Running at PICA from Thursday, February 19, until Sunday, April 12, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, An Internal Difficulty: Australian Artists At The Freud Museum London is an exhibition inspired by a residency that the artists undertook at Sigmund Freud’s London townhouse. TRAVIS JOHNSON chats to curator and artist, Andrew Nicholls.
What was the genesis of An Internal Difficulty?
An important part of my practice is organizing research residencies for myself and other artists at historical and museum sites. In 2011 I became aware that a number of local artists – some of whom I’d worked with before, and some of whom I admired and had wanted to work with for some time – were beginning to reference Freud in their artworks. I’d also been planning to develop a series of works about one of Freud’s most famous patients, Sergei Pankejeff, who Freud dubbed ‘the Wolf Man’.
While I was thinking about all this – and purely by chance – I saw a documentary about the Freud Museum London while I was on holiday in London. Prior to that, I didn’t know that the Museum existed. It looked like a fascinating place, so I approached the artists if they would be interested in travelling to London to visit the Museum.
I then approached the Museum curators, who were a bit cautious as they’re quite a small Museum with very limited space and resources. However, they agreed to let us invade them, and I received funding from the state and national governments and we all went to London in January 2013.
What insights did you glean from your residency?
Working at the Freud Museum London was probably the best experience of my professional life. It was so invigorating to be there with a group of like-minded creative people, researching and planning works. In particular, we were given access to Freud’s study, which is maintained just as it was when he worked there, with his desk and the iconic psychoanalytical couch. Sadly, you’re not allowed to lie on the couch – and yes, we did ask!
Freud collected antiquities and artifacts from ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and Mesopotamia, tribal art from across Oceania and the Americas, and rugs and textiles from the Middle East. His study is filled with them, covering practically every surface…so as well as researching one of the most important men of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we also had access to over 2000 incredibly valuable, fascinating objects from the past four thousand years of human civilisation.
What are you hoping that audiences take away from the exhibition?
I hope they’ll have fun with it – a Freud-themed show is a good excuse to make some fairly outrageous works, and I worked closely with the curatorial team at PICA to design the exhibition as maze for the audience to explore, encountering the artworks along the way… so the show is a bit of a journey into the unconscious.
I also hope that visitors may end up thinking a bit differently about Freud after seeing the show. He has – completely understandably – received a lot of criticism since he died, as medicine and society have progressed. Many of his theories are (quite rightly) considered to be outdated or misogynistic now, yet he was so important – so visionary. Really, the way most of us now think about ourselves and our identity is almost entirely based on Freud’s vision of the human mind. Ideas that we take completely for granted now – that our dreams have meanings; that there are parts of our brain that are unknown to us, but that make us behave in particular ways; that events from our early childhood effect us in later life – all come from Freud.