The Freud Museum of Dreams opened its doors on November 4, 1999, during the centennial of the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams. The museum explores the world of dreams, Freud's theories, and his passion for art and ancient artifacts.
Our Petersburg museum is linked by ties of kinship to two other Freud museums—the Sigmund Freud Museum (Vienna), in the rooms where the great thinker practiced his art for many decades; and the Freud Museum (London), which houses a collection of more than three thousand antiquities, Freud's personal library, and his famous couch.
Unlike the museums in Vienna and London, the Freud Museum of Dreams isn't connected with a place where Freud lived, or the things he lived amidst, but with his ideas and dreams—with the realm of the ideal, the ephemeral, and the virtual. The Museum of Dreams is a museum of psychoanalysis—a museum of psychic (not material) reality: a palimpsest of words and images, feelings, intentions, and daydreams.
The Museum of Dreams is a total installation. All its walls, surfaces, floors, and ceilings—visible and invisible—are conceived, calculated, and arranged so that the visitor can reconfigure the museum’s visual elements in accordance with her own experience, fantasies, and desires.
The Museum of Dreams consists of two rooms—the introductory hall and the hall of dreams: a light room and a dark room, the zone of the conscious-preconscious and the zone of the preconscious-unconscious. In the first room, we encounter twelve displays, which recount episodes from the life and work of psychoanalysis’s founding father. Here is a brief description of the first five cases:
(1) Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in the Moravian town of Freiberg (Příbor), in the hinterlands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He spent the first three years of his life in Freiberg—three years to which he would later attribute so much significance that he coined the dictum: the child is the father of the adult. The child lives on in each of us, even in old age.
(2) The mother always remains the most important person in our life: she gives us not only life and nourishment, but also our first, most significant experience of love, an experience that stays with us to the end of our days. Freud was his mother’s first-born, her favorite, and her most talented child. Later, he would remark that a mother’s favorite child feels like a conqueror his whole life.
(3) The mother-child relationship is complicated by the appearance of a person who is no less important: the father. Although he is loved, he stands in the way of the child’s undivided possession of the mother’s desire. It was precisely Freud’s ambiguous feelings towards his own father (who died in 1896) that inspired The Interpretation of Dreams.
(4) When Sigmund turned three, his family moved to the imperial capital, Vienna, where Freud studied at a classical gymnasium and the university’s medical school. After graduating from medical school, he did research in physiology and, later, neuropathology and psychiatry. Finally, under the influence of the French psychiatrist Jean-Martin Charcot, he began to re-examine the principles of psychology.
(5) The goal of psychoanalysis is knowledge of the individual’s mental life. Psychoanalytic therapy, which incorporates the interpretation of dreams, is the path to this knowledge.
Between the first and second rooms we see Freud’s ten most famous dreams, as illustrated by Pavel Pepperstein.
Eight light boxes guide us on a journey through the virtual dreamwork of Sigmund Freud. Eight figurines are represented in these boxes. They are allegorical reminders of those aspects of mental life that psychoanalysis has elaborated in detail:
(1) a bronze Isis with the infant Horus (Egypt, 664–525 BCE) points to the first theory of drives, to the love and the hunger that “converge in the mother’s breast”;
(2) a terracotta Sphinx (Greece, 5th–4th centuries BCE) asks Oedipus the riddle of man’s origin—the tormenting riddle of the individual’s erotic involvement with the mother and the father;
(3) a bronze Athena, bearing a medallion of the Gorgon Medusa on her chest (Rome, 1st–2nd centuries CE) is an allegory of fear, of the punishment for forbidden, incestuous desires;
(4) a bronze Imhotep (Egypt, 8th–4th centuries BCE), a.k.a. the Greek Asclepius, the god of therapy and the interpretation of dreams;
(5) a Chinese mandarin “hints” at psychoanalysis’s attempt to dispel the individual’s narcissistic illusions;
(6) a terracotta Greek horseman reproduces a psychoanalytic parable: the horseman uses the strength of his steed, although he often doesn’t know where the steed is taking him;
(7) a bronze Amun-Ra (Egypt, 8th–4th centuries BCE), the chief god of the New Kingdom, is an principal figure in the history of monotheism;
(8) a marble White Baboon (1st century BCE–4th CE) is an allegory of the harmony of emotion and intellect; the baboon is an avatar of the god Thoth, who gave man the hieroglyphic writing that Freud compares to the dreamwork.
We invite you to close your eyes to the outer world and plunge your mind’s eye into Freud’s dreams—into a realm of images once contemplated by the eye of psychoanalysis’s father, images that permeated his own dreams, that reflected his fantasies; into a realm of the words that once crossed his mind. We see words and images, words of images and images of words. As in a dream, we cannot touch them, but we can carry them away in our memory; they can become the property of our own dreams.
You must actively co-participate in order to penetrate the hall of dreams. Some objects are barely discernible; some words can be deciphered only if you change your line of sight. As in a dream, we cannot make out everything; we cannot remember everything that emerges from the soul’s dark depths. In the end, we see what we see, and sometimes we can bring to consciousness what we want to see.
The central section of the hall of dreams is a screen on which you can project your own images, your own waking dreams.
Every visitor can find something of her own in our museum. Every visitor is free to experience the joy, surprise, and anxiety of encountering oneself, of coming face to face with her own innermost thoughts, dreams, and desires.