Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Matt Collishaw – Hysteria (Freud museum, London)

Posted in Reviews by matteopollini on November 17, 2009

Hysteric, photo courtesy of The Freud Museum

In a show in which the idea of hysteria seems to entail an interesting conversation on simulation – taking place, moreover, in Freud’s house, now a museum – Matt Collishaw’s latest works match almost perfectly, camouflaged within the myriad of objects collected by the Austrian psychoanalyst and displayed through the rooms. They pulse of their own lives, attracting visitors’ eyes and bodies towards them, machines in disguise fully intentioned to deceive and challenge senses and perception, blurring the distinction
between reality and illusion, between physical and immaterial.

The two works ‘Slipping Into Darkness’ and ‘Women Under the Influence’, respectively constituted by an antique sewing table and a large mirror, found their place in the house’s dining room on the ground floor. On the small table, lies an anamorphic render of a print depicting Martin Charcot in the act of showing his students a patient in a hysterical fit; in the second work, another mirror reflects distorted images of Charcot’s photographic case studies. In both these pieces, glass – the material at the core of any device of observation – changes the relationship between the viewer and the subject of these works: the cylindrical mirror positioned at the center of the anamorphosis has the function to restore the distorted image to its correct, lost, proportions, whereas the mirror of ‘Women Under the Influence’ showing photographs in constant process of distortion, plays the opposite role, making difficult the distinction between recognizable features of a face and the

smoke that generates/constitutes them.
In the zoetrope ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ – shown in the room of Freud’s daughter
Anna, known for her  studies on childhood psychology – a series of three dimensional
sculptures of tiny imp children smashing eggs, killing snails and butterflies with sticks
and rocks are displaced on a rotating platform, lighted with stroboscopic LED-lights
producing the illusion of movement and recalling the father-daughter’s studies on cruelty
in childhood. The installation ‘Charcot’s case studies’, shown in the adjoining room, is a
slide projection of original photographs of Charcot’s patients on a wall covered with
photosensitive panels. The images remain impressed on the wall for a short time even if
the slide is not actually projected thanks to the peculiar material of the panels, able to
absorb and emit light in an amount equivalent to the intensity of the bygone image’s

shades of grays.
The works presented, question ideas of simulation and illusion by shifting the laws that
regulate various optical-physical effects such as retinal persistency outside of the viewer’s
body. If in ‘Garden of Unearthly delights’ the sculptures move because the persistency
takes place on the viewer’s retina, in ‘Charcot’s case studies’ a similar effect is enacted on
a wall, causing a short circuited situation in which it is no longer clear whether the cause of
the visible is mechanic or organic. Hysteria is a term that describes physical
manifestations not supported by organic causes, and the exhibition appropriates such
definition to extend the gap between order and disorder, that is, to highlight the conflict
between the rational, controlled analytic thought processing and the irrationality of