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How do we know where the unconscious space is if we do not know where we are?

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

The past self and the present self

Where are we when we recall a scene from a dream, or an event from the past? The dreamer cannot tell what he has dreamed, he can only describe a dream in his waking state, so where is the person on this journey of description? For example, when I write down: “I dreamt I walked into a room and saw a window that was half open,” my body was sitting in front of the computer, and I was recalling what had happened to “another self” in the past. We cannot be sure whether the subject of dreams and memories is the first person or the third person, but the one who is describing, without a doubt, is an audience, a spectator of the “past self.” We can think of the past experience as a drama, and I am an audience sitting in the theater. I am the actor in my past and the viewer of my past.

I think my painting is similar to the scenes of dreams and memories in this actor-audience structure. As an artist, I am the one who created this painting. I do not intentionally represent the space of dreams and memories, but my painting will expose my unconscious based on my past experience. My painting is a drama that contains my past experience. I am dissolved in the painting and inhabit in the object, background, atmosphere and space of the painting. My unconscious is the painting itself, I am the creator and the viewer of the painting simultaneously. In the same way, I am both the maker and observer of my dreams and memories.

We have to think about the duality of the subject in reality and in dreams, memories and paintings, the relation between perceivers and perceived, the lookers on and looked on, the actors and spectator. Resnik has stated, “The person recounting the dream becomes the theatrical director who, on waking, will re-create the new version of the dream: it is another stage, another space-time.” (Resnik 2005, 158) On the one hand, the space we experience in dreams and memories is one space, on the other hand, the space we recall when we wake up is another space that contains deconstructed, anonymous subject. The description of dreams is another dream, a “place of dramatic re-creation, (Resnik 2005, 37)” a theatre where the dreamer as actor and spectator was being represented.

Therefore, the past self is the one who was dreaming, the present self is the one who was describing the past experience. Hermans (2001) describes the self is multiple, partial and dialogic. To my understanding, painting is the medium that allows the present self as a viewer to talking with the past self. The past self, however, is not a living person whom I can really talk with. Instead, it is invisible, without a concrete image, and is dissolved and inhabited in objects, events and scenes in the past. For example, when I recall the scene of the half-open window, the past self does not appear as a concrete body, but inhabited in the relationship and atmosphere of objects such as windows, curtains and rooms, and through these objects and events is given to the present self.

That is to say, the past self inhabited in the objects does not mean they are the representation of the past self, rather, the past me disappears, dissolves and sedimented in a relationship and atmosphere, and is continuously given to the present me. This is the concept what I stated before, unconscious as the sedimented practical schema of subjective being in the world. What is continuously given to us is not the image of the objects or a scene, but a fear of an object, a claustrophobic scene in dream, in general, an atmosphere of the object and scene.

In my painting, I was the past self who engaged in the process of creating the work with materials and techniques and I am also the present self who looking at the painting as other viewers. A painting contains the unconscious of the past self, while the present self interprets the painting as the consciousness of the unconscious of the past self. Thus painting is both data that can be analyzed and a tool for analyzing the unconscious. In terms of the non-representational way, the painting is not a product of representing something but as the unconscious of the past self, a process of making art and interpret it. Painting as data provides resourceful materials to reflect one’s inner space, on the other hand, painting as an analyst tool is able to manifest the way to interpret the space based on private experience.


Hermans, H. J., & Hermans-Jansen, E. (2001). Self-narratives: The construction of meaning in psychotherapy.

Resnik, S. (2005). The theatre of the dream: Routledge.

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