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Getting High at The New Museum: Brion Gysin's Dream Machine

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Brion Gysin's Dream Machine is a sculpture that, when seen with closed eyes, is meant to draw the viewer into a "trance-like, hallucinatory state."

Brion Gysin (1916 - 1986) was a painter, performer, and poet who became famous for inventing the "cut-up method" (where words and phrases are cut up and rearranged to create new meaning) with his longtime friend and collaborator, the writer William S. Burroughs.

A retrospective of Gysin's work is on display at The New Museum through Oct. 3, and includes drawings, books, slides and film projections. The centerpiece of the exhibit is small, dark room with pillows scattered on the floor, where visitors can huddle around the Dream Machine, a kinetic light sculpture that looks like a new-age children's mobile.

The Dream Machine is a light bulb suspended within a cardboard cylinder that has shapes cut out of it. The cylinder is attached to a record turntable that revolves at 78 rpm, which, according to the New Museum, "makes light pulse at a pace that corresponds to alpha waves present in the human brain during wakeful relaxation." First displayed in 1962, the machine is so simple that some fans make them at home.

Gysin thought that visions the Dream Machine created on the interior of people's eyelids were the paintings of the future: that soon enough, art would happen inside people's heads instead of on paper.

WNYC went to the New Museum to check out Gysin's theory, asking people what it was they saw and felt when staring (eyes closed, of course) at the machine.

Their reactions are in this video.