Paula Muhr - Double Flowers (2010-2012)
“In “Studies on Hysteria”, published together with Freud in 1895, Joseph Breuer labeled hysterics as “the flowers of mankind, as sterile, no doubt, but as beautiful as double flowers”. In cultivated flowers, doubling comes from the replacement of the stamens by petals, producing the effect of flowers within flowers. Like a double flower, according to Breuer, the hysteric is the product of luxury and cultivation, a form of seductive female abnormality.
The work is based on reinterpretation of medical photographs of women from the end of 19th and the beginning of 20th century. The women depicted in the images are predominantly hysterics. The historical photographs were taken from various medical books, magazines and journals, where they played the role of unambiguous evidence of illness and abnormality. They were juxtaposed with a number of different objects, plants and animals, which directly refer to Dutch still life paintings and their precisely codified symbolic meanings.
Through my intervention, the appropriated medical portraits, which aimed at providing pure visibility and immobilizing the elusive symptoms of madness and related diseases, are destabilised in their original function. Each of the specific foreign elements were chosen in order to overturn the primary medical mode of the illustrations as portraits of pathology, with which the individual had been turned into nothing more than the bearer of pathonomic symptoms. These assemblages, constructed in ways that emphasise the respective idiosyncracies of the individual female portraits, were then rephotographed. Owing to the slight transition in symbolic meaning, this work aims to problematise the apparently stable visual boundary established within the medical context between the “normal” viewer and the “pathognomic” patient.”