The Freud Museum is preserved as a living household, containing many of Freud’s and his daughter Anna's possessions. The rooms are left exactly as they were when the family lived here, and in the study, the spectre of Freud is almost palpable. How does one proceed, then, to place an art exhibition within Freud's house?
To enter John Goto's exhibition, Dreams of Jelly Roll, one walks up the same stairs on which Freud used to cough and spit. The artist must wrestle with this space, heavily imbued with history. Goto's pictures – digital compositions based on the imaginative anecdotes and dreams of jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton – hang partly on the walls, but also work within the room's existing glass display cases, and alongside Freud's books on dream interpretation.
Goto's 'augmented reality' installation, which accompanies the exhibition, takes this interaction further. With the help of a smartphone app, characters from Jelly Roll's stories float about the room like ghostly revenants. Modern technology's take on a historical figure is interesting enough, but using this technology in Freud's house – a house whose appeal for visitors lies mainly in its concrete reality – opens a conversation between history and the present; between reality and a virtual, dreamlike world.
The simultaneous reality and unreality of this fascinating and intellectually provocative exhibition make it difficult to process in one session. Dreams of Jelly Roll is a sort of visual essay that examines episodes of Jelly Roll Morton's life from an analytical point of view, whilst making connections between Jelly Roll and Freud as founding fathers of their respective fields. Each image takes as its starting point an anecdote or dream from documentary sources, such as Alan Lomax's eight-hour recording of Jelly Roll telling his life story. The pictures, therefore, are not particularly able to speak for themselves: they require a catalogue to identify the parades of figures, which range from family members to Russian politicians.
Goto describes Jelly Roll's personality and worldview as “carnivalesque” – so, too, are these images. Their dreamlike quality is at times grotesque: in Battle Scene, the heads of rivals and critics sit disembodied along telephone wires, like notes upon a stave, hovering over a grim First World War scene. In other images, figures both high and low mingle anachronistically: in Buck House, a depiction of Jelly Roll's (possibly fictional) visit to London in 1913, the painter Walter Sickert, a music hall singer, an Indian emperor, the Prince of Wales and a black-faced minstrel occupy the same virtual space. This unlikely association of figures within virtual settings not only emphasises the disjunctive dream-logic of the pictures, but the blurring of fact and fiction that seems to have arisen from studying Jelly Roll's own cloudy biography.
While Jelly Roll's jazz was being played downstairs, unfortunately the sounds did not carry up to the exhibition room. “Pictures about a musician, as presented here, might seem paradoxical as the images remain forever silent,” writes Goto of his exhibition. Indeed, the man himself and his music, despite being the subject of the images, is somewhat absent from them. The pictures do not convey the self-aggrandising swagger of Jelly Roll or his jazz, but attempt to capture his “obsessional defences, and underlying melancholia” – inviting the viewer to treat the musician as a psychoanalytic subject. For example, in Women of the Family there is a parade of the women who raised him after his father abandoned the family. The father is a small figure receding in the distance – inviting viewers to consider the impact of this absent father on his later life.
This question of analysis quickly becomes complicated. If we take Jelly Roll as a case study, is the artist taking on the role of analyst, or is he simply providing the 'couch' - the medium by which visitors determine what lays behind his showmanship and music? At times, viewers are asked to make connections that require an in-depth knowledge of Jelly Roll - without this inside information, it is difficult to pass judgement on the success of Goto’s analyses. For example, in Battle Scene, the connection drawn between soldiers and jazz musicians feels somewhat stretched. The image likens Jelly Roll's competitive nature and jazz battles to the war, but more detail on his draft-dodging and how he told his own war story would have clarified this. Neither am I entirely convinced by the connections drawn between Jelly Roll and Freud in the exhibition introduction – that they are both founding fathers who built on the work of their predecessors. What this adds to our understanding of the images is not made clear enough.
On the whole, however, Dreams of Jelly Roll is an ambitious project, clearly researched in detail, and which carefully considers the implications of exhibiting in such a museum. The augmented reality project imaginatively engages with Freud's house, intruding visually without affecting the material history of the rooms. The images themselves raise many unanswered questions that would benefit from further explanation for those uninitiated in jazz history, but if visitors are willing to spend some time reading and considered them, they are certainly rich in meaning.