Art on dreams and trauma

Vienna – In an essay called «Art and Daydreaming,» Sigmund Freud writes about the resemblance between children’s play and the work of a poet. The imaginary world that children create while playing is, in adult life, replaced by the fantasies in daydreaming. These fantasies become the subject of art. Like dreams, they express repressed feelings and inner tensions. According to Freud, one of the reasons that certain literary works give us enjoyment is because they allow us to take pleasure in our own fantasies without feeling guilt, thus acting as an outlet for repressed feelings and inner tension. Freud repeatedly examined the notion of artistic creativity. Both his studies on Leonardo da Vinci and Dostoevsky, for example, build a psychological portrait of each artist through analysis of their work. Several years later, the Surrealists used Freud’s theories on the unconscious as a basis for their art. The connection between art, dreams and sexuality was once again brought to the surface. Considering Freud’s huge contribution to a psychoanalytic approach to art and his impact in establishing a connection between art, dreams and repressed instincts, it is interesting that a contemporary art exhibition with the title «Dream and Trauma» is being held in Vienna, the city where Freud spent most of his life. The exhibition, which includes works by more than 40 artists, draws from the Dakis Joannou collection and is presented at the city’s Kunsthalle in collaboration with MUMOK and the DESTE Foundation of Contemporary Art in Athens. The exhibition marks the second large European outing of what is considered one of the most famous contemporary collections worldwide. Open to presenting his collection in different curatorial contexts, Dakis Joannou has responded to proposals made by European institutions. In 2005, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris presented «Translation» an original exhibition designed by graphic artists M/M (Paris). «Dream and Trauma» is the exact opposite of «Translation’s» extroverted decorative aesthetics. Although several of the collection’s star artists (such as Jeff Koons, Maurizio Cattelan and Christopher Wool) were featured in both exhibitions, their work appears entirely different in each context. Nari Ward’s «Amazing Grace,» for example, a sprawling installation of almost 300 used prams tied together which was presented in both exhibitions, brought to mind the homeless and urban life in the Paris exhibition, while in the Vienna show, it evokes childhood abuse and traumatic experiences. In the Vienna exhibition, the focus is on the unconscious, on the esoteric, on hidden drives and repressed fears. Although the exhibition includes some powerful works, it does not «feel» atmospheric enough. Unlike the Paris exhibition, where the visual effect was immediate, here the display does not correspond as strongly to the exhibition’s concept. However, the curatorial concept is sophisticated and intellectually challenging. Nari Ward’s «Hunger Cradle,» a web-like, woven structure that can be taken as a visual metaphor of our labyrinthine, inner world, is symbolically positioned in a narrow corridor which enters into the main exhibition spaces. By rendering access to the exhibition difficult, the idea that the exhibition’s curators – Edelbert Kob from MUMOK along with Gerald Matt and Angela Stief from Vienna’s Kunsthalle – had was to underline the inaccessibility of the unconscious. Works by Jeff Koons, Urs Fischer and the Greek artist Poka-Yio (the other Greek artists participating are Christiana Soulou, Dimitris Protopapas and Georgia Sagri) are used to that effect. The borderline between the conscious and the unconscious is also central to the curatorial concept. «Trauma is a paradox that pushes again and again into the conscious mind, is then repressed again and then recalled to memory ultimately in dreams, nightmares of flashbacks. The trauma is bound to its oscillating movement between remembering and forgetting, presence and past,» Angela Stief and Gerald Matt write in the exhibition’s supplementary catalog. Most of the works in the exhibition reflect the thin line between the familiar and the uncanny, the real and the imagined, the conscious and the repressed. The eerie feeling of Robert Gober’s works, or the dreamlike landscapes in the paintings of both Matt Greene and Nigel Cooke are among the various examples of the exhibition’s «borderline concept.» The Freudian interpretation of trauma as tied to sexuality is another idea that the exhibition alludes to through works themed around the human body. Cindy Sherman’s photographs of the abject body are among the most powerful. There is also Kiki Smith’s sculpture «Mother and Child» that refers to incest. In the photographs of Anna Gaskell, adolescent sexuality blends with a lurking sense of danger and sexual abuse. Sexuality and identity come up in «Black Narcissus» by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, the British artistic duo which is heavily represented in the exhibition. In «Chair for a Ghost: Thomas» by Urs Fischer, a chair with missing parts evokes a surreal effect. In many ways, this strange sculpture captures the spirit of the exhibition. The broken parts express trauma and its oddity the images we see in dreams. In a certain way, it symbolizes man’s struggle to find a balance between the conscious and the unconscious. In «Dreams and Trauma» this becomes not just the realm of dreams but also of art. «Dream & Trauma: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection» at Vienna’s Kunsthalle to October 4 ( or