Bat Dreams

Located in Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Akiyoshidai is Japan’s largest karst plateau. It initially formed as an underwater coral reef, which, over 80 million years, gradually moved and joined the continental plate. The present-day grassland is dotted with sharp limestone columns and sinkholes, while the caves of Akiyoshidai Groundwater System, a designated RAMSAR site, rest underneath. For Akiyoshidai International Art Village’s residency theme »The Future of This Land,« artist Mica Cabildo looked into time, water, and ecology. In her interview with Akiyoshidai Science Museum Director Emeritus Dr. Tadashi Kuramoto, she explored Kagekiyodo cave, where bats hibernate over the winter. Mica also learned about time distortion in Japanese dream narratives from Professor Franz Hintereder-Emde of Yamaguchi University’s College of Humanities and Research Institute for Time Studies.

In the AIAV courtyard, I composed Balsa (Rafts), an installation of five massive bamboo rafts left stranded on a rocky amphitheater. In the background, Water Clock was playing.The piece is a collection of natural field recordings and artificial sounds composed into a slow rhythmic trickling and ticking, with a flutter of wingssimulated through umbrella shuffling – taking off every minute.

Stimulated by Dr. Kuramoto’s and Prof. Emde’s studies, I conceptualized another narrative installation about a bat dreaming himself as me, or vice versa. In Bat is Dreaming, Bat first dreams he is being chased up manmade stairs in a cave, and proceeds through several common human dream themes (past, present, future, life, death, flying, being naked, teeth falling out) before finally dreaming of falling, only to begin the chase up the stairs all over again.

Akiyoshidai reminded me of El Nido, Palawan, an aquatic karst region in the Philippines, named after swiftlets that nest in tall, jagged, karst islands. Was Akiyoshidai something like Palawan millions of years ago? Will Palawan become something like Akiyoshidai, millions of years from now? Will daytime island swiftlets eventually make way for nighttime cave bats? These different layers of time and timescales can only coexist in a dream.

Mica Cabildo: What do you find most fascinating about bats?

Dr. Tadashi Kuramoto: What’s most fascinating about bats for me is that they can fly. No other mammals can actually fly. I think it’s quite beautiful when a bat flies. No other mammal can copy that. Bats have evolved to fly better since they started to live in this world. Just by looking at the forearm of a bat fossil, one can tell which kind of bat it is.

»If an airplane crashes into a wall, then people will die. A bat won’t.«

MC: What can humans learn from bats?

TK: If a flying bat suddenly crashes into a wall, the bat won’t die. After a few seconds, it can fly away. If an airplane crashes into a wall, then people will die. A bat won’t. Even though it drops off the cave ceiling, it can successfully land on the ground. It won’t die. A bat never died by dropping off. If human beings didn’t exist, bats would probably live forever. They will never go extinct. Nature protects bats and butterflies. That’s how they evolve. You always need to cope with nature in a good way.

MC: What differences and similarities do you find between German and Japanese dream narratives?

Professor Franz Emde: Wish-fulfilling dreams, frightening dreams, nightmares, encounters with persons from the past (family) can be seen in all cultures. The psychological motivation of dreams is a universal thing. In Western cultures, the influence of Christian religion on dream occurrence seems to be very strong. In dreams, we desire the banned things, we are out of control and unveil our real self, which has to be corrected. Freud’s »Where id was, there ego shall be« shows mistrust against dreams and human unconsciousness as something that should be overcome. In Japanese dream narration, there is a spiritual world of all kinds of beings, which Christianity expelled from Western culture. As a dreamer, you dive into that world as part of a greater nature. You are not isolated in your dream as an individual, but part of a world that is unknown, strange, frightening, dangerous, or seductive.

»In Japanese dream narration, there is a spiritual world of all kinds of beings, which Christianity expelled from Western culture.«

MC: What is unique about Japanese dream narratives?

FE: In Japanese tradition, everything in nature is animated: rocks, trees, water, mountains, woods, and of course, animals. There are also many miraculous beings like ghosts (yurei), fairies (yosei), and demons (oni), which represent a broad range of evil, helpfulness, conspiracies, fear, anger, incertitudebut also wit and happiness. In short, all kinds of emotions. Dreaming of animated or supernatural beings will not show psychic problems, as interpreted by Freudian measures, but is a part of human existence within a spiritual and animated nature. Maybe it could be compared to Jung’s archetypes.

MC: What is the ideal relationship between humans and bats?

TK: A couple of decades ago, we thought humans and bats were biologically linked. The ancestors of humans were thought to be insectivorous. Scientists thought bats and monkeys developed from a kind of tree-dwelling mole. Some professor of taxonomy classified bats and human beings in the same group. We, bats and humans, were close to each other. But after genetic research, it was discovered that we are quite different. The main habitat of bats is the forest, where other insects and creatures like beetles and moths live. Bats eat these things. In Japan, if people don’t do anything to the land, all of it becomes forest. So we need to protect the forest in some way. Bats can eat those insects that try to eat trees in the forest, so they are literally protecting trees in the forest. As long as the forest has bats, the trees are safe.

MC: How do bats experience time?

TK: They have a body clock, so they can tell when it’s evening. They wait inside the cave until the sky reaches a certain level of darkness, and that’s when they start flying out. But in summer, since the days are longer than in winter, they have to wait inside a bit longer after waking up, and that’s how they adjust their body clock. Toward the end of autumn, their body clocks sometimes work wrongly. Sometimes they start flying out in the daytime by mistake, maybe because of the weather. In autumn, they are just about to hibernate, so maybe they are half-asleep and that’s why they fly out by mistake.

»They wait inside the cave until the sky reaches a certain level of darkness, and that’s when they start flying out.«

MC: How is time manipulated in Mugen Noh and Natsume Sōseki’s work?

FE: Zeami (a Japanese playwright) and his father Kan’ami created the theoretical outline of Noh as it exists today. The ingenious and revolutionary idea was to build a stage for dreaming. A Noh play usually has two main temporal layers, the presence of a traveler (in most cases a monk) who is told a story about some person and occupations in the past by a villager. Asked for some prayers for the soul of that person, the monk sits down, and while he prays or falls asleep, the villager returns in splendid costume and a mask, turning out to be that person from the story (now called shite). Dancing and chanting, the shite relates his story again, charged with grief, mourning, or longing. While the monk (now called waki), sits on the stage dreaming, this dream is performed in front of the audience. The story of the dream, which is the second temporal layer, can go back years, decades, and centuries. In some plays, that representation of the past can stretch to the »real« presence of the monk and the audience, when the shite turns directly to the waki, showing that both had a personal connection in the past. It shows an amalgamation of the past and the present.

In the first of Natsume Sōseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams, a man waits one hundred years to meet his lover, who just passed away in front of his eyes. She promised to come back, if he waits at her grave. After countless sunrises and sunsets, when he already gets tired of waiting, a stem of a flower grows, and he feels as if she has come back. In the seventh dream, a man carries his blind little child on his back. They are heading for a dark forest, but the man doesn’t know where or what they are going for. It is the child who decides the direction. At one tree, the child says, »One hundred years ago, at this very place, you were killing me, remember?« That moment, the man clearly remembers some occurrence at that time and the child gets heavy like a Chizo-bosatsu, made of stone.

All dreams of this collection have that kind of twist in continuity, that show the complex structure of different time levels, unknown time leaps in our space-time existence.

Baddreams in Post

MC: How do you think bats dream?

TK: I am still a human being, not a bat, so I can’t really tell. But I think they are dreaming of the beauty of nature. Japanese people used to dream of the world of ghosts. We think of ghosts from the past that still exist, in a way, in our lives. Maybe bats are dreaming of many delicious mosquitoes and moths in the world.

»I am still a human being, not a bat, so I can’t really tell.«

MC: What can be learned from dream narratives in general?

FE: Most dream narratives use dreams as a method to tell stories in a free way beyond reasoning, cause-and-effect, or any connection to real events. There lies a possibility to show human life and existence in a larger framework that goes beyond the »real« world of the material, social, and economic framework. In dream narratives, we experience worlds others than ours and those of our imagination. They show that we always live in a multitemporal reality, that the past is never absent and gone, and that the future is sometimes the dream of today or of the past. Dream narratives are experiments in time to make us accept our future as well as our past.

Photos by Mica Cabildo and Michihiro Ohta

Translation of Dr. Kuramoto’s interview by Yusuke Fujisawa

For more information about Akiyoshidai International Art Village click here.