For Every piece of dust on Freud’s couch, commissioned by the Freud Museum, Broomberg & Chanarin hired a police forensic team to scrutinise Sigmund Freud’s iconic couch, gathering DNA samples, strands of hair and a multitude of dust particles left by his home’s many visitors. These may include traces of Freud’s early patients such as ‘Dora’, the ‘Wolf Man’ and others, as well as those of more mundane visitors, mainly tourists, who have travelled from around the world to visit this legendary item of furniture.
The couch itself was given to Freud by one of his patients, Madame Benvenisti in Vienna in about 1890, and the Persian Qashqa’i rug that covered it for its entire active duty is believed to have been given to him by his cousin Moritz Freud, a trader in antiquities. It has remained on the couch in London, where Freud spent his final years, ever since he fled to England to escape the Nazis. The rug was the primary focus of Broomberg & Chanarin’s forensic analysis. The thick pile is covered in invisible household dust, most of which is keratin, the main protein of skin. In addition to skin, analysis found the rug to be covered with hair and cloth fibres containing human DNA.
The artists have transformed the forensic scientists’ findings – presented initially as a series of high-resolution radiographic quartz images – into large woven tapestries, that mirror the scale and texture of the original covering. The first in a series of these textile works is to be draped over the actual couch, replacing the rug with an abstracted portrait of one of its sitters. Broomberg & Chanarin’s exercise in forensics aspires to the language of science and, like psychoanalysis, it attempts something contradictory; the objective study of subjectivity. Just as Freud radically changed the way we think about history, memory and evidence – forever influencing the stories we tell ourselves about the past – the physical presences suggested by these collected samples alter not only the history and texture of this iconic expanse of woven material, but they colour the already charged and celebrated atmosphere of the room itself.
An extension of this project, Every piece of dust on Freud’s couch, is on show as part of the eighth British Art Show (Leeds Art Gallery, 9 October – 10 January 2017, then touring to Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton) and coincides with a solo exhibition entitled Rudiments at Lisson Gallery, 25 September – 30 October.
About the artists
Tackling politics, religion, war and history, Broomberg & Chanarin prise open the fault lines associated with such imagery, creating new responses and pathways towards an understanding of the human condition. Trained as photographers they now work across diverse media, reacting to the photojournalistic experience of being embedded with the British Army in Afghanistan (and the controlled access to frontline action therein) with an absurd, conceptual riposte, composed of a series of abstract, six-metre swathes of photographic paper exposed to the sun for 20 seconds, for the work The Day Nobody Died (2008). Through painstaking restitution of found objects or imagery, from the long-lost set and discarded footage of the film Catch-22 in Mexico, for example, Broomberg & Chanarin enact an archeology or exorcism of aesthetic and ideological constructs behind the accepted tropes of visual culture, laying bare its foundations for fresh interpretation.