Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Psychoanalysis exhibition Science Museum 15/10/10

This small exhibition is set aside from the main drag of the Science Museum as if acknowledging the shaky idea that psychoanalysis is science. Freud urged it to be regarded as such. But psychoanalysis' status as hard science has always remained questionable. There are no courses in it at London's premier science school, Imperial College, for example.

According to the notes (and there are plenty of these throughout this exhibition) latest research in cognitive neuroscience is uncovering a body of evidence for unconscious mental activity. Ah ha, it is a science then!

Yet this is no proof of the unconscious as conceived by Freud. For him, the unconscious is a dung heap of repression and suppression where all our unmanageable feelings and fantasies fester. Neuroscience has yet to find this odure of the mind.

The closest to any kind of heap in the exhibition is the Noble and Webster sculpture a tsunami of red cocks, balls and hands (molds from their own bodies) which are lit to cast a shadow on the wall behind of the artists' silhouettes. Its a modern take of that profile cartoon of Freud with his nose and forehead made up of the outstretched torso of a naked women.

What is frustrating about this exhibition apart from being assailed by recorded voices of analysts explaining their work and plaques with overly long explanations of analytic techniques was the exhibition's sense of defensiveness. It seemed to be saying, rather with it's back to the wall, we really do belong in the august surroundings of the Science Museum. It feels vaguely muted and slightly muddled like a tormented soul stepping over the threshold for her first analytic session and unsure where to sit.

There's also a problem of voice - the explanations were both too esoteric - caught up in the highly specialist jargon of analysis - yet also too trite. The glass case with everyday objects - shoes, toy sports cars etc. that might unconsciously conjure for ourselves fantasies of status, youth, sexiness etc are today Sunday supplement cliches. We know this stuff already.

Also, anaysis is less a theory of mind than an active practice of healing. There were no patients in the exhibition apart from the drawings by one of Melanie Klein's child patients - his drawings of his father as Hitler were inevitably richly revealing. Though the photos of different analysts' empty therapy rooms merely showed that analysts have the same bad taste in interiors as the rest of us.

And yet, to see Freud's own copy of The Interpretation of Dreams (English trans 1913) - his greatest work - alongside his beloved objects from classical antiquity including the miniature Sphinx that was central to his theory of the Oedipus complex is thrilling. These very objects were the torches with which this creator of the talking cure shone a light into the darkest recesses of the human psyche. And we are still blinking in its intense illumination.

The exhibition also includes works inspired by psychoanalytical ideas include pieces by Arnold Dreyblatt, Mona Hatoum, Joseph Kosuth, Grayson Perry, Sonny Sanja Vadagma, Tim Noble and Sue Webster.

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