essay, I will look at the work of Louise Bourgeois and examine themes like
anxiety, love, hate, death, identity, sex. She has had a long and accomplished
career, yet only now she is receiving the recognition she deserves. She has
followed her own vision and has installed extraordinary works influenced by her
personal and social conflicts. Her work explores abstraction and has addressed
issues of gender, sexuality, equality, individuality, right to freedom and the
premises of feminism which was then considered marginal.
was fascinated by mathematics and geometry saying, “I got peace of mind,
only through the study of rules nobody could change” (Cotter et al., 2010: 2)
But when her mother died, and she found out that the rules aren’t eternal, she
decided to abandon math and begin studying art. She studied painting throughout
the 1930’s but fascinated by formulation of topology she soon turned to
sculpture, drawing and printmaking. In the early stage of her artistic career
she discovered that her work had the ability to show the experiences of her
life and share it with the viewers. She was a very secretive person but at the
same time she wanted to narrate her story through her sculptures.
CHAPTER 1: CELLS
desire to recreate her experiences and memories of her childhood led her to
create a series of large installation pieces called ‘Cells’. The title
introduces both to cells that form living organisms and the other that is
undesired and imposed solitude. One may consider Bourgeois Cells as a place of
rumination with prison walls made of found steel or glass doors. It contains
personal and memorial objects that are significant to both, the artist and the
viewer, who is invited to the cells chamber. The Cells represent different type
of pains, the physical, the mental the emotional and, the psychological. When
one enters, he might find solace in the cell due to the protective steel walls
or might find it suffocating because of the barriers of doors that won’t open.
As feminized, the Cell introduces the viewers to a woman’s experience of social
isolation, but also reveals the woman’s interior life. Bourgeois explained,
“Each Cell deals with fear. Fear is pain…. Each cell deals with the pleasure of
voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at. The Cells either attract or
repulse each other. There is this urge to integrate, merge or disintegrate”
(Bourgeois et al., 1992: 44,47).
the earliest Cells, Bourgeois has controlled the viewers access by dictating
and narrowing down the path to enter in the cell to gain physical as well as
emotional access. These cells were enclosed and so had a secrecy. She could
control the outcomes while revealing her vulnerability. More recently, she had installed
metal or glass cages that restricted the physical entry of the viewers in the
cell. Although, it allowed the viewers, the physical penetration from different
perspectives. They are visually accessible and open structures but are no less mysterious in their allusions.
Bourgeois has situated fragments of body in her
series (like Cell II, Cell III, Cell IV) which has always dominated her work.
She has expanded her concerns outlined in her career in Femme Maison and Lair
series. The body fragments, often hand, are carved in pink marble. She chose
pink marble, portugalo because its colour suggests flesh. The Cell, arch of
hysteria deals with emotional pain. Her arch, the mounting of tension and
release of tension is sexual, it is substitute of sex. She makes her own small
world and is very happy.
Her installations are quite dominant by
mirrors. Bourgeois cells have hanging mirrors that interrupts from viewing the
mesh walls and freestanding mirrors that create so many reflections and altered
perspectives. It shows many difficult realities, one worse than the other.
Mirrors be a vanity, but instead of that she viewed it as a symbol of
acceptance. The act of looking into a mirror is really about having the courage
it takes to look at yourself and really face yourself. According to Freud, the
mirror is the metaphor for loss, finding of the self but separation from the
mother. He viewed her works influenced by her childhood as an unconscious
attempt to gain control over the uncontrollable situations and recreate the
experiences into an active mastery. While Bourgeois is ambivalent towards his
thoughts and she feel that artists already have access to their unconscious,
through their work.
Bourgeois uses clothes, mirror, glass bottles, planks, and
other everyday objects in her installation. For Bourgeois, found objects are
link between her memories and our experiences, similar but distant from hers.
She says,” the objects belong together, but they do not communicate, because
they have no power to choose” (Thoss et al., 1992). In her Cell, Glass Spheres
and Hands, she has used glass bubbles to show the infinite fragility of a
human. They are transparent bubble, enclosed and you cannot get at them. They
are sealed off without the possibility of communication and are still together.
Like her another
installation of Cell II (1991), is embodied by the mirror, perfume bottles and
hands, made in stone. Pain, like stone is everlasting. The gripped, delicately carved hands probably
show the solitude that is contradicted by the nine neatly placed perfume
bottles on a mirrored tray. The traces of fragrance in an empty perfume bottle
represents an evanescence of pleasure, the sense of smell, she believes has a
great power of healing. The outer perimeter is made of wooden doors that gives
us one point of entry and the viewers are encouraged to view the cell from the
cracks created by the hinged doors.
to all her installation is the connection between her and the audience, a
relationship to which Bourgeois brings the beauty and the danger, the joys and
the wounds, the women’s desire. Bourgeois says,” My early work is the fear of
falling. Later, it becomes the art of falling. How to fall without hurting
yourself. Then it is the art of hanging in there” (Thoss et al., 1992: 177).
CHAPTER 2: MAMAN AND DESTRUCTION OF THE FATHER
my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects have found their inspiration
in my childhood. My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its
mystery, and it has never lost its drama” (Bourgeois et al. 1923)
Louise Bourgeois’s mother died in 1932, it took a lot of understanding to get
why her mother left. Traumatized by it, she tried to commit suicide and blamed
her father for her mother’s death. Art to Bourgeois was like a therapy, so to
let it all out she made sketches of spiders. She explained,”
The spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my
mother was a weaver, she was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that
eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and therefore unwanted.
So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother” (Beaven et al.
A huge embodiment of
childhood fear, the gigantic spider ‘Maman’ has a powerful impact on the audience.
It is a huge, monumental steel instalment of a spider standing at about nine
meters. It is supported on eight strong legs and body suspended above the
ground, allowing the viewers to walk underneath it.
The legs are made
of two steel parts and the end of it is pointy as if it will start running at
any moment taking its balanced wire meshed sac carrying seventeen white and
grey eggs. The sculpture has a duality, that there is something very heavy and
masculine about it but at
the same time very feminine with the form and
the strength that it is carrying within. Spiders are always seen as disgusting,
threatening and repulsive creature, but Bourgeois installed a female spider to
show the strength of a mother with metaphors like spinning, weaving, nurturing
wants to create her own architecture so that the relationship between the form
and the objects are fixed. The difference between real space and psychological
space interests her. For example, the instalments of a spider which is portrait
of her mother, is large because her mother was a monument to her. She says,” I want
to walk around and be underneath her and feel her protection”
(Cooke et al., 2007)
Bourgeois has not
only shown the rage of her mother’s disappearance by creating “Maman” but she
has shown the frustration towards her father by installing her piece of work
called “Destruction of the Father”. Bourgeois has explained,” My father
betrayed me by not being what he was supposed to be. First, by abandoning us to
go to war, and then by finding another woman and introducing her into our
house” (Bernadac et al., Obrist et al., 1923).
installation represents the table and the bed, both are part of one’s erotic
life. The table where your parents made you suffer and the bed where you lie
with your husband, where your children were born and where you will die. In the
sculpture you can see all the things happening. The father is telling the
audience how great he is and all the good things he did. It goes on day after
day and the resentment in the children grows. Finally, the children couldn’t
resist and grabbed the father and made him their food. They ate him and
liquidated him just the way he liquidated his children.
the space to give a dramatic effect, she has used red light which gives a
claustrophobic effect. Bourgeois has used latex to make the sculpture. She got
lamb shoulders, chicken legs and casted them in soft plaster. Then threw away
the meat and casted the forms in latex. She says,” (Bernadac et al., Obrist et
al., 1923). It is a very murderous piece, an impulse that comes when one is
under too much stress and one turns against those one loves the most,”
this essay I have explored the main themes and work of Louise Bourgeois.
Throughout her career, Bourgeois has been drawing imagery of the women and the
home pointing towards the isolation, alienation, and the feeling of frustration
she had towards her father. Sculptures allow her to re-enter her past and
experience it all over again in its objective and realistic proportions. In
recent years, she has made most challenging and passionate works, which are a
gateway to her emotions and experiences.
has changed the course of 20th century art. Bourgeois says,” What
modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself,
to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach.
This is a painful situation and modern art is about this painful situation of
having no absolute definite way of expressing yourself” (Bernadac et al.,
Obrist et al., 1923). Through her work, she has revolutionized feminist as well
as installation art. She has addressed issues of marginalised groups like LGBT
in her work, ‘I Do’. Her art is based on her experiences, but it not only
speaks to the importance of our intimacies but also to the ways we should
engage in social interaction and appreciate our identity. Bourgeois’s work, her
intelligence, her freshness and originality are among the best gifts to the art