The Freud Museum

Exhibition Archive

8 November 2006 - 7 January 2007

Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Polymorphous Perverse

Exhibition curated by James Putnam.

According to Freud, young children are, by nature, "polymorphously perverse", which is to say that they can display inchoate sexual tendencies that adults would regard as perverse. Education suppresses infantile sexuality but it is not obliterated; it is retained in the unconscious mind of adults.

Polymorphous Perverse, the exhibition by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, illustrates how sexuality and violence influence our perception of reality, turning our world into on of fragmentation, anxiety and horror permeated by sexuality. In other words, it reflects the sexuality and violence that Freud discovered at the core of human life.

Appropriately sited in the room of Anna Freud, the founder of child psychoanalysis, Scarlett was a worktable on which numerous bizarre mechanical toys are working and seemingly in the process of being made; a nightmarish setting of repressed sexual and sadomasochistic fantasies and transgressions. In Noble and Webster’s ‘garden of earthly delights’, innocent children’s playthings were bastardized into objects of apparent perversion. Scarlett, utilized the actual workbench from the artists’ studio, which they have used extensively over the past decade. Noble and Webster’s table became like a laboratory to test out Freud’s theories about the pressures of childhood instinctual forces emanating from the unconscious, paralleling the psychoanalyst’s desk, cluttered with his favourite objects to inspire his writing.

In the study, Black Narcissus, the artists’ own spin on self-portraiture, was sited in Freud’s study next to a bust of the psychoanalyst. A characteristic Noble and Webster work, it comprised a sculpture on a tall plinth. The sculpture itself is a compilation of black silicone casts of Webster’s fingers and Noble’s member in various states of arousal. When illuminated, the sculpture casts a silhouette of the artists’ facial profiles.

This exhibition coincided with the launch of Wasted Youth, a comprehensive survey of the artists’ work over the last ten years published by Rizzoli, with texts by Norman Rosenthal and Jeffrey Deitch.

Black Narcissus
"Black Narcissus, is the largest work by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster and represents a form of self-portraiture. When viewed next to Freud’s own bust situated just a few feet away, it casts a faultless double shadow profile of the artists on to an adjacent wall, which is duplicated by Freud’s own shadow-profile that appears penis-like fixed upon the ceiling."
- Mark Sanders, "Scarlet", Another Magazine 12th Issue (2007)

"Scarlet, a kinetic hybrid composed of machine components, cogs and plastic containers, interspersed with twisted metal doll parts and the heads of taxidermy animals… after a few minutes it wakes up and all hell breaks loose. First an electric carving knife springs into action and begins to saw into the severed head of an Egyptian vulture… Then a power drill fires up sending shock waves across the table. Tubes of blood-red and urine coloured liquid start to pulsate through the work, causing a deranged Barbie to start humping the headless body of an Action Man, which in turn sparks off a demonic collection of plastic arms and legs that flail about as a maniac black doll on wheels, red tongue lolling from its mouth, moves in for the kill. Beside it, the dismembered shell of another plastic doll is seen jerking off a sausage while a third squats down to defecate on the floor."
- Mark Sanders, “Scarlet”, Another Magazine 12th Issue (2007)

Related Resources

See the related worksheets produced by the Education department

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