Sharonna Karni Cohen is a dream catcher – or, more accurately, a Startup Nation variation of a dream catcher, now in beta testing.
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“Everyone dreams,” says the 26-year-old, settling into a cozy couch at a Tel Aviv neighborhood café and ordering up fresh apricot juice. “We might not always remember them, but we all spend a lot of time doing it I’m talking both day dreams and night dreams, as well as the hopes-and-desires kind of dreams.”
In that “hopes-and-desires” category, Cohen, for one, certainly is a big dreamer. A Bristol University graduate-turned-entrepreneur, she is no new age hippie floating around, waxing poetic about the subconscious mind. Four years ago, she left family, friends and an internship at Morgan Stanley behind and moved to Israel with a plan to realize some of her dreams – through, it would soon turn out, helping others visualize theirs.
What Cohen’s startup, which launched seven months ago and is called, appropriately, Dreame offers its users – or dreamers, as the case may be – is an opportunity to play with those dreams by having them interpreted visually.
Enlisting artists, illustrators, cartoonists and designers from around the world, Cohen and her art curator, Emily Smouha, 24, created a platform that allows users to scroll through an online gallery and link up with artists of their choice. The user then describes their dream in writing and, if they want, images to that artist, who transform it into a work of art. The resulting work is signed jointly by the artist and, unless they prefer anonymity, the dreamer too.
For example, one London user’s dream of trying to “sell loads of ugly furniture so I didn’t get fired” and being chased by a “group of men dressed as skeletons trying to kill me for meat,” becomes, in the hands of an illustrator from Cape Town, a black, white and orange sketch of a house on fire and a horned flame filled with skeletons.
Another dreamer, from Mexico, describes her journey on a small boat, “with my shadow,” to an awaiting surf instructor – and receives, from her chosen artist in London, a digital file of a colorful drawing of a rowboat headed to a beach filled with palm trees and high-rise towers.
Dreame / Dream Application LTD
“A dream is not a full story,” says Irina Golina-Sagatelian, 32, a successful animator and illustrator who was one of the first 12 artists hired by Dreame, and remains one of the site’s most popular. “Often, those dreaming don’t know how to describe it,” she says. “They want someone else to complete their dreams for them.”
Sometimes, says Golina-Sagatelian, she will get sent a dream pages long, and other times just a few lines. Sometimes she sits and illustrates the dream for 2-3 hours, and sometimes the work will take over a week. Once in a while she reaches out to the dreamer directly, using the Dreame platform, to ask them follow-up questions – but dreamer and artist never meet, or speak over the phone.
“I am not really connecting with another person. I am connecting with their ideas, and making the illustrations mine,” says Golina-Sagatelian. “For me, it’s a way to open my mind and find new inspiration – with the help of someone else’s idea.”
Dreame / Dream Application LTD
With an agent in London, a teaching position at a Jerusalem animation school, a long list of clients and two small kids at home, Golina-Sagatelian did not need any extra work. But she fell for the concept, she says: “Working on these dreams feels like a relief. There is something pure about it.”
The styles of the participating artists, and their focuses, are diverse. Nikki Radan, a self-taught illustrator from the Philippines, for example, uses surreal-looking scenery, subjects and concepts. Kathy Truong from California admits she is fascinated by nightmares, horror and all things creepy. And Anna Berger, a flaming redhead new immigrant from Moscow to Tel Aviv, is open to hearing about users’ erotic dreams if they want to tell.
“I was skeptical about the whole idea to begin with,” admits Berger, 23, “but I then joined a Dreame event this summer where there was a booth – like a confessional – for people to share their dreams with the artists. I gave it a try.” She thought it would be “cheesy, sweet and stereotypical,” but it was none of that. “It was very authentic,” she says.
‘Giving up control’
“I am always looking for new gigs that relate to art,” adds Shira Roginkin, 30, one of the newest artists on Dreame’s roster. Born in Belarus, she moved to Israel as a child and is a fashion designer by training. Today she does everything from painting large outside murals to exhibiting her work in galleries, to doing acrylic paint nail art. “I just shoot in every direction and see what hits,” she says. “But this project was like ‘Wow!’”
Roginkin, unlike Golina-Sagatelian, rarely asks for more information about or from the dreamers. “I go with my intuition,” she says. “And I think dreamers don’t mind, because part of giving into your dream is giving up control.”
Yasmin Ramon, 23, a blogger and student from Sderot, sent in a dream that had been repeating itself in different combinations and she wanted to get some fresh perspective on it. The dream, she says, involved a faceless young man embracing her, and another young man, who had rejected her in the past, seeing her and becoming jealous. Articulating something so personal and putting it into a stranger’s artistic hands, she says, was an experience she enjoyed. She hung the art – created by New York artist Munkyeong Kim – in her office.
The artists, who charge anywhere between $10 to $50 to render the dreams and send the user a digital copy of the art, keep between 80-90 percent of the profit, with the rest going to Dreame. If, however, the dreamer – or any other interested buyer – goes on to purchase an actual copy of the art or a reproduction of the work on, say a pillowcase, T-shirt, or eye mask – Dreame gets more of the profits.
So far, over 800 dreams have been turned into art by 37 artists, from 15 different countries. The majority of the artists live in Israel, where the startup is based. This will change, says Cohen, as she recruits more artists. Her plan is to enlist hundreds more by the time the new version of Dreame, which will be integrated with a mobile app, allowing for dream logging and sharing features, goes live in early 2015.
The new version, continues Cohen, will include more prompts to help users describe their dreams (What are the colors? Who are you with? What are you feeling?); categorization to help direct dreamers toward the best artist for them (Scary? Funny? Erotic?); as well as, for those interested, the option of buying a package that would include not only an artist rendering your dream, but also an analyst helping to interpret it.
“We are going to be a place of exchange between artists’ talent and users’ imagination,” says Cohen, now sipping coffee at another neighborhood café, waving to a friend, lighting up a cigarette and snapping open her laptop all at the same time. “My dream is for this to become the go-to platform for personalized, meaningful art and I believe it’s going to come true.”