Newcall Gallery

Monday, August 24, 2009

25.08.09 | Matt Crookes writes about The Psychologist's Bookshelf

Christina Read
The Psychologist's Bookshelf

The central thesis of Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization was that behaviours thought 'mad', and indeed the concept of insanity itself, is a relatively recent invention, and that such behaviours are relative. What's crazy to you is quite normal for us, and vice versa. Elsewhere, British writer Will Self's novella The Quantity Theory of Insanity describes a world wherein madness is a finite quality, and in certain circumstances, one that can be exchanged, rationed, or offset against moments of sanity. An economy of madness, as it were.

We are presented with a variety of juxtaposed yet somehow related objects. There are common qualities here, mainly in the colour scheme, which, with its baby blues, lime greens, cream and pink and beige, seems to evoke a childhood that occurred somewhere between the 1950s and 1970s. The muted colour scheme is carried through to a video work, played on a small monitor very much from the present day, featuring some ambiguous footage of what looks a blanket with movement underneath, perhaps someone rousing from sleep, or of a dreamer dreaming. Scattered around are other elements; cheap faded photographic prints, now beyond even any decorative value they may once have possessed; they stand in merely as a counterpoint to the blobs of enamel. A pair of extracted teeth covered with white emulsion. A black matchbox toy car, all on display in neat box like compartments on the walls.

There is a suggestion of a fairy tale here, in much the same way that the toys leap out of the toy box to embark on adventures, except that here it is the demons and phobias have leaped off the shelves and out of the pages of the Psychologist's notebook and are running amok. Like fairy tales these events happen away from the hard rational eyes of the adults; but, crucially, here the physical evidence is very much on display. We don't know for certain whether the tiddlywinks blue-tacked onto the cheap print is the outcome of a child's diversion, the product of a thoroughly disturbed individual, maybe even a work of art.

Are the cheap ornaments, the tatty, faded prints 'despoiled' or augmented with splatters of vivid colour, part of a (none too successful) attempt on the part of the absent Psychologist to provide a relaxing, perhaps homely environment? Or have they been provided by the subjects, perhaps as material for sessions, or the outcome of some assignment?

If the latter is the case, then some of these assignments have profoundly disturbing outcomes. While the Anxiety Ball is – supposedly – self explanatory, elsewhere a grotesque set of objects, a sphere mounted on an ornate stand like an alien prosthetic, painted in a uniform orange colour with a rectangular opening onto its black interior. It appears to be in some kind of staring-down contest with a cheap plaster bust of a woman, placed on a circle of orange within a blue table top, which echoes the orange of its opponent. A more graphic materialization of childhood nightmares this viewer has yet to encounter...

A Little Bit of Weirdness

As a starting point to this project, Read began researching the 'pop' Psychology contained within self-help books, and gravitated towards Psychology's more 'classical' writers as her own approach shifted from one of skepticism to one of growing absorption. It is apparent from this sequence of titles and names that start with Freud and Jung and descend down the line of specialisation or obscurity, that a dual hierarchy exists, one external, based on familiarity outside the profession, which has little or no relation to any reputation within the Psychology profession's own hierarchy. The book title, taken in isolation, whose emblematic qualities Read has explored in earlier works, is taken one step further in the video work featuring a sequence of titles of Psychology textbooks, together with their authors. These have been presented as though they were the opening credits for a movie or upmarket TV production. What becomes apparent, as we watch the names and titles fade in and out, is of how obscure “Psychology” remains to most of us. A singularly nebulous subject, there are degrees of familiarity with Psychology and Psychologists. The term 'Freudian Slip' like 'Catch 22', has descended from intellectual life into cliché, but Psychology remains a field which a great many encounter superficially, but very few can claim genuine familiarity with.

Read says she is looking for an 'emotional response, not too specific, through juxtaposition of things or evocation of colours', to this new series of works. And so with the muted, pastel childhood colours - 'sickly child colours'- familiar to those who grew up before the advent of day-glow. She talks of spreading a little 'weirdness' around here and there, maybe as one might cultivate a garden. Moments of madness, little pockets of eccentricity. Read's work addresses ambiguities within apparently familiar objects. In this work there are shifts in time, between past and present, or more specifically between childhood and adulthood, as though a subject were being asked to plumb the depths of their memories for answers to present-day anxieties.

Text by Matthew Crookes
August 2009