press release

London – The word ‘Reisemalheurs’ is taken from a letter written by Sigmund Freud to his family while on holiday in Blackpool in 1908. It invokes the mishaps and misfortunes attendant on travel, in this case tourism, but is suggestive too of the wider travails and stresses of journeys, both forced and voluntary. Freud travelled widely in his life but often expressed anxiety about and resistance to travelling. The work of the South African, New York based artist Vivienne Koorland thematises travel and its traces in both language and image and questions the concept of ‘home’, itself a mythic place, the stuff of dreams and fantasies rather than a secure or comfortable location. Koorland, addresses themes of displacement and dislocation using formal structures such as maps, lists and images borrowed from historical sources and reworked in materially dense paintings. In the Freud Museum in London, seen alongside Freud’s own documents and possessions acquired on his journeys and relocated to his final home, the paintings will have special resonance. A catalogue to accompany the exhibition will include an interview by Mark Godfrey with the artist, articles by Adrian Rifkin and William Kentridge and an essay by the curator, Tamar Garb.

Vivienne Koorland was born in Cape Town in 1957. She left South Africa as a graduate student in 1978 to attend the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin and then went on to study at the École Normale Supérièure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1982 she moved to New York which has been her base ever since but her links to Europe have remained strong, with her close family living in London, and her connection to South Africa is deep. Travel is therefore part of the condition of Koorland’s life. Returning to Cape Town repeatedly over the nearly three decades since her departure, Africa remains a key reference point in her work. So too does Eastern Europe. Koorland’s mother is a Polish born, Jewish holocaust survivor, an orphan sent to the Jewish orphanage in Cape Town after the war. But while registering personal experience, her work is not autobiographical. Indeed travel, transportation, journeying and dislocation is so much part of modern experience that Koorland’s work draws on a wide range of related cultural references and sources. Using images, texts, forms and templates taken from diverse representational practices, Koorland speaks through the voices of historical subjects, both fictitious and actual, in order to salvage the iconic and textual fragments and records of human displacement. In a list of numbered words and phrases, painted onto the monumental canvas, Wishlist (2006), Koorland includes the word ‘Reisemalheurs’ – the term which gives the show its title. An unattributed quotation, the word appears alongside a list of phrases in which travel is variously invoked: ‘a Siberian dream map’, ‘circle the sacred mountain’, ‘from Cape Town to Katmandu’. On another occasion the word ‘Reisemalheurs’ appears together with ‘Bahnhofsstimmung’ and ‘la melancholie des Paquebots’ (the anxious moodiness of travel) drawn from Flaubert via the writing of Edward Said. Points of reference, spatial as well as cultural, geographic and literary, these pieces of text form a private inventory of experience interspersed with the stories of others Found drawings also provide important sources for Koorland’s work. This Is The Picture We Saw (Little Hans) (2006) involves the transcription and reproduction of a child’s drawing made during World War II. Its caption reads: ‘Bolsheviks are chasing the civilian population away from train cars in which they were deporting the Poles…’ This is a scene of murder as pictured by a historical witness ‘Adam’. The wagons used to transport the people are reproduced by Koorland at the top of the stitched, barely scrubbed in, canvas, but they recur in a number of related works. On one occasion they appear, stranded, amongst the place names and military huts of an imaginary South African landscape in Cape Town Over Hungary (1994- 5), which itself obliterates an earlier upside down painted map of war-torn Europe with its place names still showing through. Places and events converge. Chronologies are inverted and histories are mapped onto one another.

The house is another recurring motif whose source is taken from the drawings of children who, having lost both home and family return in representation to the mythic rectangular safe-house of fantasy. Sometimes suspended in a dark sky enveloped by a constellation of flowers/stars, the house is never rooted or solidly placed. Nowhere is this more poignantly felt than in the melancholic Dream Painting-She Flew Over To Comfort me (2006) in which simple box houses are perched precariously on cliff tops, afloat on a stitched burlap ground.

Other sources that Koorland uses include poetry written by the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker, extracts from the journals of Joseph Roth, lists compiled by Vladimir Nabokov, Alain Resnais film stills or phrases culled from Sigmund Freud. Musical terms provide evocative reference points in many of her works. Koorland composes text and image in new conjunctions but always through the voices of ‘others’. Even the script that she uses, the numbers, letters, strokes and lines are drawn from previous paintings, drawings and templates so that she represents the materials of history in forms that make us look at them afresh rather than in inventions culled purely from the imagination.

The paraphernalia of travel forms part of the scaffold of Koorland’s visual lexicon: maps, grids and lists often form the basis of her formal structures, but always exceed their instrumental function and operate as metaphors and models of imaginative reconstruction. Her maps cannot help you to find your way. Nor do her lists amount to a logical accumulation of information. Her use of borrowed languages and private inventories is poetic rather than practical. Nevertheless Koorland’s use of mapping and listing invokes the practices of daily life. Freud, for example, kept lists and maps to aid his memory and guide him on his travels. To co-incide with the exhibition, therefore, the Freud Museum will be mounting a display of travelrelated materials drawn from its own archive. Included will be maps, photographs, post cards and objets d'art collected by Freud on his many journeys as well as well as letters and documents from the archives. Displacement, whether from self, from the womb or from the ideal of integrated subjectivity, is inescapable and all human beings in Freud’s theorization of subjectivity remain exiled from home. It is this wider sense of dislocation, imbricated with the terrible migrations that history necessitates as well as the private displacements of personal journeys that Koorland’s work invokes, in its quiet, detached and highly selfconscious formal languages.

A catalogue to accompany the exhibition will be available in Mid March 2007. It includes Mark Godfrey’s interview with the artist, articles by Adrian Rifkin and William Kentridge and an essay by the curator, Tamar Garb

Vivienne Koorland was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1957. She began her formal art training at the age of 18 when she entered the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town. She subsequently went on to study at an impressive range of international art institutions including the Hochshule der Künste in Berlin, the École Nationale Supérièure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and Columbia University in New York, where she currently lives. Her family background (her mother is a Holocaust survivor, sent to a Jewish orphanage in Cape Town after the Second World War) as well as her own travels have made her uniquely sensitive to the issues of national identity and the role of aural, written and visual language in its constitution (for further information see separate biography for the artist). Her works are in many public and private collections including the Jewish Museum in New York, Harvard Business School and the South African National Gallery in Cape Town.

Tamar Garb is Professor of Art History at University College London. She is the author of many books including Sisters of the Brush: Women's Artistic Culture in Late Nineteenth-Century Paris (Yale University Press, 1994) and Bodies of Modernity: Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Síècle France (Thames and Hudson, 1998). Her latest book The Painted Face; Portraits of Women in France 1814-1914 (Yale University Press, 2007) will be published in March. Garb has also written extensively on contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Massimo Vitali, Christian Boltanski and Nancy Spero. She is currently curating an exhibition on Contemporary South African Art for Haunch of Venison Gallery, London, scheduled for Spring 2008.


The Freud Museum, at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, was the home of Sigmund Freud and his family when they escaped Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. It remained the family home until Anna Freud, the youngest daughter, died in 1982. The centrepiece of the museum is Freud's library and study, preserved just as it was during his lifetime. The Freud Museum's central function is to celebrate the life and work of Sigmund and Anna Freud. The museum organizes active programmes of research and publication. It has an education service which organizes seminars, conferences and special visits to the museum. It has, in recent years become an important venue for contemporary art exhibitions. Curators and artists are invited to respond to Freud’s intellectual legacy as well as the archive and collections housed in the museum.

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Vivienne Koorland
Kurator: Tamar Garb