Thursday, January 10, 2019

Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book exhibited at SFCB

The current exhibition at San Francisco Center for the Book looks at the influence of Freud and his inspiration for several artists' books. Titled, Freud on the Couch: Psyche in the Book this traveling show was organized by Susanne Padberg, the proprietor of Druck & Buch in Vienna. (Translated from the German to English here.)

Vienna-based Freud has fallen out of favor, most notably due to his male-centric theories. But papermaker and book artist Robbin Ami Silverberg took those words from out of his mouth and onto the wall in her installation, created in 2012, Freud's Wallpaper, which repeats his bafflement at the female sex, considering her, "a problem." Silverberg has literary punched holes in Freud's argument. Alongside the cutout paper pulp writing, which creates a delicate, lacy pattern, she adds pillars of "misogynist proverbs," printed in tiny, harsh, san serif type.


Biography, created in 2010 by Sarah Bryant, seeks to connect our bodies and our use of materials to the outside world through the elements found on the periodic table. She has presented a pleasing and spare design to examine natural versus humanmade objects. 

This page opening lists on one side: sunscreen/nerve agents/gunpowder/rudimentary knives/shampoo/surgical tools/antibiotics/antihistamines/poison gas/disinfectant/incendiary bombs/stain/antacid/stink bombs/dirty bombs

And on the other: artillery/rocket propellant/antidepressants/improvised explosive devices/lethal injections/plaster/anesthetics/laxatives/deodorant/mustard gas/chemotherapy/smoke bombs/guns/painkillers/bullets 

These list poems rely on the juxtaposition of the words to paint a picture in the viewer/reader's mind. We get to free associate (a Freudian term) and gain access to our unconscious without censorship.  For example, with "painkillers" near the end of the list, the word within a word "killers" becomes charged. And "bullets" might also remind one of "silver bullets" or miraculous cures.


Maureen Cummings's visually appealing 2008 book, Anatomy of Insanity, made me laugh out loud, due to the typographic and colorful overlays on the illustrations. But the content is serious.


The wall text explains that it: "explores gendered beliefs about insanity that flourished in the 19th century." The book was inspired by the patients' records from the archives of McLean Hospital, "one of the first and most progressive mental hospitals built in the United States" in 1818. In the pages of handwritten documents, which you can imagine on clipboards, males seemed to have more complex diagnoses, and women's troubles seemed to stem from the simple fact that they were women.

Perhaps included for its obsessive process, dated from 1999, the 2010 book, Orphan, by Sam Winston, was the book that drew me in the fastest. The painstaking work, the organized collage format, and the transparent paper, all work together beautifully. For me, my take away is that language is slippery, having different meanings at different times and in different situations. But I haven't read the complete text.


Each of the globes (or rounded shapes) contains one word, repeated multiple times, and cut out and taken from many sources. According to the wall text: "Winston has collated scraps of paper, diary notes, and typed word documents all pertaining to the idea of the inexpressible."



Even better, Winston reads the story and shows it at the link. It's better if he reads it to you, so I won't recap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqACWWty7nM

There are many more books in the show. These were the ones that caught my eye. The show is up through January 20, 2019. SFCB is the last host after The Center for Book Arts in NYC and Minnesota Center for the Book Arts.

Freud's theories are woven into our culture. We still talk about the Id, the Ego, the Superego, and the Oedipus complex, among other Freudian concepts. But as we examine gender in a different light, many of his ideas aren't relevant to contemporary life. This exhibit does not necessarily embrace Freud, but it looks to push back and use him to open up questions and to spark further discussion.


*
Unrelated to Freud, back in the bindery, I found three of the four prints from 2018's Roadworks event hung all in a row. Patricia Wakida's, mine, and Rik Olson's.









No comments: