Susan Hiller

From the Freud Museum


Not on display

Susan Hiller 1940–2019
Glass, 50 cardboard boxes, paper, video, slide, light bulbs and other materials
Displayed: 2200 × 10000 × 600 mm
Purchased 1998


From the Freud Museum is an installation commissioned by Book Works and the Freud Museum in London. The first version of the installation was produced for the Freud Museum and exhibited there in 1994. Hiller continued to work on the piece and a later version was completed in 1996 and purchased by Tate in 1998. It is generally exhibited as a single vitrine in which fifty archive boxes are displayed on two shelves, with their lids open, revealing a broad range of small artefacts. Each box is numbered and given a title corresponding to its contents. Many of the items included in Hiller’s installation are ephemeral, everyday articles, such as 45rpm records, two china creamers in the shape of cows, the English puppet Punch’s wooden slapstick. Others are objects of historical and anthropological significance, including Mayan obsidian blades and reproductions of aboriginal Australian cave paintings alongside earth collected near Papunya in Australia. The inclusion of these items is perhaps connected to Hiller’s early training as an anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. Other boxes combine items of contemporary relevance or modern usage with images of historic significance. In Box 018, for example, titled ‘La Peste/Plague’, Hiller has attached an article detailing ‘the current global situation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic’ alongside a photograph of the artist facing a stone carving of a skull, a typical memento mori dating from the time of London’s Great Plague.

The ‘from’ in the title does not refer to artefacts collected at the Freud Museum, but indicates that this is a work inspired by it. At the museum, Sigmund Freud’s personal collection of art and antiquities is displayed alongside objects pertaining to his professional life as a psychoanalyst, such as the couch used by his patients during their analysis. As Hiller noted in the afterword to After the Freud Museum, a companion publication to her installation work, ‘[w]hatever might be said to be the “collection” on display in the Freud Museum is complicated by an overlay of settings where historical, biographical, archaeological, familial, personal, ethnographic and psychoanalytic facts merge to produce representations whose meanings are always in flux’ (Hiller 2000, unpaginated). The diversity of Freud’s own collection influenced the form of Hiller’s installation. Despite and because of the presentation of objects in archive boxes and the evocative but brief titles, From the Freud Museum reflects Hiller’s rejection of traditional modes of anthropological classification, favouring instead the subjective associations that viewers draw out themselves.

From the Freud Museum was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1999 as part of an exhibition on ‘the museum as muse’. In a statement to accompany the display, Hiller provided a detailed description of the work’s production and potential meanings:

On one level, my vitrine installation is a collection of things evoking cultural and historical points of slippage – psychic, ethnic, sexual, and political disturbances. Individual items in my collection range from macabre through sentimental to banal. Many of the objects are personal, things I’ve kept for years as private relics and talismans, mementoes, references to unresolved issues in earlier works, or even as jokes. Sigmund Freud’s impressive collection of classical art and artefacts inspired me to formalise and focus my project. But if Freud’s collection is a kind of index to the version of Western civilisation’s heritage he was claiming, then my collection taken as a whole, is an archive of misunderstandings, crises, and ambivalences that complicate any such notion of heritage.
(Hiller cited in McShine 1999, p.93.)

Further reading
Kynaston McShine (ed.), The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1999, pp.92–3.
Susan Hiller, After the Freud Museum, London 2000.
Ann Gallagher (ed.), Susan Hiller, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2011, pp.86–9.

Fiona Anderson
September 2013

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