Alex Michon visits the Freud Museum and finds contemporary art and a symposium
‘Art is not psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis is not art.’
Joanne Morra (speaking at Intimacy Unguarded: Gender, the Unconscious and Contemporary Art).
Walking home this evening, I am struck by the sight of a glorious salmon coloured sky. Something about this excuse-me- while-I-kiss-the-sky purpley haze reminds me of Emma Talbot’s work in Unravel These Knots. Significantly, showing at the Freud Museum, the work deals with thoughts, memories, emotions and psychological associations. Images made concrete from the half glimpsed mists of the mind’s eye.
Talking at the accompanying symposium Intimacy Unguarded: Gender, the Unconscious and Contemporary Art, Talbot said ‘we cannot record the images that we see in our minds digitally, I am trying to show how imaginative the images in our minds are.’
As a venue, the Freud Museum engenders a particular set of inescapable signifiers, Joanna Morra, co-organiser with Talbot of the symposium is interested in what happens to autobiographical/contemporary art when it is put into the context of a personality museum. At the symposium Morra noted that ‘on entering the Freud Museum the viewer feels herself in some way implicit in the psychoanalytic process, as if we are waiting for the analyst to return.’
Talbot, initially ambiguous about these overlaid psychological implications, was keen from the outset to counter any reading of the work as an analytical exercise. ‘I recoil from the idea of my work as therapy. My work has more purpose as a conveyor of messages than an activity for my own wellbeing. I think of my work as being akin to speaking, as Susie Orbach says, "once we have words we can articulate our own experience," so I choose to make the comparison between my work and talking.’ Talbot is interested in the way we often tell fragmented stories of our lives and it is important for her to ‘paint straight through not allowing for correction or erasure. Immediacy can be intimidating but it releases me from the cul-de-sac of right or wrong. My key considerations are not to be self-conscious and I find this way of working very liberating.’
On first encountering Freud’s study, Talbot was struck by the resemblance to her own grandfather Kurt Mendlessohn’s room in Oxford where she had spent time as a young girl. ‘My grandfather liquefied helium for the first time after coming to England in 1933 and although he lived in Oxford he travelled widely and I was struck by how many things from Freud’s collection related to things displayed by my own grandfather.’ This personal connection along with a realisation that the Freud Museum was very much a domestic family home, went on to inform the work titled Unravel these Knots. ‘I was struck,’ she said ‘by the resonances of the furnishings. The curtains and the carpets. So I decided to make a response to the Persian carpet in the study not as a simulation of a carpet but as a presence occupying the room. I was thinking of life as a series of knots that make up a pattern like a carpet.’
In a cabinet showing various objects related to Freud, Talbot was interested in how this space, usually lined in a beige coloured fabric, reminded her of a painting canvas and decided to place a number of what she calls ‘intangible things’ into this cabinet-as-painting-space – an important naming for the artist as she does not want them to be thought of as either objects or sculptures. ‘I had been interested by a footnote in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams where he talked about an obscure element of a dream being "unplumbable like a navel” and I thought this was such a powerful image that it went into the making of one of my intangible things. So the cabinet (called Case Study) has all these elements to it.’
Initially sceptical about making work about dreams, as she thought it could be seen as somehow clichéd, ‘when I first came to the Freud Museum one of the things I saw was a great big dream catcher and I thought Oh my God no!’ Talbot eventually relented and went on to make The Interpretation of Dreams a large-scale digital print, watercolour and acrylic on six silk panels, which again related to her response to the furnishings, in this case a curtain. But again Talbot is insistent that the work is brought back to the artists business of making images stating: ‘so yes this work is about dreams but it’s also about what painting can be.’
The tricky interplay between art and psychoanalysis became a potent issue in the Q&A sessions at the Intimacy Unguarded symposium, with the psychoanalysts in the audience being fervently certain that art plays an important role in the process of both art and therapy, and the artists being equally keen to disassociate themselves from the process. Louise Bourgeois another artist who was keen for her work not to be viewed in a psychoanalytical context, and whose previously unseen writings had been on show at the Freud Museum in 2012 in The Return of the Repressed, put it thus, ‘the modern artist is caught in the dilemma in that he considers art as a psychological release and at the same time wants to have an audience.’
Emma Talbot, Unravel These Knots
The Freud Museum, London
10 February - 10 April, 2016
The symposiumIntimacy Unguarded: Gender, the Unconscious and Contemporary Art was at the Anna Freud Centre, London 27 February, 2016
There is a podcast available here (scroll down to March 14, 2016)
Emma Talbot, Interpret My Dreams/Case Study, 2016, acrylic on silk, pins, photograph Andy Keate, courtesy Domo Baal and Petra Rinck Galleries.
Emma Talbot, Unravel These Knots, 2016, watercolour and acrylic on atsu unryu (japanese paper) presented on a freestanding black wood stand, drawing: 188x148 cm, photograph Andy Keate, courtesy Domo Baal and Petra Rinck Galleries.
Emma Talbot, The Interpretation of Dreams (detail), 2016, digital print, watercolour and acrylic on silk panels, courtesy Domo Baal and Petra Rinck Galleries.