Waking Dreams: Art from a Dusty Dreamland

This is the second installment in a Journal series that explores the ins and outs and random asides of this year’s Burning Man theme, Waking Dreams: past, present and future visions of our hypnagogic reality.

After not building our home in the desert for two years, Black Rock City does indeed feel like a distant dream… yet here we are, fast approaching Burning Man 2022; our theme, Waking Dreams, couldn’t feel more appropriate. We exist because people dared to dream, and they dreamed big! Over the years, many artists have explored dreaming in their playa installations, from big to small, and from obvious to subtle. And this year promises to bring a new crop of wild imaginings.

“Nothing happens until first we dream.”
– Carl Sandburg

Dreamers Past

Pepe Ozan‘s “The Dreamer,” on playa in 2005, was a large realistic purple head that appeared to be emerging from the dust, much in the surrealist spirit of Magritte. One could enter the head, a chamber of ceremonies, to experience the world of the mind as Pepe imagined it, in community around a fire pit.

Inside “The Dreamer” by Pepe Ozan, 2005 (Photo by Tristan Savatier)

“The Dreamer” went on to live in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park from May to November 2007, courtesy of the Black Rock Arts Foundation; one can imagine how much surprise and amusement this caused for passersby.

“The Dreamer” by Pepe Ozan, 2005 (Photo by CameraGirl)

In 2016, Michael Gard brought us “Dreams Of Flight,” two LED figures that appeared to be floating in the night sky. They were suspended from large helium balloons which disappeared against the nighttime dark. I hope everyone who saw them became the figures in their minds — either flying above the playa, or dreaming about it.

“Dreams Of Flight” by Michael Gard, 2016

Dutch artist Dadara brought his “Checkpoint Dream Yourtopia” to the playa for 2008’s American Dream theme; he managed to combine politics and dreaming in one impressive, interactive installation. A border control checkpoint, where one could enter the world of his/her own dreams, demonstrated that crossing real borders between countries can be a difficult task, and that crossing the boundaries inside one’s own heart and life might mean a big leap into the unknown.

“Checkpoint Dream Yourtopia” by Dadara, 2008 (Photo by Ian Lauder)

Dreamers Present

Several artists are bringing work inspired by this year’s Waking Dreams theme.

“A Thousand Eyes” by Miguel Guzman and Iyvone Khoo presents trilobites, those fanciful prehistoric creatures. Trilobites were some of the earliest life forms with complex ‘eyes.’ Because of their sight, they symbolize our most ancient visions, the first dreamers. “Dreaming awake, walking in a desert, where giant luminous trilobites hover across the desert sands,” the artists muse.

“A Thousand Eyes” by Miguel Guzman and Iyvone Khoo, 2022

“Catharsis” by Arthur Mamou-Mani and the Catharsis Crew is a fractal gallery for our infinite dreams. It will provide an infinite space with seven gateways elevating to the sky and getting increasingly intricate and intimate, forming a dream-like set of galleries and spaces for everyone to use and place art of all kinds.

Rendered image of “Catharsis” by Arthur Mamou-Mani and the Catharsis Crew, 2022

“Dreams: a pop-up book” by Esmeralda is a giant pop-up book. When a reader opens the wooden book, it springs to life. Each turn of the page reveals a new pop-up showing a different dreamscape.

“Dreams: a pop-up book” by Esmeralda, 2022

“Sea of Dreams” by The Flaming Lotus Girls is an immersive fire sculpture with a story that unfolds even from a distance. Larger-than-life origami boats sail on a pilgrimage toward a central ring of fiery origami cranes. Entrapped in a landscape of their own making, these bold dreamers sail the Black Rock Sea to pay homage to the Elders and release their illusions as blossoms of flame blooming into the void.

“Sea of Dreams” by the Flaming Lotus Girls, 2022
“Seed of Dreams” by Martin Taylor and Chromaforms is a 15-foot-tall sculpture of a human head that invites participants to seek refuge, meditate, or connect with their intuition. Geometric perforations resonate outward from the forehead, emitting light from an internal source by night and reflecting the golden interior by day. An opening allows participants to enter the sculpture to discover a wondrous grotto, wherein they can reflect and record their dreams in a large open book.
“Seed of Dreams” by Martin Taylor and the Chromaforms Art Collective, 2022
The undoubtedly difficult task of making art that portrays dreams has been achieved in so many ways by our artists. Bravo to them! Now let’s go to the desert and bring our dreams to life.

Cover image of “The Dreamer” by Pepe Ozan, 2022 (Photo by Jim Gasperini)

About the author: Christine "LadyBee" Kristen


Christine Kristen (a.k.a LadyBee) is Burning Man’s Archivist, Art Collection Manager and Photo Gallery editor. She was Burning Man's art curator from 1999 to 2008, where she dealt with all things visual and aesthetic, including managing the art and the art grant program, photo-editing the Image Gallery, writing art content for the Burning Man website, working with the ARTery, managing the archives, and lecturing and writing about the art of Burning Man. She is the co-author of "The Jewelry of Burning Man", with Karen Christians and George Post, and the curator of the exhibition "PlayaMade: Jewelry of Burning Man", which debuted at the Fuller Craft Museum near Boston in 2017. It opens at the Bellevue Arts Museum in Seattle in January 2020. She has an MFA in sculpture from the Art Institute of Chicago.

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