The Dream Alchemy by Yue Tan

Article  /  Research   Essays   CriticalThinking   Artists   YueTan
Published: 13.01.2020
Yue Tan Yue Tan
Yue Tan
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I strive to record and express moments from within my dreams, in order to obviate their elusiveness. I am a spectator in my dreams and sometimes find myself seized by violent and terrific events. These dreams from my subconscious guide me to the part of myself which I do not always recognize in my consciousness. I wish to know where these contents come from, why I have these dreams, or if these dreams are referencing narratives from my personal experience. As a jeweler, I bring this darkness back to reality and document it through my work.
On Dreaming
Dreams are so strange - and so involuntary - as to challenge and deny the twin notions of rationality; but in dreaming I appear irrational. And I lose my sense of volition. How, then, can I be responsible for my dreams? Surely they occur whether I will them to or not. If I do not will them, how can I cause them? While involving me, dreams seem to happen to me regardless of my will; and they run their course - with few exceptions - no matter what I say, think, or feel. [1]

As a dreamer, I commit myself to my responsibility for my dreams. Therefore, I started to keep a dream journal. Every day, when I open my eyes in the morning, I jot down these spontaneous instances on the paper.

The contents of dreams represent realms of the intangibles, the unpredictables, and the uncontrollable. I am a spectator, sometimes seized by violence and terror in my dreams. These peculiar dark contents appear to be irrational not only because there are peculiar units of time, place, and personage, but also because they contest rules and social ethics.

I see these negative contents as a reveal of my shadow. The shadow is one of the important concepts of the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung. The shadow refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality that represents unknown or little-known attributes and qualities of the ego. [2] The contents of the shadow come not only from the influence of outside forces but also from qualities in conflict with our self-image. [3]

The shadow is forever hiding as if the light of consciousness would steal its very life,[4] probably this is why it always comes to visit me at night. However, I do not want to avert these events in my subconscious world. I do not let my consciousness fold the remembrance of my disturbing dreams into the ocean of my secrets even though they are not desirable. Dreams are subliminal materials for understanding my subconscious, even if some of them are by no means adorable, they cannot be ignored.

Dec 5, 2017: I hang out with a group of friends in the busy city. We see a man with social anxiety. He cuffs himself to a street lamp, it is so crowded around him. My friend asks him why he is doing this, he looks at us, answers sincerely, this is to force himself to communicate with others, he does not want to be isolated from people anymore. My friends and I get our answer, so we walk away.

Yue Tan, Brooch, Social Anxiety, 2017, Photographer: Yue Tan

Yue Tan, Brooch, Detail View, Social Anxiety, 2017, Photographer: Yue Tan

Dec 13, 2017: I walk in an abandoned industrial building, hearing a voice calling my name from the other side of the hallway. I walk through the hallway, it is dark and unfurnished. Then I come into an empty room and there is a computer-sized box in it. The voice I heard comes from the box. I walk closer, and, surprisingly, I see my best friend’s face inside the box. Meanwhile, her mouth morphed into an even smaller box, with grass all over. She looks terrible, I talk with her, but I can do nothing to help her.

Yue Tan​, Brooch, Inside the Box, 2017, Detail View, Photographer: Yue Tan

Yue Tan​, Brooch, Inside the Box, 2017, Photographer: Yue Tan

The disturbing dreams make waking me feel uncomfortable. Through remembering and recording what is happening and how I respond to the events in my subconscious world in the form of the dream, my shadow is revealed to me. I try to get closer to the negative feelings I repressed and the terrific contents emerging in my dreams. The shadow is finding its way out of the bag and trying to present itself in front of me, by bubbling up in my dream world, the subconscious world, and proving me its power.

Feb 21, 2018: My friend asks me to take care of her ferret for a day. I play with that ferret all the time, but I am playing too hard, suddenly the ferret breaks into two parts. The head part is still alive, but the tail part is dead. I am so worried that my friend will see this after she comes back, so I try to glue the ferret back, and I am also wishing that the tail part will be back alive if it is connected to the head again. The glue doesn’t work. I try to sew the two parts by a thread, but it also doesn’t work. I don’t know how to face my friend, I am anxious.

Yue Tan, Brooch, The Broken Ferret, 2018, Photographer: Yue Tan

Yue Tan, Brooch, The Broken Ferret, 2018, Detail View, Photographer: Yue Tan

I decide not only to record my disturbing dreams in my dream record, but I also want to remember them by using my jewelry. Of all the materials that I have interacted with, silver has become my favorite drawing medium. The enduring nature and preciousness of this material have enabled me to preserve and solidify the moments I encounter in my dreamscape. I make “the Dream Alchemy” by soldering each individual wire, constructing them into an image and making it to a brooch. Similar to drawing, the “silver drawing” is a slow and tender process, and time is commissioned to consolidate the story-telling of these pieces. With the building up of wires, the piece gradually reveals itself to me, and the introspective narrative is woven alongside this process.

The Alchemist
April 13, 2018: I am in high school. I join a school union with my friend. However, I have to leave that union due to the time conflict. My friend is upset about being left alone in a group of strangers. I go back to the meeting space to pick up my personal belongings, the head of the union leads me to the storing room. He passes me a box, by the time he opens it, I see a cat lying within it. I ask him where are my belongings, he opens the cat’s belly. There is a bloody cut on the cat’s belly and my belongings are inside its body. I was so shocked that he killed a cat to be a container, suddenly I see the cat blinks its eyes. So I shout out: “You asshole, its still alive! How can you just let it suffer like this!” He said: “Yes, I just cut its belly before you came. This is the very first one I’ve ever made.”

Dreams exist above the human body, but making them in the form of jewelry brings them back to the physical body. Constructed from layers of wires, these pieces in a way are steady - they will not be worn off like the pencil drawings I used to have. On the other hand, they are fragile and can be distorted. Like the ethereal dream contents, they are not set. I bring dreams into the waking world, and by wearing them, the wearer lives side by side with the dream and the meaning it carries - the shadow.

I am the first wearer of my pieces. Jewelry contains meaning both in private and public realms. The narrative embedded in these pieces retain a strong emotional connection to me. The story that each piece carries come from my subconscious, they are part of my repressed personality, but they are chosen to be brought to the external world and be seen by others. However, even if it is a struggle, just like recognizing the dark side of the self, it is meaningful. The shadow is part of our personality, which means it also contains part of our power. Rejecting the shadow means rejecting part of the power. The darkness may still come to my dreams, but I have learned to embrace it. If the disturbing dreams unceasingly occur, I have the courage to meet them. In the waking world, through making and wearing my pieces, my shadow will be reintegrated as a part of me.


[1] J, Allan, Hobson. The Dreaming Brain: How the brain creates both the sense and nonsense of dreams (New York: Basic Books, Inc, 1988), 10.
[2] Marie-Louise von Franz, “The Process of Individuation,” in Man and His Symbols, ed. Carl Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz (London: Aldus Books, 1964).
[3] Robert, Bly, “The Long Bag We Drag Behind Us,” in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, ed. Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (NY: Penguin Group Inc, 1991).
[4] Connie, Zweig, and Jeremiah, Abrams, “Introduction: The Shadow Side of Everyday Life ,” in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, ed. Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (NY: Penguin Group Inc, 1991).

About the author

Yue Tan is originally from China. During 2012 and 2016, she studied and received dual bachelor degrees in jewelry from Chinese University of Geosciences in China and Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom. Right after graduating, she went to Rhode Island School of Design(RISD) for a master degree in jewelry. In RISD, she has worked as the teaching assistant and elective course instructor several times. And she has also participated in multiple group shows. In 2017, she won the alumni artist award from the International Precious Metal Institute in Cranston. Now she recently graduated and gets started launching her career as a jewelry artist.