Zoe Forster: Secrets of the Soul

Zoe Forster explains the process of participating in the exhibition ‘Secrets of the Soul’, commissioned by University College London’s Psychoanalysis Unit.

Sharing a secret; keeping a secret; discovering a secret… what this means; what this does; and what this leads to.

For me, a small-town artist whose work resided more in the physical than the conceptual, this commission was a learning curve from the very beginning. As soon as I had read the brief I began to research. Never having been taught the basics of psychology, nor researched the ‘father of psychoanalysis’, I humbly declare I had no idea who Sigmund Freud was and what he had contributed to psychology before this commission.

What I then went onto learn about psychoanalysis and my own practice was a plethora of information and experience I will always be grateful for.

Reading articles, asking questions and researching online informed me about a major aspect within psychoanalysis: communication. Four hundred miles away from my family, I gave them a ring, questioning their knowledge of secrets, squeezing information from them that they probably didn’t know was resting on their tongues. We arrived at the idea of exploring the ways in which we communicate – sign language, body language, written word and spoken word… movement as language. That’s what I stuck with… movement… dance… as language!

So what can happen when a secret comes to light?

Secrets are intimate, they’re quiet and you hold them tight to your chest. They play on your mind – if they’re heavy that is, if they’re yours (maybe?).

At the time of working on the commission I was in the second year of my Fine Art degree, surrounded by concepts and artworks I didn’t understand on a creative level. I’m a maker and I enjoy ideas that come full circle, I enjoy getting my hands dirty and I overwhelmingly enjoy the physicality of materials. Looking back now, this commission helped me realize this aspect of my artistry I hadn’t yet unearthed.

Zoe Forster Secrets of the SoulI photographed a friend, not a dancer, not even a good dancer, dancing. Moving. Telling me secrets through the way she thrust her shoulders in the air, her torso following, through the way in which she swung her arms outwards and let them drop. I recorded this through photography, using long exposure allowing for abstract forms, letting us see the movement. In a darkroom I removed the film from the canister and placed this into a pinhole camera, taking this outside (into the light), I exposed the film for 4 seconds. This exposure to light destroys the film if it has not been fixed. This secret being brought into the light has damaged the dance, a metaphor for the psyche of the one telling the secret. The film was then fixed and prints were made, including a contact sheet – harsh, fiery lines slashed across the photographs where the light met the image.

Between the UCL staff and myself, we deliberated where this would best be shown, deciding on Freud’s staircase, an inbetween space where light falls through the sash windows. The piece was exhibited in an oak frame, in keeping with the traditional look of the house.

Collaborating with UCL

I see this commission as the starting point for the way in which I now use and experiment with wet room photography and materials. It is a way that feels true to myself when I’m working, that feels real and raw and has endless potential. Also, since collaborating with UCL on this Freud project I began to research UCL as an establishment and this led to where I am now, going on to do my Masters of Fine Art at The Slade. I enjoyed every aspect of this commission, and I am still reaping its benefits now. I thank The Freud Museum and therefore Freud himself, and UCL for this. Cheers.

Zoe Forster was one of the artists featured in the exhibition ‘Secrets of the Soul’, commissioned by UCL’s Psychoanalysis Unit. Students at the Slade School of Fine Art and the University of the Arts London were invited to submit proposals for artworks on the theme of secrets.

Following the success of their previous exhibitions at the Freud Museum, UCL’s Psychoanalysis Unit have commissioned a new exhibition for 2020, Melancholia. The exhibition runs from 18 March to 05 April 2020.


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