I am huddled in a group, sitting on the polished wood floor of the house that belonged to Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis. Freud’s couch, one of the most famous pieces of furniture in the world, is in the adjacent room. As is his collection of antiquities from Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Orient: he used the objects in his clinical work to make the point that archaeology can operate as a metaphor for exploring the psyche.
We are waiting for the premiere of Latifa Laâbissi’s dance piece Écran Somnambule, a reinterpretation of Mary Wigman’s expressive Witch Dance originally performed in the early 20th Century. The audience is fidgeting, not just because it’s cramped, but because this event is part of Anxiety Arts Festival 2014, run by the Mental Health Foundation to explore the condition: how it affects our lives, how it can act as a creative force, and why it has become such a prominent issue.
“It is always interesting see how the arts respond to social and political environments, and never more so than with this issue of anxiety.” Barbara Rodriguez Muñoz, visual arts curator of the programme, explains. “Art is particularly well placed to do this, because it is not didactic,” she says. “It can bring an experiential way of understanding something that operates in a different way to telling or lecturing people about it.”
The two dances by Wigman and Laâbissi have both been performed at historical moments which have seen a flurry of interest in psychology and mental health. Wigman was a German dancer and choreographer, a pioneer of expressionist dance. Only a short film clip survives from one of her performances, it flickers for one minute and forty seconds. Wigman is seated, wearing a mask. Suddenly, she bursts into a series of energetic movements that she described as “a rhythmic intoxication.” Ninety years on from this performance, Latifa Laâbissi has slowed down these movements to a dramatic 31 minutes. Laâbissi writhes around, creeping towards us with bent elbows and knees. It is unnerving and many of us discreetly edge away.
(Picture: Latifa’s Ecran Somnambule)