged with finishing the thoughts of those of us who no longer remember how to imagine. I think of the what-ifs and as-ifs and perils and romances and possibilities of scripted and unscripted spaces.

This paper meditates on the status of data and the imagination in an age of predictive thought, thinking about the aesthetic contours of experience in the context of an art project in which participants are asked to imagine what it is like to be a bat. Along the way I am imagining a bit of a wander, through the Situationist dérive, excursions into psychogegraphy, provocations of pataphysics, and a general attempt to find new ways to orient towards and within a world where there will be exactly “nothing” (in Nagel’s sense) it is like to be any of us. New nihilisms in a cultural daydream of a perfectly quantifiable city.

Ted Hiebert is an interdisciplinary artist and theorist. His work examines the relationships between art, performance, and technology with a particular focus on the absurd, the paradoxical and the imaginary. He is the author of In Praise of Nonsense: Aesthetics, Uncertainty and Postmodern Identity (2012), A formalized forum for informal inquiry (2015), and Ludic Dreaming: How to Listen Away from Contemporary Technoculture (co-authored with David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux and Eldritch Priest, 2017). He has also edited several books, including, most recently Artworks for Jellyfish and Other Others (co-edited with Amanda Boetzkes, 2022). Hiebert is a professor of interdisciplinary art in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell.

Zachary Irving: Spontaneity in the Age of Distraction

Digital technologies have profoundly and rapidly altered our streams of consciousness. Researchers warn that these changes are making it increasingly hard to pay attention. Yet these warnings implicitly presume that it is always beneficial to pay attention. But forms of distraction such as mind-wandering may help us be more spontaneous and creative. Unfortunately, digital technologies likely suppress these beneficial forms of distraction. When we fixate on a Facebook feed or YouTube video, our minds are stuck on a single topic and thus not free to wander. Falling down an internet rabbit holes feels less like mind-wandering and more like the rumination characteristic of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. In a slogan, digital technologies are the wrong kind of distraction. Unfortunately, current strategies to counteract digital distraction may make the problem worse. Productivity technologies and mindfulness meditation, for example, promise to help us focus and stop the mind from wandering. But we may need more mind-wandering not less. I therefore argue that new approaches may be needed to rekindle spontaneity in the age of distraction.  

Zachary Irving is an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia’s Corcorcoran Department of Philosophy, where he works in the philosophy of cognitive science. His largest project aims to develop a nascent field of study: the philosophy of mind-wandering. He proposed a new theory of mind-wandering as unguided attention, which laid the groundwork for a neuroscientific model of mind-wandering and new introspective methods to measure the wandering mind. Recently, he has been working on the norms of attention: that is, how can we evaluate people’s attention? Do absent-minded drivers attend poorly? Do creative thinkers attend well because they notice novel aspects of the world? His work on digital distractions grew out of that project. Attention seems to suffer when we are distracted by our phones. Yet until we have an account of the norms of attention, Irving argues that we will miss what’s bad about digital distraction.

Am Johal: The Politics of Idleness and Inoperativity

Can evacuating productivity open up a politics of possibility? What do acts of withdrawal and gestures of inactivation look like? What potentiality can be inscribed in such transmissions? Can the machine of human life be made idle without it also being work itself? Can idleness shape the contours of a mode of resistance that isn’t already captured? What does a sweetness of living that opens up a horizon beyond the exhaustions of present-day politics look like?

Am Johal is Director of SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement and Co-Director of SFU’s Community Engaged Research Initiative. He is author of Ecological Metapolitics: Badiou and the Anthropocene and co-author with Matt Hern and Joe Sacco of Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life: A Tar Sands Tale. He has taught courses in Graduate Liberal Studies, The School for the Contemporary Arts, and the Semester in Dialogue at SFU. He is host of the Below the Radar podcast. He is the co-founder of the Vancouver Institute for Social Research, a critical theory free school.

Diana Lengua: From collective hallucination to Neosomnambulistic perceptual act: being half awake in virtual reality

We find ourselves on the precipice of an approaching era that promises an increasingly synesthetic approach to immersive user experiences, driven by our interactions within possibles zones of Neosomnambulism. As we delve into technologically advanced immersive environments capable of rewiring our perceptions, we uncover new nonconscious dimensions awaiting exploration. These perceptual activities that can take place even through a relatively tiny phone screen seem to bridge the gap between our capacity for sensory delocalisation and the ability to provoke a sense of presence, while scrolling through the latest ASMR video on Tik Tok at 3 am trying to fall asleep. Alongside obsessive phone checking, mindless scrolling and the timeless- time-sucking activity of hours spent on apps, these interactions are new techniques of [Neosomnambulistic] perception . The potential of immersive environments, so profoundly technologized that we can speak of an inside-out virtual reality, lies on the unexplored perceptual dimensions intertwining brainwave stimuli and avatars without legs – a problem solved by reversing the simulations reality order between the avatar and the human body – . They serve as the foundation for contemporary impulses driving media penetration and ubiquity, an enduring desire to envision sensory infrastructures that are simultaneously subjective, mimetic, networked, and autonomous. Yet, we must critically examine these developments as extended forms of cognitive capitalism that infiltrate the junctures between conscious and nonconscious experiences.

Diana Lengua (She/They) is a PhD student at the University of Essex. Her research focuses on the analysis of the concept of immersion, embodied internet and virtual spaces. She holds an MA in Philosophy from the University of Milan and an MA in Culture Industry from Goldsmiths University of London. She is also co-founder of CONTRA/DIZIONI, an independent seminar on feminist and queer philosophies at the University of Milan.

Erin Manning: Hears in Red, Sees in Wet

Spring is a surprise in the north. The meters of snow are slow to melt, postponing any sense of spring until the very last second, when, under the blanket of white, green begins to pop up.  The speculative garden that pushes itself into the budding environment is, above all, a sensual one. It calls forth a new movement – a lighter body, no longer weighed down by the layers of winter protection, and a step that jumps more nimbly, less constrained by heavy winter boots. And then the dance itself, of watching things grow, and protecting them from all that has also been waiting alongside to make of these incipient buds their next meal. Dreams linger here, but they are not dreams reducible to me. They are dreams in the vastness of worlds reforming themselves, in the interstices of what can only barely be ascertained. They are dreams unlimited. To compose here is not to make art so much as to move alongside the artfulness of what is already underway. There is beauty here, and also unrest. This is where I will begin.

Erin Manning is a professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). She is also the founder of SenseLab, a laboratory that explores the intersections between art practice and philosophy through the matrix of the sensing body in movement. Manning work movies in the interstices of philosophy, aesthetics and politics, and is concerned, always, about alter-pedagogical and alter-economic practices. “3e” is the direction her current research takes — an exploration of the transversality of the three ecologies: the social, the environmental and the conceptual. Publications include For a Pragmatics of the Useless (Duke UP, 2020), The Minor Gesture (Duke UP, 2016), Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Duke UP, 2013), Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2009) and, with Brian Massumi, Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience (Minnesota UP, 2014).

Gabrielle Moser: Ego Deathtrip: Three episodes in 1970s feminist daydreaming

“Let’s Spit on Hegel,” a manifesto written by the Rome-based art and activist collective Rivolta Femminile (founded by artist Carla Accardi, critic Carla Lonzi and journalist Elvira Banotti) in July 1970, decries the wasted imaginative capacity of women in contemporary culture: “Looking back,” its authors write, “we recognize ourselves in isolated peaks of creativity, but mostly we recognize ourselves in all the intelligence wasted in subjugation and in the endless round of daily chores through the times.” Arguing that the most radical project for women was the act of deculturation—of unlearning masculinist norms of subjectivity—the collective would go on to argue for total “human strike,” the withdrawal of all labour by women, including sexual labour, to make it possible for the feminist subject to think of and for herself outside of masculine knowledge systems. (Lonzi would enact the fullest version of this separatist withdrawal, resigning from her role as art critic, as leader of Rivolta Femminile, and eventually ending her long-term relationship with the artist Pietro Consagra as a political act of dropping out).

The following year, in 1971, the American conceptual artist Lee Lozano enacted another form of withdrawal via a psychedelic trip, giving a talk at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) that spanned more than 8 hours, and saw the artist speculate about the role of the artist, subjectivity and the state of knowledge in the art school while sober, then stoned on weed, and finally high on LSD. Coinciding with artist’s ongoing project of withdrawal from the artworld (Dropout Piece, ca. 1970), Lozano’s lecture exists today only in archival fragments (a patchy audio recording, some notes in a notebook), but points to the subversive potential of non-participation as a space for thought.

In 1976, on the outskirts of Milan, a group of Italian housewives also found space for their “wandering thoughts” (Molinelli 1983) on the pages of notebooks when they arrived, unannounced and uninvited, to take part in the 150 Hours Courses: a government- and union­-run radical education project that allowed workers to receive 150 paid hours of school, to be matched with 150 hours of their own time outside of work. The arrival of women at the schools shifted the project’s pedagogical goals and inaugurated the Women’s Free University of Milan (founded 1986), where philosophers/teachers Lea Melandri and Paola Melchiori used practices of writing and group psychoanalysis to fashion feminist practices of consciousness-raising, associative thinking and mentorship that continue to this day (their slogan: more dust in our houses, less dust on our brains).

This paper takes up these three historical moments, now re-mediated as contemporary artworks, when artists, thinkers and writers active in 1970s feminisms experimented with “dropping out” as a tactic for feminist daydreaming. Frustrated with the obfuscation of women activists and artists from the 1968 student movement, these feminists argued that, while the young men of the early 1970s were dropping out of mainstream society and capitalism as a form of non-participation and refusal, women had already been participating in everyday rituals of dissolving the self for centuries: the endless and repetitive labour of housework, the boundary-dissolving act of parenting young children, and witnessing the erasure of their authority as thinkers, radicals, and authors in public culture. Framing parenting, automatic writing, group psychoanalysis, and the use of psychedelics as feminist strategies for taking an “ego deathtrip” (MacDonell 2021), this paper analyzes three contemporary artworks that take up the “undetonated potential” of the feminist past in the present (Freeman 2010): the Paris-based collective Claire Fontaine’s transformation of Lonzi’s texts into “brickbats” (2006) that might be used for political protest; Annie MacDonell and Maïder Fortuné’s excavation of Lozano’s lecture in their 2021 film OUTHERE (for Lee Lozano); and Adriana Monti’s documentary about the practices of the Milan Women’s Free University, Scuola Senza Fine (School Without End) (1983). Each deploys daydreaming as a central practice in imagining alternative futures and in allowing what Lonzi called “the unexpected subject” (1974) of feminist subjectivity to emerge.

Gabrielle Moser is an art historian, writer, and independent curator. She is the author of Projecting Citizenship: Photography and Belonging in the British Empire (Penn State University Press, 2019) and she is at work on her second book, Citizen Subjects: Photography and Sovereignty in Post-War Canada (under contract with McGill-Queen’s University Press). She is currently pursuing two collaborative research projects that examine the intersections of artistic practice and political subjectivity. The first, “Photography and Biopolitics,” undertaken with student researchers Jeffrey Newberry and Myrtle Sodhi, investigates how artists and youth navigate their experiences of (self-) surveillance, and how they resist its effects through glitches, hacks, and other creative forms of speaking back to state power. The second, “Feminist Transmissions” (alongside Giulia Damiani and Helena Reckitt), examines the ongoing resonance of 1970s feminist practices on the present, with a particular attention to the uses of art, psychoanalysis and writing in Italian feminism.Moser is a regular contributor to Artforum, and her writing appears in venues including Journal of Visual Culture, Photography & Culture, Prefix Photo and Third Text. She has held fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for the Study of British Art, the Ryerson Image Centre, the University of British Columbia, and the British Library, and she was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Brown University in 2017. She is a founding member of EMILIA-AMALIA, a feminist working group based in Toronto since 2016, and Assistant Professor of Aesthetics and Art Education in the Faculty of Education at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Emily Scherzinger: Ghosting My Body: On the Power of Disassociating

Dissociation is broadly considered a problematic behaviour within hegemonic psy-discourses that not only work to devalue disabled people, but also attempt to interpellate some disabled people as potential workers within neoliberal capitalist schemas. According to Tobin Siebers, this is the ideology of ability, which “uses ability to determine human status, demands that people with disabilities always present as able-bodied as possible, and measures the value of disabled people in dollars and cents.” Clearly, the ideology of ability determines the value of disabled people within narrow economic terms.

As someone with a hypermobility disorder that causes an abundance of pain, dissociation has become part of my daily routine to manage the acute pain. have thus begun to understand it less as an abnormal psychological habit and more as a radical refusal of neoliberal capitalist values of meritocracy and productivity.

Is dissociation necessarily a symbol of abnormal psychology and/or madness? What affective potentialities are present/absent when one disassociates? This presentation will question what it means to “ghost one’s body,” incorporating theories regarding pain, inebriation, and trauma to investigate how dissociation can be a revolutionary tactic to refuse neoliberal capitalist productivity and interpellation, as well as imagine queer crip futures.

Emily Scherzinger (she/they) is a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster’s Children and Youth University, where she studies disability and lifelong learning. Their dissertation, The Words Don’t Fit You: Reflections on Madness and Nonsense, gathers together in one volume an analysis of how nonsense and madness are intertwined. When not writing and teaching, she is found playing fetch with her blind dog, Atlas, in Hamilton, Ontario, where they reside.

Sharon Sliwinski: The Politics of Reverie

In his 1908 essay, “Creative Writers and Day-dreaming,” Sigmund Freud drew a link between three seemingly disparate activities: artistic production, children’s play, and daydreaming. The common element driving each activity, Freud argued, was a desire to transform an existing reality. The creative writer invents new worlds, the child commands the universe of their toys, and the daydreamer “builds castles in the air.”  My paper extends Freud’s proposition to ask about the politics of these transformative forms of reverie. Working alongside contemporary psychoanalytic theory, my paper will distinguish some of the subtle qualitative differences that exist between these three forms of fantasizing. Particular attention will be given to the capacity to play: if isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness are the hallmark of our times, how might increasing the citizenry’s capacity to play strengthen the social imagination and generate a more open-minded and inventive democracy?

Sharon Sliwinski’s work bridges the fields of visual culture, political theory, and the life of the mind. She is the author of several books and numerous articles, chapters, and commentaries on photography, human rights, and the social imaginary. She also works collaboratively with a wide variety of artists, scholars, and practitioners through a research project called The Museum of Dreams. Current projects also include An Alphabet for Dreamers (in progress), a selection of short essays that define dreaming, like play, as a key activity for emotional and psychological well-being, and a radical form of thought that animates culture, politics, and society. Her published books include: Dreaming in Dark Times (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) which explores how the disclosure of dream-life represents a special kind of communicative gesture—a form of unconscious thinking that can serve as a potent brand of political intervention and a means for resisting sovereign power.

Ricky Varghese: The Uncanny Heaviness of the Monolingualism of the Other’s Dream

Despite its awkward and circuitously lengthy title, this paper attempts to explore something rather simple and straightforward – namely the relationship between language and wish-fulfillment in the space of the dream. If as Freud suggested dreams are a form of wish-fulfillment, then what does it mean for us to dream in the language of the other? What wish might this linguistic boundary crossing signify? If as Lacan suggested, desire is always already desire of the other, then what does dreaming in a “foreign” language say about our desire or the other’s desire? Is the navel of such a dream uncanny, the Freudian sense of the term “uncanny”? Here, I unpack how language and dreaming encounter one another in the context of a recent film from the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. Unlike its Bollywood counterpart, Kerala’s long tryst with communism laid the groundwork for a rich cinematic tradition informed by the socialist realism that is so often associated with cultural production coming from the former Eastern Bloc. These Malayalam films take very seriously Freudian and Marxian themes. The Malayalam New Wave which emerged in the early 2010s continued to expand on these themes. Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Like An Afternoon Dream (2022) is exemplary of this new cinematic movement. It tells the tale of its protagonist James’s dream – or what feels like it could be a dream. James hails from Kerala. A bus driver by profession, he makes regular trips to and from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. What transpires in the film appears as though it is both a real and dream-like sequence. As the description of the film goes, on returning from one such trip from Tamil Nadu, back to Kerala, James stops the bus in a village in rural Tamil Nadu on the border between the two states, while the tourists on the bus take a nap. He proceeds to enter a nearby house and starts acting like a member of the family that lives in that house. He no longer speaks his native Malayalam and instead speaks only in Tamil. It confuses everyone who has travelled with him, as well as the people who reside in the village. Eventually those around him realize that James has taken on the character, mannerisms, and language of Sundaram, a member of the family that lives in the house that James has entered. Sundaram had disappeared two years earlier. James has intimate knowledge of the village and its residents that only Sundaram would have known. There are familiar echoes here of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991). Is this a dream? Or, is this real? Is this a dream of otherness, or a dream about otherness? These are the central questions I aim to address in this thought exercise, one where language, both dreamt and real, becomes altered and reconstituted in a spatial and temporal sense to unearth the deep-seated wishes and desires we have toward others.

Ricky Varghese is a psychoanalyst, art writer, and critic based in Toronto. He will be co-curating an exhibition with Vince Rozario, Madness and Melancholia, A Cultural Moment (Or Many), in conjunction with the Rendezvous with Madness Festival this year.

David Biddle: Novopoiesis

In my research paper I will introduce the term novopoiesis, a variation on autopoiesis (Maturana & Varela, 1980), to refer to the social production of novel modes of social production, a phenomenon I associate with the creative nature of daydreaming and artmaking alike. I will employ this concept to examine the ways that contemporary media art (focusing particularly on time-based media like amateur film, video art, and spatial-sound composition) can evoke temporal modes similar to those experienced during cognitive states associated with daydreaming, suggesting that such time-scales are threatened by the attention economy. It is through this reflection on contemporary media art as a site for the preservation / elicitation of non-normative temporal modes that my proposed paper asks the question: How can time-based media art practices create pathways out of the temporality of the market while still operating within an economic framework that sees productive attention as the most valuable commodity?

David Biddle is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar based in Vancouver. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Contemporary Art at Simon Fraser University where his research is focused on the role of time-based media in “novopoiesis” – the social production of novel modes of social production (it’s autopoiesis scaled up a dimension to open into the space of possibility). Under the supervision of Dr. Eldritch Priest, David is working with moving image, text, sound, and performance, endeavouring to synthesize ideas from theoretical biology, cognitive science, biosemiotics, thermodynamics and cybernetics to produce media reflecting an inspired metaphysics. David’s research proposes that digital media systems within capitalist economic systems serve to constrain the attention of individuals toward the production of more digital media. As such, these economic conditions produce dissipative systems that self-organize into structures of material life increasingly lacking any spiritual dimension. Within this frame David’s research questions the role of daydreaming in both fulfilling these activities as well as resisting them.

Sylwia Chrostowska

Academic research and discourse in the humanities have long been attracted to its “others” – non-critical, non-productive thinking, such as reverie, oneiric experience, and madness. Each of these cognitive states has contributed in significant ways to artistic production, being sometimes deliberately channeled by creators and therapists for creative ends. What madness was for radical thinkers in the 1970s – a viable form of resistance to capitalism – daydreaming is becoming for our generation. In my talk, I will consider the political and ethical aspects of daydreaming in the context of fiction-writing against the backdrop of the theory of utopia as social daydreaming and emphasizing its effective form. I will do so principally with reference to the composition of my dystopian novella, The Eyelid (2020), which thematizes together dream and utopia.

Sylwia Chrostowska is professor of humanities in Toronto and a member of the Paris surrealist group. She is the author of, most recently, Utopia in the Age of Survival: Between Myth and Politics (Stanford UP, 2021) and co-edits the French surrealist review Alcheringa.

Felicity Callard: Daydream Archive

What might an archive of daydreams and fantasies in modernity look like? A number of years ago, I started working collaboratively with psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists to explore what was still, then, the early phase of cognitive neuroscientific research on psychological activity involving the default mode network in the brain. I was intrigued by the models of mind-wandering and daydreaming that were – and, equally importantly, were not – being taken up in twenty-first century empirical scientific research. I started working up what I called, to myself, a daydream archive – such an archive would be a way of expanding our conceptual repertoires for envisaging what the moving mind might be, and a way of making visible the risks that attach to any attempt to study, corner, or capture it. Such an archive takes me from late nineteenth-century reveries in the clinic and the factory; to psychoanalytic attempts to trace daydreams, lapses of attention, and reveries on the couch, in the house, and in the bedroom; to psychiatric surveys that attempt to capture fantasies. My talk will offer glimpses of different components of my daydream archive, in the hope that some of these components will complement and rub up against the phenomena being discussed and worked with by other presenters. It will offer, I think, a different history of mind-wandering from the ones commonly recounted in twenty-first century psychological and cognitive neuroscientific accounts.

Peter Morin: This is what the Dreaming made

Peter Morin is a grandson of Tahltan Ancestor Artists. Morin’s artistic offerings can be organized around four themes: articulating Land/Knowing, articulating Indigenous Grief/Loss, articulating Community Knowing, and understanding the Creative Agency/Power of the Indigenous body. The work takes place in galleries, in community, in collaboration, and on the land. All of the work is informed by dreams, Ancestors, Family members, and Performance Art as a Research Methodology. Morin began art school in 1997, completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver in 2001 and his Masters in Fine Arts in 2010 at the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. Initially trained in lithography, Morin’s artistic practice moves from Printmaking to Poetry to Beadwork to Installation to Drum Making to Performance Art. Throughout his exhibition and making history, Morin has focused upon his matrilineal inheritances in homage to the matriarchal structuring of the Tahltan Nation, and prioritizes Cross-Ancestral collaborations. Morin was longlisted for the Brink and Sobey Awards, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. In 2016, Morin received the Hnatyshyn Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement by a Canadian Mid-Career Artist. Peter Morin currently holds a tenured appointment in the Faculty of Arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, and is the Graduate Program Director of the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design program at OCADU. Peter is the son of Janelle Creyke (Crow Clan, Tahltan Nation) and Pierre Morin (French Canadienne).

Eldritch Priest: On Musement and C.S. Peirce’s Hol(e)y Science of Imaginary Solutions

In 1908, near the end of his life, Charles Sanders Peirce published an essay that argued for the soundness of a belief in the reality of God. Central to his argument is the practice of daydreaming, an “agreeable occupation of mind” that he names “musement.” In musement, Peirce claims, we have a tendency to speculate on the origins of some wonder or another, a tendency he insists naturally leads to a belief in God. Although Peirce’s argument is full of holes and in fact is not even an argument in the traditional sense of the term, his musings on musement as a method for attending to the spontaneity of thought provides a way to think about daydreaming as a kind of science of guessing. In this talk I muse on Peirce’s musings to consider musement’s  hol(e)y tendencies and to propose that musement is an imaginary solution of the type favoured by pataphysicians. As such, I conclude that is good for nothing, which is, strangely, good for something.

Eldritch Priest writes on sonic culture, experimental aesthetics, and the philosophy of experience from a ’pataphysical perspective. He is Associate Professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. Eldritch is also a composer and improviser, as well as a member of the experimental theory group “The Occulture.” He is the author of several essays and books including Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure (Bloomsbury 2013) and most recently, Earworm and Event: Music, Daydreams, and other Imaginary Refrains (Duke University Press 2022).

Tania Willard: Daydreamer’s Tea Service

Daydreamer’s Tea Service is an affirming of plant relations and an assertion of anti-capitalist time mismanagement through the intentional disruption of daydreaming, expressed through Indigenous plant knowledges and the making of tea. The piece was developed in response to the Dreaming the Land Residency (zoom-based) led by France Trépanier. The plants in the tea were harvested and prepared from plants in Secwepemc and Lekwungen territories and collected with prayers and offering.


The IdleLab is a research fiction led by Eldritch Priest at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. The aim of the lab is to support the study of experimental art, thought, and culture, with a focus on mind wandering and daydreaming as both an object of study and a method for critical analysis. Takings its cues as much from pataphysics and the arts as the cognitive sciences and philosophies of mind, the IdleLab asks: How does the valorization of daydreaming intersect with the emergence of distraction as an experiential norm? Does absentmindedness really contribute to mental wellbeing? Can reverie be an art? Who decides what thoughts count as undirected or spontaneous? Is there a politics of daydreaming? An ethics? Why does interest in daydreaming come at a time when we seem to have fewer opportunities to do it? And yet, what happens when we do have too much time on our hands?


The New Daydream Imaginary: On the Ethico-Aesthetics of Spontaneous Thought is presented with support from the Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology Dean’s Event Fund (Simon Fraser University), the Vice-President Academic Conference Fund (Simon Fraser University), the Institute for Performance Studies (Simon Fraser University), Art, Performance and Cinema Studies (School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University), and the The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

June 17, 2023