-Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik: project description-

Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik is an 80 minute projected video, presented with associated sculptural and photographic works, based on a book of the same name by Dr. med. Daniel Gottlob Moritz Schreber (1808-1861). This project was exhibited as part of a solo exhibition at Halle 14 in Leipzig; as part of the 2010 Whitney Biennial; and in October, 2008 in the Oil Tanks at Tate Modern; among other exhibitions and screenings.


Of the many books that Dr. Schreber published, his Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik, or Medicalized Indoor Gymnastics, became the most well known, selling thousands of copies and having been reproduced in dozens of editions since its original publication in 1858. The book presents for a general audience “a system of individual bodily exercises… for the curing of numerous complaints, for the growth of the body, [and for] the maintenance of health and vigour of body and mind.”

The book, as such, was an extension of Dr. Schreber’s other work, which, in the words of Sigmund Freud, “exerted a lasting influence upon his contemporaries… [by] promoting the harmonious upbringing of the young, of securing co-ordination between education in the home and in the school, [and] of introducing physical culture and manual work with a view to raising the standards of health.” Among Schreber’s other achievements were the invention of numerous orthopedic contraptions (such as straps that bound children to their beds, so as to promote proper posture during sleep), anti-masturbatory machines (none of which seems to have been successfully put into production), and the Schrebergärten (still popular in many parts of Germany).

Dr. Schreber may now, however, be best remembered as the father of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose Memoirs of My Nervous Illness are unique as a lucid, first-hand account of mental illness and psychiatric confinement. The memoirs are usually considered the locus classicus for the study of paranoia within psychoanalytic literature: seven years after their initial publication, Freud used them to explicate the link between sexuality and paranoia (and, as such, the centrality of sexual difference to the structure of the unconscious). Freud proposed that the etiology of Schreber’s paranoia was a defense against his homosexual libido. Jacques Lacan’s subsequent treatment of the Schreber case, in his re-reading of Freud, is central to his theorization of sexuality as a discursive formation arising out of a structural dilemma that is introduced through the intervention of the “signifier.”

The Schreber case has also continued to receive attention, since Freud, in literatures that attempt to extend the psychic to the philosophical and the social (especially in attempts to theorize the provenance and structure of the Nazi-subject). Deleuze and Guattari (following Canetti) read Schreber as proto-fascist; Neiderland, a step further, finds that Schreber was the direct product of his father’s medico-pedagogical abuse; and finally Schatzman proposes that the “character structure” of the Nazi era was a product of exactly the despotism that National Socialism had in common with the Schreber paterfamilias.

Eric Santer, in My Own Private Germany, finds that Schreber’s psychotic breakdowns are crises of symbolic investiture resulting from his nomination to a high-post of judgeship, and that Freud’s own reading of the Schreber case may itself be caught up in the fraught symbolic investment of the early period of psychoanalytic discourse (as well as its relation to issues of power, investiture and sexuality in Freud’s relationship to Fleiss).


The video-work Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik, uses the book of the same name as a kind of score: the forty-exercises explained in its pages are performed, in order, according to the precise set of rules and recommendations laid out by Dr. Schreber.

The camera that documents the performance of the exercises moves in a perfect circle around the action, traveling at a rate such that the duration of the performance (and the resultant video) is equal to one full rotation of the circle.

The video is presented in a gallery setting, along with with three sculptures that double as seats. These sculptures are titled Incomplete and Open 3:1, 3:2, and 3:3, after works by Sol LeWitt. Other elements of the exhibition include an unlimited multiple in the form of a twenty-four hour clock that counts backwards, after Gonzalez-Torres, titled The Future of My Nervous Illness (after FGT), a photographic series that can serve to properly instruct the form for each of the forty-five exercises, and a series of drawings.