Subconscious Landscapes: Rocky Schenck’s The Recurring Dream

Nightmares cover the walls of Texas State’s Wittliff Collections as Rocky Schenck’s latest collection of photographs The Recurring Dream reflect the artist’s haunting inspiration. This collection is very large, made up of over one hundred images. Schenck says his photographs are “found realities” or natural scenes that he captures within his lens. He later brings these realities to life by self-tinting each with oil and therefore transforming them into manufactured realities of his own subconscious. In this collection of images, Schenck explores his own experience with a recurring dream that haunted his childhood and works to visualize that trauma through images of the real world. While not sharing any details of the dream that inspired him, it is evident that this dream has tormented Schenck and caused him to address his childhood trauma with this work in an effort to overcome it.
     The Recurring Dream fills five large rooms, every image evenly spaced and similar in size. The entire collection is made up of a small selection of colors, most of them feel dark, aged, and otherworldly. Vibrant emerald green trees sit atop dark backdrops, often with a glowing golden sky peeking through the trees and vines. Some photographs contain aliens, ghosts, angels, and skeletons. Rooms seem to blend together. There is no defined order to view the images. Some viewers walk clockwise while others walk counter clockwise. I accidentally walked past some images two or three times. It was like walking through Schenck’s mind while he experienced this recurring dream; everything feels half real, almost real enough to believe. The entire exhibition suggests the feeling of being in a dream; each image has just enough clarity to believe as reality, but a soft haze, fading edges, and fantastical repetition emphasize the recurring nature of this subconscious exploration reminiscent of an almost-forgotten memory. This struggle to differentiate reality from fantasy is shared by Schenck while he works to confront this trauma by physically recreating it as well as the viewer while investigating Schenck’s work.
My eyes were caught by a landscape on the back wall named Prosenium, it glows eerily. Schenck’s beautiful use of otherworldly colors and soft haze suggest a connection with dreams and fantasy. Adding these colors to the black and white image in such an intimate way is Schenck’s attempt to pull his subconscious out of him and put it into the photograph. The connection between Schenck and this image is intensely apparent. This photo is taken from within the woods. The natural imagery feels tangible and pulls me into a false sense of reality that I can only recognize as manufactured when I actively perceive the colors and am made aware of the fantastical nature of the image. The sky is a hazy greenish yellow and the almost-grey clouds, a blur. The scene is framed with gigantic old trees, overgrown with vines. A lone figure walks past one of the trees, looking away from me with hands in pockets. This ominous figure, dressed in dark neutral tones, seems ghostly and faceless. Tree trunks and leaves glow, contrasting with the dark shadow of forest behind. The forest feels alive; I experience this scene as though I, myself, am within the trees watching this figure navigate these ominous trees. It is hard to differentiate what is real and what Schenck has manufactured, like being in a dream that you can’t tell is a dream or trying to recall a memory that is lost in your subconscious. These haunting elements come together to make Prosenium a perfect representation of The Recurring Dream by transporting me into a dream world.

There was another photo that stood out among the rest, consisting of eleven identical red-headed young women in various green dresses, in varying sizes, and all looking in different directions and existing in different planes. Her eleven forms do not obey any laws of physics or traditional rules of perspective. The repetition of this character immediately affirms the feeling of being in a dream-like manufactured reality, a feeling that is further echoed by the space in its entirety. Eleven transports me to a mystical blurred view of this red-head a dozen times at once. She appears as a physical representation of a subconscious that is lost, distraught, and contemplative at once in a dream world. The slight differences between her dresses—some lighter than others, some with ruffles, others with sequins—all bring me back to that almost-forgotten memory, a green dress that I can’t perfectly remember. The top half of the photograph is a smoky blue wall, decorated with what appears to be either a fresco or faded reliefs depicting trees and people. As difficult as it is to make out exactly what is shown, it is obvious that it is repetitive imagery, again reflecting the space and the entire collection. This background’s blurred edges make it seem to mirror the lost red-head, possibly depicting the same person or same tree eleven times from eleven angles.

     Eleven compliments Prosenium perfectly, both glow green and live in another realm. I not only saw this collection, but I experienced Schenck’s recurring dream and went on a journey through my own subconscious at the same time. This collection of images has made me reflect on my own experiences with haunting recurring dreams in a very personal way. I feel Schenck’s pain, fear, anxiety, and discomfort, but at the same time I am comforted by it. By sharing this haunting childhood experience and being able to confront it in this safe space, Schenck provides he and myself with an opportunity to overcome these personal anxieties. The book that contains the images from this collection has become a ritualistic tool for me, every time I open it, I begin a journey of self-exploration and can better understand myself. This work will continue to act as a personal reflection of one man’s childhood experience as well as a therapeutic experience into another realm for countless others that have experienced their own haunting recurring dream. (1,000)