Lind, Maria. "If Freud had a great interest in the young hysteric Dora",
in: Clean&Sane, Sollentuna, 1997
If Freud had a great interest in the young hysteric Dora and her father and also in their friends Mr. and Mrs. K., his lack of interest in her mother was even greater. Even though this middle-aged housewife most probably played a decisive role in psychoanalysis' most famous case, she has remained anonymous for its readers. Freud was obliged to refer to her, but only in passing in this fascinating case study; but then she suffered from the very unglamorous "housewife neurosis" - an exaggerated need for control and pedantry that made life a misery for the rest of her family.(1)
The condition that became pathological for Dora's mother is something we all at some point and to some degree encounter - in ourselves, in others or as a social precept. The artists in the international group exhibition, Clean&Sane, express different points of departure and different attitudes towards experiences of this condition. We establish control - both real and apparent - when dirt and disorder are transformed into cleanliness and order through cleaning and sorting, clearing and categorising. In this way we bring order, individually and collectively, to our own inner, and the world's outer, disorder. At the same time, it is a defence which is not always easy to maintain - the perfect facade cracks, borders fade, and what has been kept separate and held in check is stirred up and mixed together. Several of the works in the exhibition can be said to exemplify or even actively do this.
A transitional point for the public ideology of cleanliness in the western world - if one disregards the inter-war period's ideas of racial purity - is the end of the second world war, when people began to have greater access to comfortable bathrooms, warm running water, fragrant soaps, shampoos and detergents. In post-war France, for example, this urge for cleanliness openly went hand in hand with the modernisation of the country. When after 1945, people experienced a need to come to terms with their immediate "dirty" past, populated by Nazis and Petainists, and to create a new identity, they often turned to metaphors for cleanliness.(2) As Roland Barthes put it in his study of French everyday life and popular culture: "Decay is being expelled (from the teeth, the skin, the blood, the breath): France is having a great yen/fringale/for cleanliness".(3) People made a clean sweep of the past in order to create something new.
The idea of sweeping out the old in order to commence with the new forms the basis of Karl Holmqvist's documentary video, "International Kleen". Together with students from Umeå Konsthögskola, he undertook a thorough cleaning of the school's premises on the banks of the Umeå river. Dressed in cleaning uniforms, they washed floors, scraped away flecks of paint - all in order to inaugurate a new period, which for Karl Holmqvist himself involved three years of teaching. The school needed a thorough going over, and indeed was cleaned from top to bottom, but it was all done with a certain ironic distance to the presumed benefits of cleanliness - symbolic actions are often fruitful to play with. The eccentricity in this work is also present in Karl Holmqvist's other works, not least in the selling of poetry in plastic bags, for example, or making lampshades out of Vick's Blue cough drop wrappers.
Interest in the history of bodily hygiene and its current manifestations comprises the core of Hadrian Pigott's art, and he continually forms and reforms its paraphernalia. Negative space - the inside of the bathtub, handbasin and urinal are cast in plaster and the soap and taps with their pipes can be seen in cross-section in glass display cases. The similarities to weapons are striking. Some of Hadrian Pigott's work recalls the childhood of psychoanalysis (the Victorian era), for instance in the strange black bags shaped a bit like instrument cases that contain handbasins, taps and soaps, all dismantled and placed in special pockets in the red velvet lining. Others, with their shiny, pastel surfaces and chrome fittings, remind one of the style of the 1950s. They seem to be created for people suffering from bacillophobia, for whom the habit of cleaning and washing has become compulsive. In another series, cleanliness and health are more directly combined: enlarged, almost monstrous pills made of pink and light blue soap are pre-wrapped in plastic, ready to be bought and consumed.
For the American psychiatrist Alice E. Fabian, who figures in many of Ann-Sofi Siden's pieces, bodily hygiene was a way of keeping madness at bay. It was a kind of medicine against the mental intruders that she imagined in her surroundings. In the midst of this paranoia, she began expressing herself on tape and in writing, talked about glimpses of light in her life, but also about the malevolent people who persecuted her and tormented her through, among other things, electrical currents. The colour photos from her house on West 9th St. in Manhattan were taken after her death and after the exhibition that took place with her daughter's approval in this house in 1994, in which Siden participated. The deterioration that had long been present had now taken over - not even cleanliness could halt it anymore. Ann-Sofi Siden's existentially inspired fictionalisations of documentary material have been replaced by a straight, unsentimental registration, in which traces of a life can still be detected.
Karl Holmqvist's video, Hadrian Pigott's bags and Ann-Sofi Siden's series of photographs all convey a view of cleanliness in general, and cleaning and bodily hygiene in particular as a shield against dark but palpable forces. Karl-Johan Stigmark's ice cream performances and Ann Lislegaard's sound and video installations are instead concerned with materials and mentalities that are transformed, change condition, and thereby seem to be unclean. According to the anthropologist Mary Douglas, pure, absolute dirt does not exist - not even bacteriology can completely explain the various conceptions of what is clean and unclean. Dirt is quite simply relative - or, in her words, "Dirt is matter out of place", that is, the wrong thing in the wrong place.(4) Food is not dirt, but food on clothes is dirty. Shoes on the table are not dirty, per se, but even if they are clean and shiny they are considered dirty because they do not belong there.(5)
Karl-Johan Stigmark's ice cream performances have taken place on the top of Norwegian mountains and on the shores of the Danube, in Florentine palaces and Swedish galleries. In Clean&Sane we find ice cream in both a frozen and melted condition, in a freezer and on the floor. When he writes well chosen words and short phrases in ice cream and allows them to melt in place, letting the sticky spots remain, the delicious is very quickly turned into the disgusting. This suggests Jean Paul Sartre's idea that stickiness - what we cannot quickly wipe away and easily get rid of - is repulsive like dirt because we cannot control it. And more, when the boundary between me and the stickiness dissolves, my identity is threatened: I no longer know where I end and the other starts.(6) According to Jean Paul Sartre, even small children feel disgust when confronted with stickiness.
A similar dissolution of the self is the focus of several of Ann Lislegaard's formally clean installations with sound and/or video. Manipulated voices read suggestive hypnotic texts and fluorescent light confuses spatial orientation. This immaterial but also highly sensuous minimalism takes one on a journey away from one's self and one's reason or common sense. The lengths of mylard which Ann Lislegaard uses in the video shown in Clean&Sane function like the distorting mirrors of fun-fairs; the mirror images are distorted, but instead of laughter, they provoke shudders. Small movements make the world seem fluid, with people suddenly appearing out of nothing only to disappear equally fast. Invented by NASA for use in space, mylard is one of the most insulating and durable materials in existence. In the video, its durability is contrasted with the viewer's ghostlike appearance and disappearance.
The neurotic need to clean and sort, wash and categorise is, according to Freud, a kind of sublimation of sexual feelings, which are suppressed and reveal themselves instead in a new form.(7) Neither obsessiveness nor sexuality is far away in Claire Barclay's beautifully turned objects, made on an intimate scale. The long wooden brushes with their strangely shaped bristles seem created for odd cleaning uses or bizarre physical pleasures. The body is the constantly present absence in Claire Barclay's art, what everything points to, but which is itself never there. Many of the objects actually look as if they could be used or worn on the body; they resemble a mixture of cleaning implements and medical instruments, tools of torture, sexual toys and fashion accessories. The materials used are often sensual, somewhat "fetishistic": shiny metal, shimmering glass, downy feathers, soft leather and woolly yarn. Ambivalence may be said to be the key word for her art; the boundaries between conventional categories are transgressed and ambivalence cultivated. Sometimes it even becomes somewhat manic and a bit perverse.
Sexual undertones are also present in Douglas Gordon's simple video "Hand and Foot (Left)" where one sees a hand and a foot in closeup, naked without ornament or covering. The location can be a bedroom, but it also may be a hospital bed or a prison cell. The hand moves around the foot as in a caressing washing movement. Or is it a painfully hard squeeze? A grim struggle for dominance? Uncertainty persists during the whole course of this work. Questions of fiction and reality, good and evil, body and soul, heaven and hell are central for Douglas Gordon, whose work is influenced by existential questions. However, here it is more about control and the possibility of allowing "both/and" to prevail over "neither/nor".
The refrigerator is one of the new consumer goods that was a must for the rational housewife of the 50s. Like a cleaning technician, she was to manage her home with the help of these new-fangled products which included washing-machines and Hoovers. Even if historically the woman has been considered unclean, she has borne the responsibility for the family's, the home's and, in extension, for society's cleanliness.(8) Thus the woman's decency was a sort of insurance for society. It was during the 50s that a certain type of domestic femininity, whose raison d'etre was to be whole and clean, was codified in the mass media. Cleanliness is, in other words, the point of intersection for efficient discourses and technologies that tie the woman to the home and to caring.
Jane Simpson's rubber objects are often uncomfortably like the everyday things we surround ourselves with in the home, for example, a footstool, a wall-mounted folding table and an ice bucket. Many of them are casts of bowls, pitchers and other household objects from the 50s, the golden age of domestic life. Ghost-like in pale pastel colours, they yield or give way when touched. They have lost their function, but rubber brings them to life. However, with its malleability, it is a life that evokes feelings of discomfort - albeit mixed with fascination. The clothes hanger in the exhibition is, like the other objects, mostly a reminder of a clothes hanger that, like a slain hero, lies fallen to the ground.
If Jane Simpson's pieces live their own spectral existence, Julie Robert's paintings radiate control. The detailed painted objects are isolated in the middle of the canvas and the background is precisely executed, often with a discreet striping. Julie Robert's motifs are often taken from the worlds of medicine and the nuclear family - from gynaecological chairs and dental instruments to Freud's writing desk and the Spanish Infanta Margarita's dress. On the one hand, they seem as eternal as icons - as much our era's venerated symbols as religious motifs for the faithful. On the other hand, they are full of ambiguity: medicine and health care can be everything but healthy and the nuclear family can provide a fine place for oppression. In a painting, "Restraining Coat - Bedlam", a white straitjacket shines against a soft blue background, a clean instrument for controlling those who exceed the established limits for mental health.
Something mildly dramatic seems to have occurred or to be going to occur in Jason Dodge's small tableaux that consist of boards on wooden trestles, lights and sometimes surrounding shelves and screens. A little accident, or a minor catastrophe, in an otherwise spotless environment. The scale is like a nursery - smaller than normal size but larger than doll-size - which makes them real and unreal at the same time, functional but for those who determine the norm. The washed-out colours, mixed by the artist himself, are precise but indeterminate. The clinical in these scenes of lost control hangs together with their half institutional character - they resemble both waiting rooms and offices furnished by IKEA, and overly pedantic homes. They compose environments where individuals who are on their way in or on their way out have gone astray. The tableaux could be the introductory or final scenes of a psychological film, in which the main character hovers between control and chaos.
What is frightening in the work of Jane Simpson, Douglas Gordon, Julie Roberts and Jason Dodge is mixed with repugnance in Carin Ellberg's large relief, which consists of skin-coloured nylon stockings soaked in bookbinding glue. It is another example of how Carin Ellberg makes use of what is tucked away, swept under the carpet. Previously, she concerned herself with those objects associated with a young girl and her thoughts; later she reflected on the situation of a mother of two children: first jewellery and clothes, and then breast-feeding receptacles and children's toys. In the present case, it is the everyday life of a woman in early middle-age. Her throw-away objects range from the ordinary to the beautiful: cheap nylon stockings in a somewhat repulsive skin colour are symmetrically arranged and become a decorative organic relief.
Nylon is rather like another skin. Marianna Uutinen's beige handbags with "tattoos" are both skin-like and physical. Even her anarchistic painting is physical, with large chunks of acrylic paint draped on the canvas, sometimes reminiscent of the winding drapery of baroque sculpture, for example Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Marianna Uutinen has also used an icing bag to apply paint to something resembling cake decoration and crocheting. Certain lumps resemble excrement and in one series she has used casts of faeces on canvas. Her work lies between cooking, handiwork, bodily secretions, sculpture and painting, and it often elicits both fascination and discomfort. Her "ties" - pieces of fabric cut in the form of a tie, which she has smudged with paint - evoke laughter. They seem a lusty and playful protest against the tradition of clean, pure, authoritarian and patriarchal painting.
One feature which the work of Jane Simpson, Carin Ellberg and Marianna Uutinen shares is something abjective, or, put another way, dirt in the sense of the wrong thing in the wrong place in relation to individual identity. In Julia Kristeva's interpretation, abjection expresses a fear that meaning will collapse when the distinction between the body's inside and outside, between subject and object, collapses. Bodily fluids seeping out from the interior of the body: blood, saliva, sperm, breast milk, sweat etc. are especially liable to elicit these abject feelings. But the body as a whole, especially the mother's body, is a model for these defining systems.(9) These three artists, moreover, all work in some sense in relation to the mother, to household arrangements and love of things, to their own women's and mother's role and in relation to the attributes of the adult woman.
Architecture is another area where we often encounter metaphors for cleanliness. Many of the functionalist architects strove for a rational and pure form, without complications and excessive ornamentation. Gerrit Rietvelt, for example, talked about spatial hygiene in the sense of spatial purity. However, functionalism - light, airy, easy to clean - was not exclusive to architecture, but was also used by the executioners of the arts of social engineering as an important part of planning. Jan Svenungsson's photographic series "Tiundagatan" shows a scene that could be taken in any middle-size Swedish city: identical functionalist buildings, in a human format, in rows. In the exhibition, identical photographs of Tiundagatan hang in a row, the only difference being that through different development processes they have acquired different qualities of light and colour. Order, control and manic repetitions have become the signature of Jan Svenungsson, who pushes systems so far that they collapse into chaos. In the present work, total breakdown is fended off through the series functioning like a circle that bites its own tail. Mania is given free scope and the apparently rational is forced to give way.
For Dolores Zinny and Juan Maidagan, dissolution is more discrete. Some of the corners of the white walls of the exhibition room have loosened and begun to peel off. In their work with the psychological effects of space on people, be it city space or more intimate architecture, large installations or small models, their minimalist sensibility is frequently used. "Moby Dick" is a pure and white but evasive hanging form, sewn in cloth made especially for gallery Lehman Maupin in New York (designed by Rem Koolhaas), and so changeable that it sometimes looks like a whole room, sometimes like a flat wall. Difficult to categorise but easy to like, it creates an illusory atmosphere, as do the cracks in the well-manicured - false - nails in Dolores Zinny's and Juan Maidagan's photographs. The spell is broken.
According to Mary Douglas, dirt is actually the same as disorder, large or small, micro or macro. It is a kind of residual product of the systemisations and categorisations that people tend to devote themselves to. But dirt also symbolises social relations, and to exceed their limits is a form of pollution. Consequently, everything marginal is dangerous; control can no longer be maintained, hybrids and mutants crop up. Dora thanked Freud for his time and broke off treatment early. She deprived him of a successful case and, to her disregarded mother, long after her death, was dedicated an entire art exhibition.(10) Her behaviour was also a way to uphold her dignity - or in the words of Alice E. Fabian: "Don't these police agents ever realize that no matter how much they program me to be slovenly in appearance and grooming, it will never break me! They're wasting their time - & indicting themselves for l'll just keep recording. But these broken nails do make it seem as though I bit my nails! A case for anxiety, again?"(11)