It is interesting to note that surrealism was heavily influenced by Freud. In her book, The Surreal House, Jane Alison, remarks upon Andre Breton’s first encounter with Freud at the psychologist’s house and his fascination for the artefacts that Freud had collected and kept in his consulting room. This practice of keeping artefacts apparently harks back to the Renaissance period in which the private study or studilio became a repository of curiosities such as artwork, minerals, plants – a cabinet of curiosities which provided physical evidence of the knowledge of the world. For Freud, however, it had a deeper meaning and one in which it provided a reference to many of his psychological theories. (Alison, 2010). Now Andre Breton was one of the founders of Surrealism, and he wrote the First Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924. The reason that this is interesting is because, of course, psychoanalysis first burst upon the scene through Freud. He was a pioneer, a revolutionary in the field of the mind. Until then people generally had not much thought of the mind shaping the behaviour and thoughts of man in unseen ways. Thus, we perhaps could say that we owe a lot to Freud for opening up this conduit to the possibility of an inner world in a very public way such that it became talked about and discussed and led to all things henceforth known as psychology. But also, importantly it seems to have opened the way for artists, such as the surrealists, to connect with the mind in a way that perhaps these links had not been made before. In fact, Freud had a profound influence upon the surrealist movement itself.
This is an important landmark in the passage of art and art movements. Henceforth, Art no longer confined itself or felt that it had to confine itself to that which can only be seen. It could spread into the realm of that which is also unseen and thus an expansion of consciousness beyond the mere observed. Surrealism thus opened up a new labyrinth which many artists have since explored. But what does this have to do with VR? We arrive in the modern idiom in which VR takes a prominent role. What is VR but in essence the recreation of dreams that we might have and of new worlds that we might conceive? VR is most often surrealistic in content, or at least it taps into the reservoir of imagination in many different ways.
In could be said that VR runs along two main but very different threads, the one is concerned with a re-creation of the external world and how we might thus engage with something without then having to be exposed to its physical risks. This thread is borne from encounters with reality created in virtuality and thus able to be experienced by the many and not just the few. Encounters which might otherwise not be accessible or perhaps place the participant in personal danger. The other most prominent thread is the playground of the mind. In effect, what we are undertaking is an exploration beyond the boundaries of the physical world and into the imagination of the virtual. The virtual world, as it were, being thus one’s oyster. This is surely to an artist, the more interesting part, where we take something and make something new out of it. We shape our imagination in such a way that it becomes an encounter that others can undertake. That surely is one of the virtues of this new art. This new technology moves us into realms of existence perceived only by the limits of our own minds. We can be part of it and potentially touch many senses at the same time.
So perhaps the without the impetus of Freud none of this would have occurred. He is in a sense a ‘firestarter’ of the exploration of inner self, or at least arguably one of the most prominent. Like most seminal movements, surrealism changed the way people think about art. The surrealists depicted the impossible and rendered it possible if not plausible. Within VR the same is true, almost anything becomes possible in the virtual world. Flights of imagination are no longer just that, and we have crossed the frontier between fantasy and reality. The ‘marvellous’ that Andre Breton refers to in his manifesto is now available in full technicolour and three dimensions. When Freud began his work he probably never thought it would influence a whole generation of artists and he certainly wouldn’t have envisaged immersive VR. We can only conjecture what Freud might think of it if he was alive today.
Alison, J. (2010). The Surreal House. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.