Emma Smith

6 March 2019 to 26 May 2019

Emma Smith’s exhibition draws on historical research into the fascination with the infant mind after 1945.


This new research, by the Hidden Persuaders Project at Birkbeck, University of London, explores how child psychoanalysis and psychiatry sought to influence, understand, and encourage children’s healthy development after World War II.

Emma Smith’s artworks and interventions interrogate some of this complex narrative to highlight the hidden history of the child’s influence over the adult world.

Research into infant observation in psychoanalysis, the emergence of child-centred education, and the anti-psychiatry movement, have all been important in the exhibition’s development. So too have ongoing debates over nature and nurture, benign and malign influence over the child.

The title Wunderblock comes from Sigmund Freud’s paper ‘Notiz Über den »Wunderblock«’ (‘A Note Upon the “Mystic Writing Pad’”). It is a toy used by Freud to illustrate the workings of the unconscious, where memories are stored and from where they may re-emerge. In the exhibition, Smith takes this idea and uses it to imagine and uncover the complexity of the child’s mind.

At a time when concern over the mental health and rights of children and young people regularly makes the headlines, Wunderblock aims to provoke debate and reflection. Taking historical research as a starting point, the exhibition and the accompanying events programme encourage you to consider and question your own beliefs in relation to the current status of children in our society.

Wunderblock is curated by Rachel Fleming-Mulford, and is commissioned by Birkbeck, University of London for the Hidden Persuaders Project, funded by the Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fund.

Image credit: Detail of ‘World Play’ from Wunderblock, Emma Smith, Freud Museum London, 2019. Photograph by Karolina Urbaniak. Commissioned by Birkbeck, University of London. Copyright Emma Smith 2019.