Often outside research provides the artist with relief from the self-cannibalization of the autobiographical processes of artmaking, or at least in the case of my practice. And so I set to the task to cull from without, specifically I looked to Freud’s “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (‘Dora’)”. The initial attraction was less to the construction of hysteria than to Freud’s processes of unpacking dream derivations in gendered ground of primal propensities of sexual urge and perversion. Eventually however even this became less interesting than Freud’s discussions of how an unconscious, repressed memory, thought and wish, work unbidden to find their way out of the body, oft in a repetitive fetish like manner. Freud’s claim, “no mortal can keep a secret. If his her lips are silent, he she chatters with his her finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him her at every pore” (215, 233) with the symptomatic “somatic compliance” becoming the tell of the repressed. This seems relevant. So despite my desire and dependence on “Dora” as an outside source to prevent my self-cannibalizing art practice, Freud’s textual mullings on somatic compliance brought me back to dine at my own table for I have an awareness that my art practice is reliant on the unbidden chatter of my finger-tips . This is much evident in repetitive formal choices, compulsive making process and the unsettling nature of material choice.
In this initial phase of my Dora project, not yet fully fleshed out, I am compelled by an unexplainable drive to cull from domestic discards as a source material—specifically old mattresses tucked out of sight as refuse lining the back alleyways of Lubbock. In a retrospective rationalizing logic, I ascribe a five fold reasoning to the material selection. First, mattresses are inherently linked with sleep and thus the dream. Second, mattresses bare witness through their human patina stained surfaces the hidden intimacies of dream states and encounters. Third, the mattress is often gendered with various feminine flourishes of detail—floral patterns, quilted substrates and soft pastel coloring. Fourth, symbolically the bed as a privately possessed receptacle for both rest and release from the rigors of the day that culturally link it to the historic position of the female. And finally, the mattress may be skinned to it disparate dermal and sub-dermal material layers as though for biological analysis—steel and wood infrastructure, horsehair, fabric matting, various lattice substrates, raw waste cotton, foams, and quilting—much like the layers of meaning Freud suggests are hidden within the dream’s objects and actions. Yet, this ascribed rational and the descriptive attribution of used mattresses as “source material” for art production are simply guises to make sense of the unbidden compulsion to coat myself in the contaminates of private/public waste as I repeatedly make direct bodily contact with the socially revulsive.
In terms of processes, I rely heavily and repetitively on chance, somatic compulsion and the propensity to become soiled and sullied by my material rendering . For me that this three part rendering is my dominant mode repeating itself even when I consciously command myself to work otherwise. It calls to mind fragments of Freud’s symptomatic criteria of the unbidden twittering of the body located in hysteria.
Affect attached to an unconscious idea, operates more strongly, since it cannot be inhibited, more … than affect attached to a conscious one (Freud, 1905, pg 197).
It cannot occur more than once—and the capacity for repeating itself is one of the characteristics of a hysterical symptom—unless it has a psychical significance, a meaning. The hysterical symptom does not carry this meaning with it, but the meaning is lent to it, soldered to it, as it were (193).
It cannot be resolved by any effort of thought, either because it itself reaches with its root down into unconscious, repressed material, or because another unconscious thought lies concealed behind it (200).
Evident in my formal choices that produce the vacuous highly tactile sullied cotton ovum forms and the bedroom, is my habitual return to the gendered body and the most fundamental primal scene in which conception of the self is located. Simultaneous with this, the ovum forms take on a life of their own within the context of Freud’s dream analysis and ambiguity of his derived meaning. The ovum as a dream fragment links with its generation in the unseen unconscious actions of experience and somatic realization. Then again, there are clear correlations between Freud, Dora and my cobbled together mattress fluff ovums in terms of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who or Shelley’s Frankenstein—the unseen life sewn together in a mere fragment that appears as one thing but is another.
With the intent of using research to displace myself from my habits of formal decisions, material choices, and subsequent meaning, I find that my own symptomatic somatic compliance predates, parallels, propels and overpowers my reading of the Dora case study. Damn those unconscious primal scenes that manifest unbidden.
Freud, S. (1989). Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (“Dora”). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (pp. 172-239). New York0