Art book

Sondra Perry’s art book explores dreams, memory and identity in a surprisingly original way

History is a funny thing. Whether you are talking about world events or your own personal past, memory and interpretation often play a more important role than official facts and records.

New Jersey-born artist Sondra Perry explored this conundrum earlier this year in an immersive audio-visual installation, Lineage for a Phantom Zone, commissioned by Muse, the Rolls-Royce ​Art Programme.

Rather than share her actual memories, Sondra took an unusual route on the subject, recreating a dream she wished she had. In this way, the work interrogates personal history as the roots of dreams, acting as a meditation on lineage, desire and memory, and exploring themes of race, identity and technology.

“I do work that is preoccupied with memory, moving archival images and dreams,” she said. “Think about how your dreams can open up new futures for you.”

Sondra added: “Some of the influences in my artistic practice are definitely my family members. My parents worked with what they had. I used to say they worked with very little but what they worked was a lot. It was the culture, it was family history.”

Beyond the exhibition

Now, a Lineage for a Phantom Zone companion book has been released.

It was developed by black-owned creative agency A Vibe Called Tech, led by creative director Lewis Gilbert and founder Charlene Prempeh, and designed by Robin Howie, creative director of BIPOC-owned studio Fieldwork Facility.

The purpose of the book is to enable visitors to engage in the research and reflection that informs Lineage for a Phantom Zone. Writers and contributors selected by A Vibe Called Tech include filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien CBE, psychotherapist Bola Shonubi, psychiatrist and science fiction writer Tade Thompson, videographer and arts writer Kareem Reid and writer of science fiction and fantasy NK Jemisin.

These are individuals who have inspired Perry’s practice, as well as those who have a strong connection to the artist’s work.

Myths and Dreams

The scent of oranges is an integral part of Perry’s work, which immediately evokes a family myth. Perry’s grandmother told the artist that when she passes, Perry will know she will smell oranges, and so the smell of this fruit is loaded with both heartache and intimacy.

Fieldwork Facility approached the book as a dream sequence where each of the book’s essays, stories, and conversations are affected by different dream phenomena. Each text has a single modified letter, overall the interventions of the seven texts spell “oranges”.

The result is a surreal experience asking the reader to further engage with Sondra’s work through the texts commissioned by Vibe Called Tech. On the back of the book there is also space to document your own dreams.

  • O — In the first trial, the O’s are replaced with spaces for phantom zones; like little wormholes opening up into the dream space.
  • R – In the second essay, all the R’s are upside down, echoing the cypress trees in the work.
  • A — While discussing a recurring dream with a psychoanalyst, Perry talks about his grandmother who does not look like his grandmother and a flood that occurs. The A’s are replaced by ‘≈’, which is the mathematical symbol for ‘almost equal to’, and similar to the map symbol for water.
  • N — The letter N appears and blurs, inspired by a voiceover from the film: “You can see people but they are far away. Because of that, you can’t recognize anyone’s face.”
  • G — In this essay, the G’s are inspired by multiple dreamlike phenomena where the laws of physics go out the window. In the artwork, Sondra’s voiceover says, “We can reach them if we stretch our arms for a really long time, and when we stretch, our hands dissolve into their bodies.”
  • E — In this conversation, E falls out of place. This is inspired by the physical sensation of falling in a dream.
  • S – At the end of the book and at the end of the dream sequence, things still don’t feel quite as they seem, helped by the letter ‘S’.

    “As fans, we were so excited to work on the release with Sondra,” said Lewis Dalton Gilbert, Creative Director at A Vibe Called Tech. “The first conversation we had about the exhibit and his dreams for the book was like a conversation between old friends. Those we invited to contribute to the book were also people who we felt had deep ties to his practice. I feel and hope that is reflected in the result.”

    “We love that we were able to take the essence of the exhibit and explore the dream in another medium,” adds Charlene Prempeh, founder of A Vibe Called Tech. “Sondra’s work is deeply sensory and our goal with the book was to recreate the disconcerting otherworldly experience of a dreamscape. I hope that is what we have achieved with the design of Fieldwork Facility and the work of all contributors.”