Review: Mark Wallinger’s “Self-Reflection”

Art & Culture

Stepping through the doors of the final home of one of the twentieth century’s most influential and controversial thinkers is a notably surreal experience. Formerly inhabited by Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and his family, the house is filled with books and ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese artefacts- objects he once insisted symbolise mythologies that serve to illuminate the nature of the psyche. Almost 2000 of them in total, there’s certainly a lot going on.

Following his death in 1939, his daughter Anna Freud decided to turn his final home into a museum. Only the study remains exactly as it was when he inhabited it, the rest of the house does not reflect it's original state. 

Freud's ideas could be argued to be a tad outdated these days, but his radical approach to understanding the human mind has provided no shortage of inspiration amongst the contemporary art crowd. And, if anyone is going to intervene in Sigmund Freud’s legacy, Mark Wallinger’s long-abiding fascination and repetitive citing of the late psychoanalyst could well make him the ideal candidate.

In 2014, the artist assembled the Hauser & Wirth’s stand as a re-enactment of Freud’s study. Earlier in London this year, he exhibited “Id”. Coined by Freud, the term initially referred to the infantile, impulsiveness of the human unconscious. "Id" was comprised of The Id Paintings (2016)- based on depictions of his own body, we see more of the artists’ absorption in self-portraiture. Alongside these was Ego (2016) featuring a double iPhone shot of Wallinger’s own hands and finally Superego (2016)- a kinetic mirror sign.

As part of his latest transformative work, Self Reflection (2016), Wallinger turns reality upside-down by installing a mirror that covers the ceiling of Freud’s iconic study. Offering visitors a fresh perspective on the historic space, Wallinger states: “The relative posture of the sitting analyst and the recumbent analysed are latent in Freud’s chair and the couch. We can easily imagine his patient’s self-reflection.”

The mirror installation encompasses the original point of the sofa, obviously being instrumental in forcing those who looked towards the ceiling from it to reflect inwards. The new dimension enhances the visitors’ experience by bringing the untangling of psychic complexities that once took place within these four walls back to life. Furthermore, the installation echoes Freud’s deliberation that a doctor should always position him or herself as a metaphorical mirror, simply there to reflect the patient’s thought processes and emotional reactions back to themselves.

The monumental mirror installation is accompanied by two other pieces. First you have Self (2016): a letter I sculpture built to Wallinger’s exact height from glass reinforced polyester and set upon concrete base; situated in the garden which is visible from the study. Second, an abstract black-and-white painting, apparently another of Wallingers’ much-loved self-portraits. In keeping with the rest of the works, the long strip of black down the middle of the piece again becomes the letter I (Self Portrait [Arial Black], 2008.

Wallingers’ exhibit doesn’t come across as self-indulgent, as you might fear it would. All in all, Self Reflection subtly draws attention to the many selves that have passed through the space in Freud’s years while simultaneously gesturing the spectators own relationship to themselves, and how they share their “selves” with others.  

Self Reflection runs until 25 September at the Freud Museum in Hampstead.

Mark Wallinger will give a talk about his work on 19 September, doors 6pm for 7pm start.

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