“Sigmund Freud’s Cabinet of Dreams” in St. Petersburg


It is difficult to assess the dream that is the Freud Museum without another dream, the dream of Kabinet. Based in St. Petersburg, Kabinet is the name of a group with a constantly changing membership as well as an open series of publications on questions of the evolution and development of the arts. Kabinet first appeared as an idea in the winter of 1990/91 in St. Petersburg and represented a means to exchange information about unpublished Western articles and books among a group of friends. Yet Kabinet never became a journal in the ordinary sense of the word. It was more like an almanac containing essays by different authors as well as the first translations into Russian of a whole variety of Western critical and philosophical works. No more than 99 copies per issue were printed, and Kabinet was never for sale on the open market. In order to obtain a copy, one had to contact one of the editors personally. Twelve issues with three supplements were produced until 1997, when Kabinet was for the first time sold openly, abandoning the secrecy that had shrouded it up to that point. As before, Kabinet was run by an editorial collective whose composition changed all the time, with Olesya Turkina, Victor Mazin, and Sergei Bugaev (Afrika) at the center. Kabinet served as a rallying point for artists from well beyond the borders of St. Petersburg. In 1997, a group of St. Petersburg artists exhibited their work under the same name in a large exhibition at the Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam. At this exhibition, the first English-language Kabinet almanac was sold (Kabinet. Annthology (Engl.), Inapress. St. Petersburg/Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam 1997; 294 pages, 1000 copies, ISBN 5-87135-035-6; 29,50 HFL). In 1998, Kabinet published the first in a series of weighty anthologies, Kabinet (A)-Pictures of the World. The impressive list of subjects covered (anthropology, biology, genetics, critics, linguistics, literature, poetics, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, semiotics, physiology, philosophy, zytology, ethnology, ethnology; (Kabinet (A). Kartiny Mira (Russian), Inapress. St. Petersburg 1998; 304 pages, 500 copies, ISBN: 5-87135-054-2)) was headed by the title “Psycho/Techno”. Kabinet (A) was followed by three more: Kabinet (B)-Necrorealism: Evgeny Yufit (Kabinet (B). Nekrorealism (Russian), Inapress. St. Petersburg 1998; 208 pages, 500 copies, ISBN: 5-87135-057-7); Kabinet/Kris (C/v)-Art and Science (Kabinet/Kris (C). Art and Science (Russian/Engl., in cooperation with KRIS magazine), Inapress. St. Petersburg 1998; 176 pages, 650 copies, ISBN: 5-87135-058-5); Kabinet (D) of Dr. Freud’s Dream (Kabinet (D). Cabinet of Freud’s Dreams (Russian), Inapress. St.Petersburg 1999; 202 pages, 1000 copies, ISBN: 5-87135-089-5). This last publication was produced on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first publication of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and the opening of the St. Petersburg Freud Museum. The volume also serves as a kind of catalogue to the museum itself.

From Kabinet to “Freud’s Cabinet”

With its 70 square meters, the St. Petersburg Freud Museum/Cabinet is definitely not for those of us who suffer from claustrophobia. Incidentally, it is the third in the world, and the only one specifically dedicated to dreams and their interpretation. The museum doubles as a venue for regular lectures and as a gallery exhibiting works by Vladimir Kustov, Natalya Pershiva-Yakimanskaya, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, Sophie Tottie, Stanislav Makarov, Angrei Khlobystin, Gosha Ostretsov, Pavel Pepperstein and Sergei Bugaev Afrika. First and foremost, though, the St. Petersburg Freud Museum functions as a conceptual installation, a work of art in itself, and, as such, unmistakably a creation of Kabinet. Since its opening, the cabinet of dreams has attracted an unexpected number of visitors, both international Freud specialists and local enthusiasts. In the first, smaller room, the visitor sees Pawel Pepperstein’s drawings of the dreams analyzed in Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Showcases highlight the most important periods in Freud’s life as well as his key works. A necro-realist portrait of the father of psychoanalysis and a rebus set against a dark background made of wallpaper complete the inventory. The floor is meant to set you dreaming about fin-de-siècle Vienna. The second room is itself a dream, a kind of visualized metaphor of Freudian dreamwork. The room is long and narrow and appears to be painted all in black. You follow a path through the center from where you can see strange objects behind glass in the dark. Nothing here seems to be quite real, everything is as it were suspended in the semi-darkness. There are photographs showing Freud’s private collections of antiquities and fetishes aswell as photographs of paintings owned by the master, etchings and engravings showing buildings and persons, letters, books, even entire pages from Freud’s manuscripts. All these collected objects submit to an altogether inscrutable order. In between the enormous clutter of photographs and images there are weird black figures in white dresses, as well as broken mirrors. Mirroring projections round up the impression of an eerie dreamscape.

Introduction to the Freud Museum

by Victor Mazin

The consulting room we have tried to recreate in our Freud museum will hardly be confused with Dr. Freud’s first consulting room in Berggasse 19, or with his last consulting room in London’s Maresfield Gardens. It is here, on 18 Bolshoy Prospekt in St. Petersburg, Russia, that we decided to establish a museum devoted to Freudian psychoanalysis, “Dr. Sigmund Freud’s study of the history of psychoanalysis and dreams”. We might have called the museum, with equal justification, “Museum of psychoanalysis”, “Museum of the history of psychoanalysis”, “Freud Museum”, “Museum of Dream Interpretation”, “Memorial Museum of the 100th Anniversary of The Interpretation of Dreams“, “Sigmund Freud’s Cabinet of Dreams”, or “Doctor Freud’s Dream Museum”.

The obvious question to be asked is why a museum connected to Sigmund Freud’s theories, antiquities and dreams has been founded in a city where this man never set foot. The answer is, first, because knowledge knows neither territory nor borders. Psychoanalysis spread and continues to expand in spite of language barriers and ideological taboos. Psychoanalysis belongs to everyone who senses a need for it, to all those who feel attracted to it. Territorial memorialization as it manifests itself, for example, in phrases such as “… was born here”, “… stayed here”, “… lived here”, “… was here”, “… traveled through here”, “… was killed here”, “… is buried here”, and the fetishization of space and time in general are the hallmarks of a pre-Freudian, pre-Copenhagen epistemology. This epistemology assumes that there is a type of knowledge that is independent from the subject. Yet psychic reality inevitably has an effect on our picture of reality. The idea of a psychic reality makes it possible, to a certain extent, to ignore and deny actual reality. When it is a matter of dreams, the collection of artworks, or ideas (in this case, those of Sigmund Freud), the territorial-memorial arguments for the construction of a museum do not seem convincing. A museum whose opening was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams cannot be attached to a single place for the simple reason that dreams have no physical location. One of the starting points for the establishment of the museum was the dream of Irma’s injection. Freud saw Irma at a pensione in Bellevue. Interpreting this dream psychoanalytically, Freud suggested that one day a commemorative plaque should be placed on the pensione: “Here, on July 24, 1895 the secret of the dream revealed itself to Dr. Sigmund Freud”. “Bellevue” has long since been demolished. Its disappearance has enabled us to relocate the plaque to another place. In 1977 such a memento was in fact placed on the site of the former pensione. “Sigmund Freud’s cabinet of dreams”, the way we conceived it, is another echo of Freud’s desire to attach a commemorative plaque to the wall of his pensione.

Our consulting room of the history of psychoanalysis and of Sigmund Freud’s interpretation of dreams includes two spaces. The first, introductory space is devoted to Freud’s biography and the establishment of psychoanalysis. The second concerns The Interpretation of Dreams and Freud’s collection of antiquities. The first part is meant to recount the life and activity of the father and founder of psychoanalysis; the second immerses the visitor in the quasi-hallucinatory atmosphere of dreams. If the first room corresponds with the canonical concept of a museum, the second is at least partially liberated from the task of explanations of the type “This is…” The perception of the second part of the museum activates our visual perception, it calls for the stimulation of a process of projection and transfer.

Our museum pursues two goals. The first, affective task is to give pleasure to the visitor, to arouse in him/her different feelings, vague recollections, scarcely perceived concepts. The museum’s second, intellectual-didactic task is to push the boundaries of the idea of psychoanalytical doctrine. We want to relate Freud’s life and activity to his collection of antiquities and show how both relate to his method of interpreting dreams and the theory of psychoanalysis in general. The place of the interpretation of dreams in psychoanalysis was designated by Freud as the “royal road to the cognition of the unconscious”. Based on dreams-a “condition” that is accessible to all of us-Freud revealed the mechanisms of the unconscious. Our museum aims to reproduce these mechanisms in visual form. The events of the dream are opened to view as though they played themselves out on a stage, with the exhibited objects being separated from the onlooker by a transparent barrier. The objects are inaccessible to tactile perception, it is impossible to master them physically. As though on a screen, the dreams are revealed to our eyes.

The museum exhibition contains images of those objects to which Freud’s interest turned at certain stages in his life: images of Roman, Greek, Chinese and other gods, images of Egyptian shabti and from Babylonian and Sumerian cylindrical seals, Faiyum portraits, death masks, mummified birds, images of Corinthian vessels, classical Greek vases, etc. Then there are photographs showing the engravings of cathedrals, Renaissance pictures, frescoes, and mosaics which Freud fell in love with at the beginning of the century; there are also the memorial images which he brought back from his travels and subsequently kept in his home. Third, there are the photographs of the books on the shelves with which Freud was as it were in daily eye-contact. Fourth, we have images of the illustrations from the Philippson Bible that haunted Freud ever since his childhood, even in dreams. Fifth, images of teachers, whose photographic portraits occupied their place in Dr. Freud’s consulting room and study. Sixth, there are the reproductions of words from Sigmund Freud’s letters to his Berlin friend Wilhelm Fliess. Their correspondence created an extremely important context both for Freud’s self-analysis and for his writing of The Interpretation of Dreams. We also show quotations from The Interpretation of Dreams itself. We present these quotations in Russian, hinting at the distortions that occurs in every process of translation. Of course, translation and distortion also determine, according to Freud, the dream-work. Lastly we show objects referring to The Interpretation of Dreams, such as hats, walking-sticks, steps, rebuses, clothes, caskets, flowers (which Freud loved so much), and his beloved mushrooms… Of course these objects are not original; to use the language of dream analysis, we simply translated word presentations into thing presentations. Additionally, a series of exhibited objects was created by contemporary artists as a gift to the memory of The Interpretation of Dreams and its creator.

Apart from the problem of representation, two other mechanisms played an important role for our exhibition, a.k.a., displacement and condensation. The illusory, transparent, palimpsest-like character of dreaming is one of the main features of our exposition design. All visual modifications depend on the position of the viewer. One of the most peculiar aspects of the exposition is its depth. We distinguished three levels of presentation: superficial (=easily read and clearly visible), intermediate (=read not without strain), and deep (=scarcely distinguishable, “fantasmatic”, “projected”). Onthe first, “conscious” level, thing presentations are located side by side with word presentations; on the second, “pre-conscious” level, words and things establish relatively free contact; on the third, “unconscious” level, it is the logic of displacement and condensation of object-representations that is functioning. Dream space is narcissist in character. In dreams it is hard not to collide with the “mirrored” fragments of our own face or body, reminding us that everything we see is, among other things, the result of the transfer of our feelings and projections.

Victor Mazin is a curator, art-critic, philosopher, translator, and author who lives and works in Saint Petersburg. He is the editor-in-chief of Kabinet and a lecturer at the East-European Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Heike Wegner is a cultural critic and sociologist who lives and works in Vienna. She is a frequent contributor to ARTMargins.