The art found down the back of Freud’s couch

Photographers Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin examine the famous psychoanalyst’s sofa in a new show
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One of Broomberg & Chanarin's Freud couch tapesteries with pieces of the pair's Portable Monument blocks. Image courtesy of Lisson Gallery, Milan
One of Broomberg & Chanarin's Freud couch tapesteries with pieces of the pair's Portable Monument blocks. Image courtesy of Lisson Gallery, Milan

How relaxed would Sigmund Freud’s patients have been, had they known that, decades after their sessions with the father of psychoanalysis, modern day forensics experts would be picking their dead hair and skin traces out of Sigmund’s famous couch?

This examination, although carried out by Metropolitan police trained scientists, was actually done at the request of the photographers and fine-art duo Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin for a series of works, some of which are currently on show at Milan’s Lisson Gallery, in the exhibition Broomberg & Chanarin: Trace Evidence

 

Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Trace fiber from Freud's couch under crossed polars with Quartz wedge compensator (#1), 2015, unique jacquard woven tapestry, 2.9m x 2m. Image courtesy Lisson Gallery, Milan
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, Trace fiber from Freud's couch under crossed polars with Quartz wedge compensator (#1), 2015, unique jacquard woven tapestry, 2.9m x 2m. Image courtesy Lisson Gallery, Milan

The pair, who oversaw a harvesting of evidence from the Persian rug that lies atop the couch as part of a 2015 show at the Freud Museum in London, magnified these deposits using radiographic imaging techniques, and printed these images onto new tapestries, the same size and shape as Freud’s old rug.

It’s hard to say with any certainty whether these human traces came from any of Freud’s famous patients, such as the Wolf Man or Little Hans, or simply from any of the thousands of anonymous tourists who have visited the Freud Museum since it was opened in London in 1986. Certainly, the works demonstrate the ways in which photography can be adapted for today’s fine-art practice.

 

Broomberg & Chanarin Trace Evidence, Installation view. Image courtesy of Lisson Gallery, Milan
Broomberg & Chanarin Trace Evidence, Installation view. Image courtesy of Lisson Gallery, Milan

Although entitled Trace Evidence, this Milan show also includes other recent works by this innovative fine-art duo. Drawing on the writings of Bertolt Brecht – a recurrent influence in their art – the duo took the poet, playright and theatre director's idea of a Portable Monument, where a work of art can serve as a kind of mobile, fungible memorial, and recreated a number of prominent newspaper photographs using coloured blocks as stand-ins for figures in the shot. The works, which look like Memphis-style playroom toys, are meant to interrogate and deconstruct photographic press images, the artists say.

Some of the pieces produced by Broomberg & Chanarin get close to those press images. In 2008, the pair travelled to Afghanistan to be embedded with British Army units on the front line in Helmand Province, and works as 2006’s Red House – photos of marks and drawings made on the walls of a building in Iraq by Kurdish prisoners – could, in one way,  be considered simple reportage photography. Other exhibits however, such as the Freud pieces, could not, and therein lies the tension. Much of the enjoyment in viewing this duo’s art lies in the unorthodox places and ways the pair find to create their images and tell stories.

 

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. Photo: Thierry Bal, © Broomberg & Chanarin. As reproduced in Co-Art
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. Photo: Thierry Bal, © Broomberg & Chanarin. As reproduced in Co-Art

For more on Broomberg & Chanarin as well as many other art groups and duos order a copy of Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration in which twenty-five leading artist duos and collectives give insight into how and why to work collaboratively. Artists featured in the book include: Allora & Calzadilla, Assemble, Auguste Orts, ayr, Biggs & Collings, Broomberg & Chanarin, ChimPom, Claire Fontaine, DAS INSTITUT, DIS, Elmgreen & Dragset, Eva & Franco Mattes, GCC, Gelitin, Guerilla Girls, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, Jane and Louise Wilson, John Wood and Paul Harrison, Labeouf, Ronkko & Turner, Lizzie Fitch/Ryan Trecartin, Los Carpinteros, Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, Raqs Media Collective, SUPERFLEX. Meanwhile, for more on contemporary photography get Photography Today.

 

Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration
Co-Art: Artists on Creative Collaboration


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