The Museum of London, located in the UK capital, is working to collect the dreams of Londoners during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as a way of documenting the impacts of the crisis.
The lives of London’s inhabitants have changed “not just in the day-to-day” because of the pandemic, but also “in relation to how we sleep and dream”, the museum said.
The project, entitled “Guardians of Sleep”, will look to collect the dreams in the form of oral histories. It will also explore what insight dreams might offer into mental health and ways of coping with external stresses, especially in times of crisis.
According to a King’s College London/Ipsos MORI survey in June, the global health crisis can trouble the mind. This is not just during a person’s waking hours, but also during sleep.
The “Guardians of Sleep” project is launching an initiative in partnership with the Museum of Dreams based at Western University in Canada. It will ask Londoners to share the dreams they have experienced as COVID-19 swept the world.
Foteini Aravani, digital curator at the Museum of London, said that the recording of dreams would allow it to “document a key shared experience from the pandemic”, but also to stretch the definition of a “museum object”.
“Sleep and our sleep pattern was one of the first things that shifted and changed, almost immediately after the lockdown happened,” she was quoted by The Guardian newspaper, “What I wanted to capture was the experience that possibly the pandemic is not only affecting our conscious lives, but also our subconscious, our dream life.”
Traditionally, when museums have collected dreams it has been in the form of artistic impression, for example, paintings or drawings influenced by the events. However, this can often dissociate the dream from the dreamer.
She asserted that the museum wants to open up its collection to Londoners, and include the dreams in their own words in that collection. This will additionally challenge a little the definition of what a museum object is.
She explained that the project will capture dreams without interpretation or analysis, but the testimonies will be made available for research.
Researchers around the world are working on projects to unpick how COVID-19 is affecting people’s thoughts while they sleep.
Valdas Noreika, a lecturer in psychology at London’s Queen Mary University, who is working on one such study, welcomed the museum project.
“There is already preliminary evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our sleep patterns as well as dream contents,” he said, “For instance, people report more anger and sadness words, and there is a frequent mention of contamination and cleanliness in pandemic dreams.”
Londoners’ dreams collected during the pandemic will be a very valuable source of information for future historians, scientists and artists interested in how the pandemic affected not only people’s waking thoughts but also their innermost experiences of dreams and nightmares.