Somatic Compliance and the Dream Fragment :: Deriving a Derivative from the Dora Case Study


Kathy Kelley and her big ass cotton womb fabricated from deconstructed found mattresses (eewwww, but yes)

Video installation-Jared Stanley; choreography + performance direction-Ashley Meyers; sound poetry-Evangeline Jimenez; installation-Kathy Kelley.

Photos-Jared Stanley, 2016.lifeofcotton-web-9594lifeofcotton-web-9929lifeofcotton-web-9563lifeofcotton-web-9553lifeofcotton-web-9601lifeofcotton-web-9585

Often outside research and collaboration 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’)” while simultaneously working with a collaborative team around notions of the lives of migrant cotton workers of the 1950s. Within the Freud research the 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 lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore” (Freud, 1905, p. 215, 233) with the symptomatic “somatic compliance” becoming the tell of the repressed, seems relevant. So despite my desire and dependence on “Dora” as an outside resource to prevent my self-cannibalizing art practice, Freud’s textual mullings on somatic compliance brought me back to dine at my own table. I have an uncomfortable 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 processes and the unsettling nature of material choices that occurs in spite of collaboration on one project while researching another to avoid the self.


In this initial phase of my larger Dora project, not yet fully fleshed out, I was compelled by an initial 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 sexual 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 is of interest. And finally, the mattress may be skinned to it disparate dermal and subdermal 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, which produced the vacuous highly tactile sullied swollen and slack uterus forms, 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 uterus forms take on a lives of their own within the context of Freud’s dream analysis and ambiguity of his derived meaning. The uterus as a dream fragment links with its generation in the unseen unconscious actions of experience and its somatic realization. Then again, there are clear correlations between Freud, Dora and my cobbled together mattress fluff for my vacuous oversized uterus and the collective flaccid impotent uteri in terms of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who or Shelley’s Frankenstein—unseen lives sewn together, birthed in a mere fragment that appears as one thing but is another, lived lives repressed from the real.

With the intent of using research and even collaboration to displace myself from my habits of my twittering finger-tips–formal decisions, material choices, and subsequent material manifestations–I find that my own symptomatic somatic compliance predates, parallels, propels and overpowers my reading of the Dora case study and attempts at collaboration. Damn those unconscious primal scenes that manifest unbidden and uninhibited from my body.

Freud, S. (1905). Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (“Dora”). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (pp. 172-239). New York: W.W. Norton.


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