Rachel Jendrzejewski was a 27-year-old graduate student at Brown University when she started writing the play Encyclopedia. The unique production thrives off the surreal moments only dream logic—reasoning that only makes sense while you are dreaming—can explain.
It’s an idea that has stuck with Jendrzejewski’s work as a playwright and artist over the years since she began writing Encylopedia in 2009.
Not that Jendrzejewski knew that’s what she was exploring at the time. In fact, it wasn’t until the play was being workshopped by a group of actors, directors, and small private audiences that her director offered the surreal play its key descriptor.
“In the play, there is a moment where this character opens her mouth and a marching band pours out of it,” Jendrzejewski says. “These things happen and they don’t have to make sense in a realistic way. I latched onto that.”
Jendrzejewski became increasingly curious about dreams after that. She says “dream logic” often described her style of writing, and inspired her to start reading scientific studies on dreams while looking at artistic explorations of the dreaming world.
Her curiosity led her to three main questions: What can we learn from dreams? How do they affect our decisions? And how do they manifest themselves? The now 33-year-old artist and playwright still attempts to answer these questions today through her ongoing art project, Oneir0nautics. Launched in 2010, Oneir0nautics is an effort to collect dreams via the project’s website or in person during the project’s installations.
The first installation took place at the 2010 Conflux Arts and Technology Festival in New York City. After the inaugural dreams were collected, Jendrzejewski says she asked performers to act out the dreams in street settings. “I had a small handful of performers,” she says. “Basically, dreams would come to me and I would give them assignments. I would say ‘go hug this tree for a while,’ or ‘put this object on a café table outdoors on the sidewalk.’”
Jendrzejewski says these assignments led to more questions. “I was kind of interested in that uncertainty of what people were seeing was real, or an image from a dream,” she says. “Kind of looking at what it’s like to put dreams into actual working context.”
The concept of oneironautics centers around what it means to connect through someone else’s dream—almost like dreaming telepathy. Which is, in a nutshell, what Jendrzejewski’s concept for Oneir0nautics is all about: interacting with strangers’ dreams through art.
Ever since the Conflux Festival, Jendrzejweski has grown more direct with her installations. She attempted another installation at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in Providence, R.I., in 2011. While live performances based on dreams were once again the main focus of the installation, a “curiosity cabinet,” made out of a small entertainment center and two slender wooden cabinets, was tucked in the corner of the performance space. Paper snowflakes lay strewn around the cabinets plastered with handwritten dreams and dream-like oddities.
Jendrzejewski moved to Minneapolis in 2011 when she received the Jerome Fellowship for her writing from the Playwright Center. Oneir0nautics came with her, and continues to operate in Minneapolis.
Jendrzejewski recently collaborated with the MPLS (imPulse) choir at the Capri Theater. MPLS (imPulse) Artistic Director Sam Grace was planning last October’s “Falling Awake” concert around dreams and heard about Jendrzejewski’s work through a friend when he was organizing the show. “When I heard that Rachel was doing a creative project with dreams, I immediately contacted her to see if she wanted to collaborate,” Grace says.
Dreams were submitted by audience members per usual, but this time no direct performance came from them. Handwritten dreams were simply projected onto an overhead screen while MPLS (imPulse)’s choir performed, and dreams were read between songs.
And while Jendrzejewski’s Oneir0nautics project will move whereever she does, she says she doesn’t really know exactly what the next installation will be. The project’s next step may just have to come to her in a dream.