Freud of the Rings

Guild Unlimited

works | history | future

In 1913, Sigmund Freud presented his inner circle of followers with a special ring.

Freud was a lover of antiquities, and the gold rings were each mounted with an ancient intaglio from his private collection. In this act, Freud became the 'ring-giver' who bound together his assortment of followers into 'the psychoanalytic movement', the major school of thought in the twentieth-century.
The jewellers in Guild Unlimited have performed something similar: they have used a material object to bind together what is otherwise a loose unconnected body of individuals. The secret of their operation lies buried within psychoanalytic theory itself.

When asked for the ultimate purpose of psychoanalysis, Freud did not promise happiness. For Freud, the definition of a healthy person was someone who was able to achieve two simple aims: to love and to work.

For Freud, the mystery behind this capacity lay in the course of the libido as it filters through our various attachments and repressions. Freud shocked many by suggesting how even our noblest of actions can be reduced to infantile thoughts. Cure occurred in talking though the blockages to find the original scene of our shameful desire.

For Freud's French disciple, Jacques Lacan, enjoyment harboured an even darker secret-its impossibility. A crude version of his argument is contained in the old Russian proverb, there's only one thing worse that not getting what you want, and that's getting what you want.

Such a message contrasts with the current orthodoxy which celebrates speedy satisfaction. In the first half of the 20th century, if we wanted to see a film we had to wait for a rare opportunity to see it in a public theatre. In the 1960s, we could also wait for it to be screened on television in our living room. By the time of the 1970s, we could venture out to a video store and hire the film. Eventually, we will be able to select any film anytime from a menu on the television screen. The object of desire comes ever closer. We enter the world of 'just in time' delivery.

But with this viewer utopia comes a fear. If we have the entire output of world cinema available anywhere, anytime, our capacity to enjoy it vanishes. Enjoyment needs containment.
This is why revolution leads to terror. The glimpse of ultimate realisation that revolution offers turns into an insatiable monster incapable of being radical enough.

Since the end of the cold war, advertising has offered bigger and quicker hits, from solipsistic sound sensations to four-wheel drive conquests of mountains. The digital revolution offered impossibilities such as transparency, just-in-time, and on demand production. The quick and easy sensations that rain upon us leave in their wake puddles of depression and emptiness.

In contrast to the quick hits are the slow pleasures that infinitely delayed gratification. These are typically the scene of craft, with the drawn-out processes such as weaving, polishing and batch throwing. We adapt our pace to that of the materials.

But such pleasures cannot be truly ours alone. They are best enjoyed shared with others.
The medieval guild system offered a social structure to house the pleasures of work. Each craft was defined by its mysterium artis, the ineffable experience only those who share the same work can understand. These are the mysteries of our vocations-the surgeon's glimpse of the body's interior, the food preparer's secret knowledge of ingredients.

With the evolution of trade unions during industrialisation, the focus on solidarity has been on the more practical matters of hours and wages. Work has become more a means to an end, rather than a thing of itself.

The Guild Unlimited project has invited jewellers to graft their culture of craft on to the new forms of employment that appear to have no institutionalised structures. These masterly makers are custodians of craft mysteries. They pose the challenge to the exhibition visitors to connect their own form of enjoyment to that of others. As Ruskin once said, 'You were made for enjoyment.'

Kevin Murray