AAH Conference 1998: Sculpture & Psychoanalysis

2nd April 1998 - 4th April 1998
Seminar Room
Henry Moore Institute, Leeds

Psychoanalytic theory is now an established part of an of art historical methodology, offering critical insights into the creative process which, although widely acknowledge, remain acutely controversial. This year’s conference of the Association of Art Historians took as its broad theme the question of identities. The Henry Moore Institute hosted a session devoted to Psychoanalysis and the Identity of the Sculptured Object. Together, our panel of ten speakers set out explore an important aspect of psychoanalytic thinking - its application to the study of sculpture. Starting from a tentative assumption - that sculpture seems particularly susceptible to psychoanalytic inquiry - the ten papers aimed to throw light upon the complex historical relationship between psychoanalysis and the sculpted object.

The first session established a broad set of parameters. Fiona Russell’s account of Freud’s sculpture collection offered an appropriate introductory text in which to frame the conference session. Later perhaps touched upon questions of fetishism through to the ‘psychoanalytic identity’ of the Surrealist object, which threw further light on the perplexing subject of Hans Bellmer’s poupées.

The status of the ‘split’ subject in Robert Smithson’s Mirror Sculptures was explored by Tomothy Martin, while Gavin Parkinson took us through those developments in physics, mathematics and geometry which caught the imagination of Surrealists in the mid-1930s. Richard Williams concentrated upon the influence Anton Ehrensweig’s theories of creativity on American Sculptors in the 1960s, while Brandon Taylor broadened the discussion further still into the realm of Rubbish and the social, cultural and subjective questions raised by its prominent presence in recent installation art. Mignon Nixon’s paper urged the session towards the work of Melanie Klein through a reading a reading of the work of Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse and Yayoi Kusama in the early to mid-sixties. Finally, Sharon Kivland brought the conference session to an appropriately ‘poetic’ conclusion with a dramatic, post-Lacanian performance warning of objects, love and betrayal.