Sigmund Freud famously said that if the term ‘archaeology’ hadn’t already been coined, he’d have taken it for his own – after all, the word literally means the study of origins. Instead, he had to settle on the more cerebral ‘psychoanalysis’. And yet, as London sculptor Daniel Silver’s powerful installation ‘Dig’ makes clear, there’s still a powerful metaphorical connection between the two disciplines. Both share are concern for unearthing the origins of beliefs and behavior – for bringing buried material to light.
Silver’s starting point is Freud’s own collection of ethnographic and antique figurines, which used to sit on the desk in his consulting room. Here, they have been enlarged, weirdly mutated, and arranged by Silver to evoke a complex archeological site. Made in white plaster, worked roughly by hand, and cast in multiples, they’re stood in groups, as if being sorted into categories: melting, fecaloid figures; amoeba-like, tentacled creatures; priapic, globular homunculi. Nearby, trestle tables display other incomplete forms: broken fragments of sculptures; an unfinished face set in ghostly marble; statues still caked in mud, as if recently excavated. The idea is of quarrying different psychic, mythological strata, of dredging London’s collective subconscious.
Typically for an Artangel commission, the location is extraordinary – two storeys of dilapidated concrete foundations, which occupy a sunken island wasteland just off Tottenham Court Road. In fact, the site is so intriguing that it tends to overwhelm the ground floor installation. Only in the building’s shadowy basement do you really get to appreciate the full impact of Silver’s strange sculptures, as giant, patriarchal busts with gouged faces rise angrily from the flooded floor and a writhing, egg-podded analysand lurks in the corner. The awful sense is of hidden, unnamable fears and anxieties, of nightmares forcing their way to the surface.