Bizarre new world


Marek Kohn

The Independent on Sunday (UK)

16 January 2000


Imagine Dr Who with roots in Mitteleuropa. On the one hand, the magnificent English tradition which delights in technology, but holds it together with elastic bands. On the other, a magnificent Jewish tradition of fascination with the psyche, which has led to the building of equally quixotic structures (both in literature and psychoanalysis) to make sense of it.

Welcome to the world of Rosalind Brodsky, orbiting eccentrically around our own. Brodsky began life as an alias for her creator, Suzanne Treister, and is now the star of a book and CD-ROM package, No Other Symptoms: Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, a taster of which can be found at

Loosely resembling an adventure game, the story is set in 2058, at an institute of esoteric advanced technology. The facility is crowded with paraphernalia through which visitors can explore BrodskyÕs life.

In a wardrobe hang several time-travelling costumes, lurex and wire affairs which the good DoctorÕs lovely assistants would have died for. Underneath them are attachˇ cases, packed with kit designed for various historical missions, such as the Ņcase for embracing JudaismÓ Š Ņbasically a scaled up beardÓ, according to BrodskyÕs accompanying notes.

Viewers can enjoy excerpts from BrodskyÕs career as a television cook, where she loftily disregards the laws of physics with a recipe for converting Black Forest g‰teau into Polish dumplings. Elsewhere they can use a painting program to create their own Brodsky-style artworks, electronically daubing items on to a variety of backgrounds: a Ukrainian shtetl, LeninÕs bedroom, MarsÉ

Foremost among the Brodsky icons is her range of vibrators. Some of these shining shafts are topped with famous heads, including Freud, Marx, Bowie and Warhol. Others celebrate great buildings, such as St BasilÕs onion-domed Cathedral, the Kremlin, and mad Ludwig IIÕs Bavarian castle folly of Neuschwanstein, to which Brodsky moved in 2005. Treister has invented Mitteleuro-trash.

The core of BrodskyÕs tales are accounts of her encounters with legends of psychoanalysis; Freud, Klein, Lacan and Jung. They are interwoven with the three historical moments that preoccupy her: the Bolshevik revolution, LondonÕs Swinging Sixties, and the Holocaust. Some visitors will baulk at this. Why is the Holocaust juxtaposed with the Avengers, instead of being treated with Spielbergian monochrome seriousness? The answer is that this reflects the experience of an individual whose immediate family history was defined by the War Š TreisterÕs grandparents perished in the Holocaust Š but who grew up in the unprecedented comfort and security of the post-war boom. Our history is a muddle of the solemn and obscure traditions of our own families, and stuff we saw on TV.

TreisterÕs work is an exuberant celebration of what the new media were supposed to be about: individual endeavour and creativity. It is garage hypermedia, its shocking pink gothic letters jeering at the commercial world of e-design whose ideal is to make everything look silver and seamless. You can see the wires, just like in Doctor Who, and thatÕs how itÕs meant to be. Its heart is with homepage folk culture, which cares about individuals, not good taste or consumer profiles.

Rosalind Brodsky is a challenge to digital pretensions. And itÕs also a tribute to the family. In both respects its acme is the scene entitled Ghosts of Maresfield Gardens. Videoed in FreudÕs old study, in Hampstead, this cameo stars TreisterÕs parents as the ghosts of Sigmund and Anna Freud, wearing sheets over their heads.


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