Friday, 1 January 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Discovering Galileo


On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m going to delve into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.


For a while in the summer I struggled to believed that I could come up with a brand-new, workable idea for my contribution to the A Different LENS map, and get it made in time for a September launch.

In the regular Monday Zoom calls we had as artists contributing to the project, I spent some time chatting to the others about my predicament. By this point, I think we had all become enamoured by the idea of Galileo being represented on the map, and particularly that there would be entries connecting to Dreamland, one of Margate’s most iconic landmarks.

A couple of the artists suggested that I could shift my focus towards imagining being in Dreamland from outside; of wanting to be in Dreamland but being unable to enter.

I agreed that, in some ways, this sense of Dreamland being unreachable or distant had clearer links to the project’s themes around inaccessibility. But, with my head still full of my original concept’s playful ideas, I struggled to see how I could curate an experience of Dreamland from the outside that was genuinely engaging, or what form this would take.

Looking for inspiration, I turned my attention back to learning more about Galileo.

Where before I had focused on the Two New Sciences text, and how to communicate the scientific principles debated within it, this time I focused more on Galileo as a person. As I did, a more evocative image of his character began to emerge.

In the years before Galileo started writing Two New Sciences, he had faced challenges ranging from the personal to the profound.

The publication of his previous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), caused significant controversy among the Catholic Church. It implied support for the idea that the Earth orbits the Sun, at a time when the Roman Inquisition very actively sought to censor views contradicting Biblical teachings that the Earth was the centre of the universe.

Galileo was tried on suspicion of heresy in 1633, and he was interrogated under threat of physical torture.

When the Inquisition found him “vehemently suspect of heresy,” he was sentenced to indefinite house arrest. It was at this moment that Galileo is alleged to have uttered the famous phrase ‘E pur si muove’ – ‘And yet it moves’, referring to the Earth. There is no direct proof that this actually happened, though.          

After a brief stay with a sympathetic Archbishop in Siena, in 1634 he returned to his villa in Arcetri, on the outskirts of Florence, where he remained under watch by armed guards for the rest of his life.

The entirety of Two New Sciences was written during his confinement.

Galileo's villa in Arcetri, Florence

This period was also one of significant medical hardship for Galileo.

During my research, I found an academic paper detailing Galileo’s clinical history in remarkable detail. Alongside chronic pains caused by arthritis and a serious hernia, he suffered regularly from palpitations, melancholy and a lack of appetite.

The most profound bodily change he experienced in these later years, however, was to his vision. It gradually worsened over the course of his confinement, to the point where he eventually lost all sight shortly before Two New Sciences was completed and published.

“All light is extinguished […] The blindness is a consequence of a very dense cloud which formed itself in the space of seven months, first in the right eye and then in the left eye […] that sky, that world, that universe which I, through my astonishing observations and clear demonstrations, had expanded hundred and thousand times beyond anything ever seen before by scientists, has now shrunk and narrowed as to reach no further than my own body.”

Letter from Galileo to Elia Diodati, 2nd January 1638

Portrait of Galileo in 1624, with visible swelling in his right eye

Despite these circumstances, Galileo wasn’t completely isolated from society. In fact, he was able to regularly welcome a large number of visitors to his home, including academic colleagues, students and other acquaintances. He even met with a young John Milton – the subject of Virginia Fitch’s contribution to A Different LENS – in an event that had a profound impact on the Englishman.

One of the students who visited Galileo at this time was Vincenzo Viviani (1622 – 1703), a talented young mathematician who ended up living with Galileo as his assistant until his death in 1642.

Even in this relatively short time, Galileo provided a life-long direction for Viviani, who subsequently devoted himself to collating and preserving Galileo’s works to be published, as well as writing a biography.

Vincenzo Viviani, 1622-1703

Viviani went on to make his own achievements, but the extent of Galileo’s influence on him is still evident in Florence today. The Palazzo del Cartelloni displays a bust of Galileo alongside three Latin epigraphs celebrating Galileo’s life and discoveries, which Viviani commissioned.

Bust of Galileo and epigraphs celebrating his life outside the Palazzo del Cartelloni in Florence, which was owned by Viviani

Furthermore, Galileo’s elaborate tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce was partly built using funds left by Viviani for this specific purpose. When the church finally allowed Galileo to be reburied there, Viviani’s remains were moved to the grave alongside his hero.

Galileo's tomb in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence. He wasn't allowed a Christian burial until 1737, 95 years after his death

Taken altogether, the events surrounding the writing of Two New Sciences painted a poignant picture of transcending life’s adversities. Despite the harrowing circumstances Galileo faced, his sharing of knowledge brought people together, connecting distance places, times, people and objects.

It certainly seemed like a worthwhile story to tell that resonated clearly with the wider themes of A Different LENS.

The challenge I then faced as a designer was how to connect these events from Galileo’s life in 17th-century Florence to Dreamland in 21st-century Margate.

The next post in this series discusses how I set about bringing Galileo’s story to life through the environments around Dreamland.


How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


  1. Fab intro Jack ! Wishing you a happy new year . Have you played What Remains of Edith Finch ? I was given it fir Christmas . Hope to catch up soon and have a chat.

    1. Happy New Year Billie! Yes I have played What Remains of Edith Finch, it's actually one of my favourite games of all time. Have you played it yet? And yes, let's definitely catch up soon.