The word TOTEM comes from the Ojibway word dodaem, meaning "brother/sister kin.” It is an archetypal symbol consisting of animals or plants tied to hereditary group’s affiliations. The Ojibway scholar Basil H. Johnston defines totem as, "that from which I draw my purpose, meaning, and being;” the bonds that unite. He further asserts that the feeling of oneness among people that occupy a vast territory is based not on political, economic, or religious considerations but on totemic symbols that "made those born under the signs one in function, birth, and purpose." People belonging to the same totem regard one another as brothers and sisters having kinship obligations to each other.

In the oft criticized Totem and Taboo, Freud hypothesizes that a belief in magic and sorcery derives from an animistic mode of thinking that projects inner mental life onto the external world. He believed that this imaginary construction of reality has been retained in the magical realm of art, and is also discernible in delusional disorders and other means of covering up instinctual repression. Freud believed that babies are born with both libidinal (love) and destructive drives. The destructive drive, he said, must be repressed in order for chaos not to be unleashed upon society. However, his best known dissident, Wilhelm Reich, believed there was no destructive drive, only a libidinal drive towards pleasure that if restricted would create brutality, cruelty, and neurosis.

Participating artists are asked to create work based on the concepts of Totem that incorporate the site’s expansive history and diverse inhabitants in considering evolving forms of social engagement. For some it may mean investigating the idea of repression through local historical events of genocide, abolition, and socio-economic oppression: the Fox Indian Massacre of 1712, the rumrunning of the Prohibition era, the Nike missile control site of the Cold War, the Renegades take-over of Angel Park, as well as industrial decline, private market barriers, conservation, and urban renewal. Others may consider further the role of kinship and obligation possible in the contemporaneous era of both newly won rights and continued struggle. The drive to create over the drive to destroy, adaptation over fear, acceptance over repression.