We were asked to visit the Freud Museum as part of the Framing Art course and in the process think about and try to articulate our responses to it.
At the same time as being the home of Sigmund Freud for the last year of his life, with everything that that entails physically and symbolically, the Museum was also hosting an exhibition of contemporary artworks based on the theme of ‘paranoia’. This juxtaposition of two powerful, potential attributions led to some interesting situations and feelings in the house.
At first glance the house is a fairly typical suburban detached house, in a well-off neighborhood in North London. The first indication that all is not as it seems are the set of three wooden signs staked in the grass on either side of the path to the front door. On them are painted “NO ENTRY”, “NO TRAVELLERS” and “KEEP OUT”1 and—to be fair—caused us to think that there must be another entrance somewhere round the side of the house. If that’s not effective art, then I don’t what is.
Having negotiated our confusion over these messages, we were able to get inside the house. It’s really quite small, with 5 rooms on the ground floor and 3 on the first. The rooms are again styled in a fairly typical British suburban manner, all persian and chinese rugs throughout, and antique furniture. However interspersed amongst this are Freud’s large collection of antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Orient, which Freud used as symbolic of the activity of the unconscious: “They were, in fact, I said, only objects found in a tomb, and their burial had been their preservation”.
The objects also have a life of their own, beyond simply historical artifacts from Sigmund Freud’s life. Many of them are accompanied by small typewritten labels which give them further meanings relating to Freud’s psychoanalytic analyses. This makes the progress through the house somewhat unsettling, as one is forced to see the house through two sets of eyes concurrently, on the one hand regarding it as a historically significant residence, with all the social and quotidian meanings involved with that; and on the other as a screen through which to read each object as holding symbolic meaning.
The entry of the exhibition to the house add yet a further layer of meanings to the space. The objects are a mixture of photography, painting/drawing and free-standing objects. In many cases the objects are created to work with the existing milieus, and one finds oneself performing a process of double-take at certain points, to try and negotiate the potential readings of any particular view. Glass flamingos2 drink from antique bowls in the study, while others crowd round a table as ghostly remnants. Swimmers with missing limbs are projected onto the ceiling in the library3, as if we’re underwater, below them. Less effective for me were the myriad monitors placed around the house showing videos. Their lack of integration with the surrounding settings seemed jarring, they demanded you mentally remove yourself from the house and enter their little world. Many of these videos seemed trite, however Jean Gabriel Periot’s piece4 impressed me with its mélange of music and snapshots of roads leading to the gas chamber. Having just watched this me and my partner sat on a sofa in the next room and discussed in front of the beautifully effective wolf and deer video (with gunshot)5.
Overall the exhibition was pretty average, with a the few outstanding pieces mentioned above. The premise was a good one, but I felt not dealt with well by most of the artists. If I was to look at one aspect of the house from a Freudian perspective (not that I know much about Freud’s work) I’d have to draw attention to the pacing dog outside in the garden, trying to get in. I’m sure I could read something into that.
- Daniel Baker, Wish You Were Here, 2007 installation
- Nike Savvas, Zero to Infinity, 2004 installation
- Tatjana Struger, Positions, 2004 video
- Jean Gabriel Periot, Dies irae, 2005 video
- Mircea Cantor, Deeparture, 2005, video