Freud Museum lets its hair down

Bobbins of red dolls’ hair are wound around the outside and inside of the psychoanalyst’s home in an installation that allows us to muse on family relationships

Rapunzel-like tresses of red dolls’ hair – three thousand bobbins of the glossy stuff – are tied around the outside of the Freud Museum in Hampstead for the site-specific artwork Housebound, part of Childhood Rituals, a series of installations by French-British artist Alice Anderson.

The hirsute transformation of the venerable institution continues inside – from Sigmund’s study, where the part of the room with the iconic couch is now seen through a three-metre square web woven from a single strand, to his daughter Anna’s bedroom, the apparent source of the skeins of hair.

There a silicon doll – a miniature female figure – sits at Anna’s loom surrounded by balls of hair whose strands she seems to weave into taut ropes. In Freud’s former bedroom, an identical figure is trapped in a cage made of these ropes for Confinement Room. Anderson refers to these figures as characters which, although both made in her self image, represent a mother and a daughter: “The mother is creating a prison for her daughter with the same geometric grid of red hair.”

Born in 1976 in England where she now lives, Anderson inherited her Titian hair colouring from her English father. She was separated from him aged three, to be brought up in Nice by her mother, who forbade her daughter to mention her native land or father. Anderson traces her use of fake red hair – to bind buildings or figures or feature in filmed performances – to rituals she devised as a child to calm the anxieties experienced when left on her own at home for long periods.

“These rituals consisted of undoing the thread from seams and I would wind these threads around parts of my body and other objects,” she explained in an interview with the exhibition’s curator Joanna S Walker. “Later I began to use my hair instead of thread.”

She studied with Christian Boltanski in Paris and has made several installations involving Rapunzel-like hair ensnaring structures, including Mother Web, now at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. The key variation at the Freud Museum is that instead of the tangled, enveloping skeins as elsewhere, the tresses snake through the house and bind the front as though with prison bars. The grid-like forms are her response to Freud’s presence: “I felt this heavy shadow; masculine and authoritarian.”

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The choice of Anna’s loom as a starting point for the tresses has been seen as a play on Freud’s belief that weaving is a cover for “genital deficiency”. He suggested that a girl comes to hate her mother for failing to provide her with a penis. Anderson entertains an ambiguous relationship to psychoanalysis and claims to be more interested in neuroscience. Nevertheless, she seems tailor-made for the museum as she is open about exploring aspects of her troubled family history through her art whose principal themes are memory, time, mourning and revenge.

There’s also an eerie local connection. Lizzie Siddal, the beautiful Pre-Raphaelite model, poet and artist who became Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife in 1860 and died two years later of a laudanum overdose, is buried in the now closed section of Highgate Cemetery. In a fit of despair, Rossetti threw a handwritten book of poems into the coffin. Seven years later, bitterly regretting its loss, he had the grave exhumed. It is said that Lizzie’s always abundant coppery hair had continued to grow and filled the coffin, twining around the worm-eaten book – very Alice Anderson.

o Until June 5 at 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead. Open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5pm. Tickets �6, seniors �4.50, concessions �3.

o Alice Anderson’s Fort Da, a gigantic shimmering bobbin of red dolls’ hair, and Kate MccGwire’s sinister and sinuous crow-feather sculpture Corvid form the inaugural exhibition Bound at All Visual Arts’ impressive new space in King’s Cross. At 2 Omega Place, King’s Cross from 10am to 6pm today only.