During Breakfast

This visual essay is part of a larger project, conducted through my practice of site-writing, which explores transitional spaces in architecture and psychoanalysis: how architecture situates, and is situated by, objects (and subjects) of desire. This particular iteration focuses on a building – with art nouveau motifs inspired by naturalistic forms – commissioned by a member of the bourgeois class, and occupied during the Russian Revolution by a psychoanalytic nursery, closely linked to larger debates concerning the relation of marxism and psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud was widely read in Russia, and his essay of 1920, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, which introduces the notion of the death drive, was in part influenced by a 1912 essay written by Sabina Spielrein, a psychoanalyst who worked in the nursery. Translated into Russian the year the nursery was closed, Freud’s essay deals with the tension in the psyche between life and death, and in psychoanalysis between biology and history.

My own essay is composed of four strands of material evidence, which intertwine words and images, present and past, to suggest how one building has been experienced over time. This building is a villa, designed by the architect Fyodor Schechtel for Stepan Pavlovich Ryabushinsky, a member of a wealthy banking family, and constructed in Moscow between 1902 and 1906. From 1921 the building was occupied by a psychoanalytic nursery, headed by Vera Schmidt, first named the Children’s Home Laboratory and then, from 1922, International Solidarity. From its founding in 1923, by psychoanalysts Otto Schmidt, Ivan Ermakov and Alexander Luria, until it was closed by Stalin in August 1925, the villa also housed the State Psychoanalytic Institute, whose activities included an out-patient department, lectures, workshops, and publications. The images are photographs I took in July 2012 of the Gorky House-Museum – the building as it is today.

Made of words, the other three strands of this composition are taken from text-based sources associated with the building’s history and its connections to psychoanalysis. The italicized text is taken from diary extracts concerning events that took place in the Children’s Home Laboratory on 16 June 1923, and which were later published in Psychoanalytical Education in Soviet Russia: Report about the Children’s Home Laboratory in Moscow, a report written by Vera Schmidt and published in 1924. The plain text is taken from a publication concerning the building’s history, incorporating memories of those who occupied it, including the psychoanalyst Luria, and children who lived there when it was a nursery, such as Stalin’s adopted son, Artyom Sergeyev. The bold text is taken from the 1925 introduction, co-authored by Luria, to the Russian translation of Freud’s ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’.

Jane Rendell, ‘During Breakfast’, Iain Borden and Barbara Penner (eds), Forty Ways to Think About Architecture: Architectural History & Theory Today, (London: John Wiley, 2014).

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