The Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society was founded in 1926 by Albert Grass, who is thought to have discovered Freud’s writing while serving in the Signal Corp in Frances during WWI. Sometimes referred to as an urban myth, the Society was made up of working people who could not afford to be professional analysts, but were none the less filled with the desire to participate in one of the great intellectual movements of the 20th century. Just as they believed that Socialism would free them from oppression, psychoanalysis would liberate their psyches not just from the tyranny of class but also from the cultural and sexual mores of the time.
When 16mm film first became available for the amateur, Grass, encouraged members to reenact their dreams on film and analyze them. Each year the Society held a competition in which members re-enacted their dreams on film and analyzed them. The films can be thought of as a record of the hopes fears and fantasies of a changing cross section of those that made up the fabric of Coney Island through the 20th century, from immigrant Jews and Italians to wealthy bohemians to young gay men exploring their sexuality in the 1960’s.
Albert Grass’s other great ambition was to rebuild the Dreamland Amusement park that burned down in 1911 as a true Freudian theme park, that would explicate Freud’s theory of dream formation through a series of pavilions, the Unconscious, the Dream Work Factory, the Psychic Censor and the Consciousness pavilion, linked by a Train of Thought and revolving around the figure of the Libido in the form of a prepubescent girl. Ultimately, failing to raise the necessary funds, he tried a less expensive way of integrating Freudian theory with popular culture through the medium of a comic book “Adventures of a Dreamer”.
The Society’s archives were first exhibited in 2009 at the Coney Island Museum to celebrate the centennial of Freud’s visit in 1909. The exhibition; drawings, paintings, photographs, film, correspondence and architectural models, subsequently toured Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Great Britain.