Images from the unconscious go on display at the Freud Museum

‘Do dreams have meaning or are they simply brain refuse, the perceptual leftovers of weary minds?” writes American author Siri Hustvedt in her introduction to Dreams, an exhibition of prints, artist books, objects and installations opening today at the Freud Museum in Hampstead. Freud argued that however nonsensical dreams might seem they were all forms of “wish fulfilment” – attempts by the unconscious to resolve a conflict of some sort, whether it was recent or from the recesses of the past.

Hustvedt quotes two exponents of the opposing view. A man called Robert, mentioned in a footnote in Freud’s seminal 1899 work The Interpretation of Dreams, who thought dreams are “a somatic process of excretion” and DNA pioneer Francis Crick, who believed that we dream to rid ourselves of cognitive debris. Hustvedt sides with Freud in believing dreams carry profound emotional significance – and most contributors to this enjoyable and enlightening exhibition appear to do so too.

All but guest artists Dexter Dalwood and Gavin Turk are members of the Hackney-based East London Printmakers. The inspiration for the artworks, some of which are integrated with the permanent display, comes from dreams, the unconscious and the theories and lives of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalyst daughter Anna.

Dalwood made his reputation with paintings of famous places he has never seen, such as Senator McCarthy’s living room, drawing on his encyclopaedic knowledge of 20th century conspiracy theory. In his lithograph Cinderella he creates a nightmare collage with politics, escapism, fairly tales and bizarre imagining, all hinted at by a surreal interior. “The psychogeographical landscape and interior alludes to a dark or dramatic thriller narrative in which the protagonists have just ‘left the building’ or are possibly asleep and dreaming,” he writes in the catalogue for Dreams.

Marta Claret was inspired by the psychoanalytical interpretations of fairy tales to consider how the often conflicting relationships of mother and daughter correspond with Freud’s narcissism theory. “In Little Red Riding Hood, the hood is seen as a sexual attribute and the wolf represents the mother,” she explains. The result is the haunting mixed media work A Childhood Trauma, my session with S Freud.

Wuon Gean Ho, who won the Printmakers Council Prize in 2009, exhibits an intriguing animation DVD exploring lucid dreams, in which sleepers are aware of dreaming. But it’s no surprise that images abound relating to nightmares where there is no such sense of control.

Ann Norfield’s Bad Dreams, a screenprint montage with lipstick and dog’s teeth, draws viewers into a cavernous mouth. She says her bad dreams can be visceral, even bestial: “I become something I don’t want to see – a vision of gothic horror.”

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There are light-hearted images, too, in Dreams, which was inspired and co-ordinated by Kanji Rosenberg and Steve Edwards.

Ann Cottrell’s linocut of a stork with a bundle suspended from its beak, containing not the usual baby but a huge strawberry, was inspired by a dream that the 19-month-old Anna Freud had when suffering from a bout of sickness. She exclaimed excitedly in her sleep: “Anna Feud! stwawbewwies! wild stwawbewwies! omblet! pudden!.” A truly sweet dream.

o Until April 10 at 20 Maresfield Gardens NW3. Wednesday to Sunday noon to 5pm, �6. �4.50 seniors, �3 concessions. Meet The Artists, from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on March 16, is a free event offering an opportunity to mingle with participants in Dreams and hear the psychotherapist and artist Judith Symons talk about her interviews with ELP printmakers.