Ahead of his London expo, the German video artist talks to us about Sigmund Freud's couch, German jews and why the famous psychotherapist matters today
To celebrate its quarter centenary, The Freud Museum presents an exhibition of work by renowned German video artist Marcel Odenbach. Covering themes of the history of Jews in Germany including 'Turning Circles', a study of the Majdenek Mausoleum at the concentration camp, and a life-sized paper collage depicting the iconic Freud couch, the body of work explores Germany’s sub conscious.
Dazed Digital: How important is it to you that you’re showing work at The Freud museum?
Marcel Odenbach: As an artist who worked with video installation in the mid 70s, I was used to the idea of showing my work in all kind of places. Video was not part of the gallery and institutional world; we had to organize our own places to show what we did. Sometimes we organized screenings in private houses or non-artistic institutions so, for me it seems normal to show in a space like the Freud Museum. I am looking forward to an unexpected confrontation by the visitors and to work a bit like a foreign body as an artistic practice. And of course, as a German teenager from the late 60s Freud had an enormous influence on my social, sexual and political thinking.
DD: The main work depicts the Freud couch - potentially the most famous and symbolic couch in history. What does the couch represent to you?
Marcel Odenbach: The couch in Freud’s examination room, which is firstly just a normal usable furniture, has become a symbol for the whole psychoanalyst and the whole science. For me the pattern of the decoration mirrors a whole time, I am using the oriental structure also to discuss the dark sides of the European history and the destiny of the Jews. As an artist I am asking myself if my own neurotic technique of collage will not become a replacement of a therapy?
DD: The psychoanalyst’s couch is where people explore their deep psyche. The more you look at the work you can see representations of German and Jewish history… is that at the heart of your psyche?
Marcel Odenbach: Vision and the trauma, and subconscious is becoming in this work, the outside and the surface of the patient. The couch of Freud might be like a self-portrait of the artist. In this paperwork I am reflecting the art, sexuality and the colonial history of the European society in the 19th and 20th century, that is momentarily grappling with its self-image.
DD: You often explore countries and their history – is a country’s history what makes their underlying psyche then - perhaps in this case Germany’s Jewish history?
Marcel Odenbach: For me, a German, collage, as a form of expression seems particularly interesting. First, I am returning in formal terms as well as subject matter to the tradition of the 20s and 30s in Germany, represented by artists like Kurt Schwitters, George Grosz, John Heartfield, etc. Secondly, I refer back to my early experiences with reminiscences and public memory, with the almost traumatic confrontation with post-war Germany. As a child in the early fifties, I had a feeling for the past based on individual pictures, photos and film sequences, and afterwards I developed a vision of past events. I discovered only scraps of information, scraps not connected to each other in any way, since not only had the majority of the material not been published at that point, but also it was even prohibited.
Marcel Odenbach at The Freud Museum from June 8 - 26, 2011