The Freud Museum

Events Archive

14 June 1997

What is an Object?

Psychoanalysis emerged from a crossover of disciplines, so it is only natural that the Freud Museum should bring together art theory, anthropology and philosophy in a symposium to decide the deceptively simple question What is an Object?

Conference Report

The numbers who attended, over 300 people filling the Brunei Gallery, demonstrate the level of interest in that question, and especially from the art world. Another reason for this interest is that the event arose from the same cultural currents that produced the popular Material Culture exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and The Power of Erotic Design at the Design Museum. Our speakers included the co-curator of the former, Michael Archer of the Chelsea College of Art and the anthropologist Daniel Miller, author of Material Culture and Mass Consumption .

Kenneth Wright, psychoanalyst and author of Vision and Separation, opened with a paper entitled Deep Calling Unto Deep, in which he suggested that the art object looks after the self in a maternal way. Tessa Adams of Goldsmiths College presented another account of the mothering aspect of art in her examination of Cornelia Parker's crushed or exploded works of art, which offer us the consolation of having survived fragmentation.

In the afternoon session the anthropologist Michael Rowlands surveyed the field of trauma and memory, illustrating it with haunting images of public monuments and memorials. At the end of the day the symposium looked to the philosopher Richard Wollheim, author of Art and its Objects , to summarize the days themes. In doing so he also added his own conviction that art is not communication. Hence the idea of the object in art is of another order than the grammatical or philosophical object. Though this was hardly the definitive statement that one could not admit to hoping for, and that Wollheim wisely warned us not to expect, at least it might serve as a good enough transitional point of reference.

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