Matt Collishaw - Hysteria

Artvehicle 46/Review

7th October 2009 — 3rd January 2010

Crammed with antiquities, mementoes and curiosities, 20 Maresfield Gardens still simmers with a richness of ideas and associations that were the lifeblood of the Freuds' work. Collishaw, with his taste for the trappings of Victoriana, has incorporated pieces that blend in with the fin-de-siecle atmosphere of the place, sometimes so much so that they're a little hard to spot. 'Hysteria' is a red herring though. Collishaw reaches a cul-de-sac before the theme has been adequately developed. The diversion he takes us on is very entertaining, however.

The brightly patterned surface of a dainty sewing table in the dining room hides an anthropomorphic image. Careful inspection of the reflective column on the table reveals it to be an illustration of Jean-Martin Charcot at work. Beside him an assistant supports a swooning woman. A nurse stands at the ready. They are surrounded by spectators. Freud had been one such person. He studied under this groundbreaking nineteenth century neurologist, most famous for using hypnosis to "treat" hysterical patients by inducing hysterical attacks. The man is credited with generating ideas which resulted in the development of psychoanalysis.

These theories, methods and findings and the exploitative showmanship with which Charcot demonstrated them were met with condemnation by some of his peers, and this is presumably why Collishaw has chosen to show the picture clandestinely. Freud was not in the least ashamed of his mentor, however. An engraving of the same illustration takes pride of place above the analytic couch in his study.

'Women Under the Influence' lurks behind the sewing table. A dark mirror, portentious in itself, is set into a tatty gilded picture frame. Ethereal wisps of smoke waft about within it. It takes a while, but first one, then another woman's face materialises momentarily amid the swirls.

In a blank, darkened room upstairs, a handful of photos of Charcot's patients in the throes of hysteria are projected onto a luminous surface to create slowly fading after-images. This device worked to great effect in Collishaw's 'Deliverance', partly because pictures were scattered unpredictably from a rotating projector. Here they are projected from a single fixed point.The machine clunks slowly and unengagingly through its limited sequence and I find myself scouring the gloom for something I've missed, but here, unsatisfyingly, ends the theme.   

Across the hall in Anna Freud's study sits a zoetrope. When the strobe starts, babies spear a giant snail and attack the eggs in a bird's nest with cudgels, whilst the mother bird flaps her wings defensively and a butterfly flutters above them. The contraption is savage in motion, kitschy-cute when it stops. 

Downstairs in Sigmund Freud's study and consulting room, Collishaw has plumped for some good old fashioned surrealism. 'Total Recall' is a set of three gnarled tree stumps. Impeccably modelled, they appear to have sprouted from the oriental rug beside the analytic couch like manifestations of an imaginary patient's dream. The room is filled with birdsong and forest ambience that emanates from record turntables set into the stumps. The discs are coloured like tree rings. The effect is enchanting. But doesn't the Total Recall agency implant false memories into its clients? 

Slap!  Take that Mr Freud!

Out on the amply proportioned staircase, from the 'Insecticide' series, the exquisite corpses of a pair of moths face each other over the banisters. For the sake of continuity we shall pretend they were not killed by an artist, but by science.

An old man with a trepanned cranium, who is cautiously negotiating the stairs with his youthful companion, doesn't seem to notice them despite their vast dimensions.

"This used to be my world." he says distantly. Disappointingly, he does not elaborate.

Phil Harris

Freud Museum
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX

Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5pm

Matt Collishaw - Hysteria — Matt Collishaw Hysteria at the Freud Museum, image courtesy Phil Harris

Matt Collishaw Hysteria at the Freud Museum, image courtesy Phil Harris