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Dreamland at the Grundy

If you have ever used the word ego to describe a characteristic of someone, you have been influenced by one of the most important thinkers of all time – Sigmund Freud. He revolutionised our view of the workings of the mind. Less well known are his visits to many places as he was developing his theories – one of these included Blackpool in 1908. These visits are the starting point for artist Zoe Beloff’s Dreamland: The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society and the Blackpool Chapter. The show is now on at the Grundy gallery and is well worth a visit.

It consists of what alleges to be archive material from the US amateur pshychoanalysts and their relationship with two centres of fantasy, Blackpool and Coney Island, New York. It includes many pieces of ephemera supposedly from Coney Island where one of the prime movers from the team of analysts, Albert Grass, was supposed to work as a designer to the fairground. Letters from Grass and film and other materials covering the house of wax at Coney Island are included in the opening scenes of the first room, with a soundtrack of fairground barkers to accompay your visit around the displays. Here too are bits and pieces associated with Freud that are supposed to have been included in a display on him – including some of his trade-mark glasses from the 1930’s!

The display continues charting the period when Grass is supposed to have visited Blackpoool to continue his work on fairground material at which time he was involved with setting up a ‘chapter’ of amateur psychoanalysts in the town. These include several purported individuals with elaborate biographies. They all sought solace in Freud’s theories, it seems, as a way of escaping the cloying contemporay society and its attitudes. Here, too are several illustrations from a book on postcards – Saucy Seaside Postcards and Their Relation to the Subconscious – by Bert Barrow. This is accompanied by alleged analyses of the images which are given an overtly sexual explication.

The Society's archive material
The Society’s archives

A model, recreating what is meant to be Grass and the society’s greatlest hope is found here too. From drawings in the archive, the model recreates the theme park based on Freud’s theories, which they hoped to build with the support of George Tilyou, entrpreneur of the US Steeplechase Park. In a further letter (of which there are many in the exhibition) Tilyou dashes these hopes and we are left with the model to contemplate what might have been.

Another part of the display consists of films we are told were made by members of the amateur society in an annual competition, dramatising and analysing their dreams. There is another long missive from Grass on the subject of the films with humour buried in it. Some members, he says, complained about various aspects of the competition including getting film back from developing that showed nothing. Grass advises those who are inexperieced with cinematography that better results might be obtained with the lens cap off.

There is much more to see and take part in at this exhibition which runs from now until 2 November. It raises many interesting questions about the role of art, analysis, truth and fictions. I hope to be speaking to the artist for a future article to explore some of these. Meanwhile, go along to the exhibit. There are several additional activities coming up too, including their Ice Cream and Dream Night, on 17 October. Go to the exhibition prior to this, describe a dream and you might get it dramatised on that evening. Until then, what do you think?

 

Inset image from the artist’s website.

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