Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that mental ailments could be “cured” by talking through them. This theory is what inspired Melissa Stern’s exhibition The Talking Cure, which has been on display at Redux since May, and will be open until Sat. August 6.
Stern, an artist who works with figurative sculptures, drawings, and collages, says that people have always asked her about her work: “What’s it all about?” So, she decided to have 12 writers and 12 actors come up with their own answers. After creating sculptures, Stern enlisted the help of various writers, from playwrights to poets, to write stories about whatever piece spoke to them. She then got 12 actors, six male and six female, to record themselves telling the stories. The result is an interactive exhibition created through layers upon layers of interpretation.
“It’s about connection with art and often with each other,” says Stern of the exhibition’s purpose. On the phone, she’s talking from a mountaintop in New York, where she has just made it in before a thunderstorm rained down. Sitting in Charleston, a thunderstorm passes by my window. I get what she means by connection.
Viewers walk through The Talking Cure wearing headsets, listening to the monologues associated with each sculpture. The exhibition features large drawings as well, which don’t have associated stories, but are, according to Stern, still integral to the show.
You can either grab a provided headset and push play when standing before a certain piece — they have names like “Hear” and “Friends” — or use your phone to scan a QR code and listen that way.
“People seem to really want a narrative,” says Stern. “People want something to hang their hat on.” While Stern says that a piece of art accompanied by a story doesn’t work for everything, or everyone, she thinks it’s a great fit for her often whimsical pieces.
Walking through The Talking Cure it’s as if a storybook has come to life. The pieces are simple and complex at once, and each one breathes a new life into the room with its accompanying story. “My work has an openness, it’s waiting to have stories written about it,” says Stern, who admits that none of the resulting stories reflected any of the thoughts she had while making the sculptures.
Stern talks about watching sixth grade students from the School of the Arts walk through the gallery, saying “It’s a dream come true for an artist to make something that brings people together and that stirs them up in a good way.” Experience that stirring sensation now through Aug. 6.