2005 Art Theme: Psyche

The Conscious, the Subconscious and the Unconscious

“Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that mouse grey parliament of cells, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasuredrome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves…” — Diane Ackerman
— An Alchemy of Mind

This year’s theme explores psychology: self-expression, self-reflection and the unconscious power of dreams. For this purpose, we’ll divide a portion of the playa into zones, each relating to a different region of the mind.


“Man, as prying housemaid of the soul,
May know her happiness by eye to hole:
He’s safe; the key is lost; he knows
Door will not open, nor hole close.” — William Empson
— This Last Pain

Stationed at the central crossroads of our city, the Burning Man will correspond to everything we mean when we say “I”. This core of consciousness is said to know itself and own its self. It is the source, we’ve been informed, of what is called free will. Beneath this stalwart icon of identity, this me of me’s, this properest of proper nouns, we will unfurl a circus tent that overspreads a many-chambered maze. This carnival of consciousness will house a freak show of the self. The me you want to be (but aren’t), the me that you repudiate (but are), the me you can’t imagine (but might be) will here be married and distorted in bewildering array. Each interactive room will indicate a different mood, a different mask; a different mode of being we assume as players in the masquerade that’s called a personality.

Participants who find their way into the central chamber of this funhouse of the mind will then ascend a two-tiered structure that supports the Burning Man. First stop will be a gallery of self-portraiture. Everyone attending the event is cordially invited to create a portrait of themselves or someone who is part of their identity. Come ready to attach this image to its walls. Around this gallery there will stretch a mezzanine. From here you will look down on seekers who traverse the maze. Leaning outward from its railing, you may help to guide them in their search or offer misdirection, as it pleases you. Your final destination on the highest level of the platform will afford a panoramic view of Black Rock City. Here, you will encounter Burning Man.

The figure will be raised upon a pedestal with four stout spokes protruding from its base. By pushing on these poles participants may turn the Burning Man, slowly rotating the 4-story figure that looms over them. Those who labor at this turnstile will be physically connected to its sovereign axis, the irreducible core of the “I”. But for many other citizens throughout our city, this fitful movement of the Man will feel erratic and profoundly disconcerting. Is “I” a king of consciousness or motley fool? The answer to this question will depend entirely on one’s point of view.


“For the spirit that walks in shadow
“T is-oh, ‘t is an Eldorado!
But the traveler, traveling through it,
May not-dare not openly view it;

So wills its King, who hath forbid
The uplifting of the fringéd lid;
And thus the sad Soul that here passes
Beholds it but through darkened glasses.” — Edgar Allan Poe
— Dream-Land

The Dreamer by Pepe Ozan
The Dreamer by Pepe Ozan

A lamp lit colonnade behind the Funhouse of the Mind will lead directly outward from our city. This promenade will terminate precisely on a borderline dividing wakefulness from sleep. Each day at sundown we will here convene a rite to mark the waning of the sun’s last rays and the onset of darkness. As twilight thickens into night, a procession of lamplighters will slowly advance from lamppost to lamppost. Arriving at a giant human head that’s half-buried in the ground, they will ignite a brazier in its cranium. This act will represent that moment when the “I” releases its clenched grip on consciousness and lapses into dreams. Flames will flicker in its eyes as glowing veins begin to overspread its face and brow. When sparks fly upward from its skull, we will begin a nightly fire art revue. We urge all fire artists to locate their work around The Dreamer. Come paint darkness with the primal light of pure imagination.

Beyond this landmark, the spire-lined pathway will continue onward into the open desert. Its final destination will be The Temple of Dreams. Surrounded by a field altars and sarcophagi, this monumental shrine will consecrate those people we have loved and lost to death — presences that linger on within our minds as more than memories, forever fresh, forever strange, as living parts of who we are. On Sunday evening, The Temple of Dreams, replete with every offering and message that participants contribute to this work of art, will be set afire.

Temple of Dreams by Mark Grieve
Temple of Dreams by Mark Grieve


“If there is anything that can be said about dreams and longings, it is that they… are hard to express. It is difficult transmit into words the oddness of an image, the comic-grotesque distortions of inner time and space, the weird amalgams of feeling that leave people perhaps a little more aware of their deepest responses to life and a little more unsure of the artifice with which they so often cover themselves.” — Donald Spoto
— The Dark Side of Genius

by Crimson Rose
by Crimson Rose

Beyond the conscious mind there is another mind. It does not think in predicates or normal verbs; its objects aren’t constrained by space and time. Its nighttime visions seem to issue from some deep primeval region of the brain. They speak of passions that suffuse the soul, which underlie the sentient crust of conscious thought; uplifting here, deforming there, determining our actions. This year the portion of the playa that extends beyond our city will become a scattered field of dreams, each dream a self-sufficing world and each one an enigma. Every artist is invited to create an installation that illuminates the inner process of the unknown mind.

We encourage all participants to contribute to some aspect of this year’s art theme. Construct a theme camp or an art car that evokes a dream you can’t forget. Create a costume or a mask that is a portrait of your self or of your many selves. Explore your inner consciousness, your outer self; commemorate those people you have modeled in your life; explore your brain. Discover who and what you really are. If you are doing fire art or planning to install a work of art upon the open playa (whether it’s related to our theme or not), please see our Art Guidelines for more information. Any art by anyone is always welcome.