Essay

 “If words represented our only form of symbolization, we would indeed be hopelessly estranged from the world. Not only would we be unable to determine with any assurance whether anything else existed, we would also remain forever in irresolute doubt as to whether we ourselves did. Like Descartes, we would be obliged to verify our reality exclusively by means of our capacity to think. However, words do not constitute our only or even our primary means of symbolisation. Visual perception comes first, and visual perception is not located ‘in’ us. It is situated, rather, at the point at which memory meets external stimulus.”                                                                                                                                                 

Kaja Silverman: World Spectators, Ch.6, p. 128 ‘The Language of Things’

 

“All memories are like the bog that fills the hollows of the cemetery, or the cold, muddy waters of ruins. The totality of the memories of the world can ignore destruction, but we have only a fragmentary grasp of the memories of the world. All that remains are moments and incidents.”     

Marcel Proust:  Remembrance of Things Past 

 

 

Einfall: beyond spontaneity.

To describe the quick-silvery character of human memory Sigmund Freud used to draw an archaeological analogy between it and the history of Rome, the “Eternal City”. Putting aside the inevitability of destruction, oblivion and subsequent construction he asks us to try to imagine this site as memory. As a mind in which nothing, which had come into existence had ceased to be; as a place where all stages of development persist concurrently in space and time within a layering and crowding of history upon history. He then asked us to consider how much, or how little, of those earlier stages a contemporary visitor, “equipped with the most complete historical and topographical knowledge” of Rome might be able to discern. His description of modern day Rome, of ruin, the concurrence and intermingling of vestiges of successive ages and the way these are absorbed into the chaos of the contemporary city, alludes to a non-linear, fragmented notion of memory. It is, however, a dynamic notion providing a creative, opening up to new forms of exposure, one in which “Freier Einfall” or free association serves as cipher, or key to the archaeology of memory and also to artistic expression.          

 

I suppose, for the contemporary visitor to the Freud Museum, that the name Freud has begun to acquire some of the features apparent in Sigmund Freud’s analogy with Rome. This last family home for him and for Anna has become a museum or mausoleum for an iconic figure whose legacy persists and grows. Most people encounter the Freuds through their writing and the critique and interpretation of it. They are experienced conceptually, psychoanalytically, in the mind’s eye, in an interaction of words or linguistic signifiers with mind and memory. However the Einfall exhibition is another form of engagement with Freud. It is a visual, sensory and emotional engagement with meaning and memory: fragmented, idiosyncratic, partial and temporal. Their professional and domestic environment, mundane, day-to-day objects and historical artefacts, collected for their meaning and mythical associations and preserved within Freud’s collection, seem to have acted as texts or containers of meaning, which have been differentially interpreted.

 

Passing through the subjective filter of the artistic imagination, its unconscious influences and concerns, these interpretations touch upon different facets of the Freuds’ life and work. Some discuss his concern with the idea of establishing an objective, theoretical framework for the practice of psychoanalysis; others respond to the theories on the relationship of the Unheimlich with the Heimlich, to theories of mind and memory, of perversion and sexuality. Others address Freud the refugee, Freud the collector and his relationship to his artefacts. The points of inspiration and material realisation are necessarily diverse. Some responses are oblique others are more reflective or confrontational, but most seem to seek a psychoanalytical or therapeutic engagement. Common to all, however, is their ability to bring about a shift in optic, that destabilises the established equilibrium in the interaction between viewer, analyst and artist. To some extent this is caused by the inclusion and ‘embeddedness’ of site specificity, but it is also the result of the dynamic of our “fragmentary grasp of memory”. The visitor is asked to look again, to reassess, to question assumptions and interpretations and in doing so is reminded that:

 

“When the individual thinks he is casting an objective eye upon himself, he is, in the final analysis, contemplating nothing other than the result of perpetual transactions with the subjectivity of others.”

 

(Nicolas Bourriard: Relational Aesthetics, 1998)

Brigit Connolly CHS MPHIL RCA

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