Serpentine Gallery, London, UK
Dilapidation, intricacy and danger: these predicaments and more are explored in Louise Bourgeois’ new work. Other elements are self-preservation and recklessness, as if extremes became her norm long ago. Consider a recent photo-graph, Spider IV (1996) which shows her struggling to escape the shadow of a large spider, wriggling like a mountaineer trying to scale an impossible precipice.
In most of Bourgeois’ work, lighting plays an important part. Visitors to this show, at the refurbished Serpentine Gallery, (a space so perfect it might have been designed for this exhibition and none other) could have lost their bearings in the semi-lit rooms. Forced to become part of the action – walking, watching, stopping, turning – their movements were often directed by the fabrics or hanging clothes which punctuated the spaces between the cell-like installations. ‘Cloth, bone, rubber and steel’, read a notice indicating a murky zone in which old dresses dangled – a little like a walk-in wardrobe. Bone? Look a little harder and the strange label appeared to be right – there are antlers, for example. Like backstage manoeuvres in a theatre, elements not in use were either hidden or jettisoned; theatricality was all that remained.
I also found this interview….you can read it in its entirety by going here.
A Conversation with Louise Bourgeois
I remember the room was dark, her clothes were dark. I remember my questions were overprepared. I was so scared I read them from the page, blocked out her answers my tape recorder caught, though not the sculpted face and my surprise as her whole demeanor reversed. She was interested, left the room, returned with champagne.
As a beginning art writer I had studied bodies of work chronologically then interviewed thirty painters, including Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Jack Tworkov… I wanted the answers to simple questions like why art lasts. I saw in some painters’ work a slow, pervasive projection of the biological body into the art object. Louise Bourgeois had once said: “For me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture.” I wondered how this abstraction from the personal creates a personal identity.
|Femme Maison, 1946-47.
Oil and ink on linen
36″ x 14″
At the MoMA retrospective of Bourgeois’s work (November 6, 1982 – February 8, 1983) you could see an artistic genealogy. An early sketch hung beside the latest work — a juxtaposition like great-grandmother and great-grandchild, like an architect’s plan and then the building. Bourgeois’s imagery from the beginning was a self-split. The “Femme-Maison,” or “Woman House,” drawings from 1946-47 are houses instead of a head. The hips, vagina, legs are recognizable, sensuous.
“The vision of a little girl trapped and looking out at the world?” I used her own words as a question early in the interview. To which she answered: “Yes, the feeling of being trapped…and the theme of escape…On the one hand you are trapped by the past, and there is nothing you can do about it except running from it…the art comes from those unsatisfied desires.”
Even then, married to Robert Goldwater and with three children she was physically trapped in another way.
63.75″ x 12″ x 12″
Louise Bourgeois: “All the drawings on linen and the tinted–not painted — tinted self-portrait at that period [the group of “Femme-Maison” ca. 1946-47] were…sketches or notations for sculptures. I had three children, and I didn’t have a place, physically, to do the sculpture…In ’41 we moved to…”Stuyvesant Folly” on 18th Street. It had an immense mansard roof…I went up to the roof and did the sculpture because I had the space…There is a very significant evolution there where the retirement, the withdrawal, in the maison evolves. And some kind of strength. There’s no courage there. It’s just strength to go on. Then the presences appear.”
The “presences” are life-height polar-thin forms the features of which are abstracted to gesture and posture. They are a feeling, a presence. Some are called portraits of specific people, (“Portrait of C.Y.,” “Portrait of Jean- Louis”). Some are named more generically: “Dagger Child,” “Woman in the Shape of a Shuttle,” “Pillar,” “Pregnant Woman,” “Spoon Woman.”
Barbara Flug Colin: “Some were named for a state of mind, like ‘Persistent Antagonism’…?”
Bourgeois: “So I have moved from the maison to the occupants of the maison, namely my father and my mother and the mistress and the children.”
So, in the next phase of Louise Bourgeois’s work, “presences” interrelate on the same base: two on “Brother and Sister,” five on “Quarantania 1, 1947-53.” The five tall, painted wood bodies have different features. One, cut out in the lower body, holds an oval similar to the form in others cut out in the upper body. All attached to and by the wood base.