Friday, August 19, 2005
Louise Bourgeois is another artist/printmaker that I admire. Her work has often been recommended to me along with Kiki Smith and Nancy Spero.
The artist Jenny Holzer said: "When I review the testimony about what is wrong with women, Louise Bourgeois’ work is the perfect rebuttal." At nearly 93, Bourgeois, who hasn’t left her house in ten years, is hard at work making sculptures and installations from stitched fabric, wood, steel, latex and marble as well as drawings and prints. She still holds her famous "Sunday Salons" where artists are invited to bring work at their own risk. Bourgeois often includes text in her visual work and has kept a copious diary from a very young age. Bourgeois’ sculptures and installations use hooks, guillotines and sculptural incisions as flaying devices related to a disruptive past. Bourgeois uses events she saw as a young girl during and after WWI when large numbers of men returned from battle as amputees. Body parts are frequently the subject of her work. As the feminist artist Adrian Piper has said: Louise Bourgeois’ "work draws us into a space where the dynamics of power and surrender, of gender identity, the circumspection of the body, and relation to the mother are unavoidable. It forces us to become aware of our own status as incomplete adults." Bourgeois’ relationship to feminism is best epitomized by events of the late 70s.
Here is an interview between Cheryl Kaplan and Louise Bourgeois
Cheryl Kaplan: The Reticent Child features a suite of 18 drawings titled Almost A Nobody. The title recalls Emily Dickinson’s poem: "I’m nobody, who are you?" You’ve said: "Life is organized around what is hollow."
Louise Bourgeois: Almost A Nobody refers to stairs and the idea of climbing to success. I'm interested in people's ambition, their enormous desire to exist in the world, to be somebody, and to succeed — sometimes at any cost.
CK: I first saw your Cells in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and then in Oxford at the Museum of Modern Art. They made me think of Ezra Pound detained in an open cage for 25 days having been accused of treason at the end of WWII. In your work, a highly internal moment is exposed publicly and then kept private. How did your Cells transform from the earlier ones in the 80s to the later ones, especially in relation to issues of public and private observation?
LB: My use of the word 'cell' has to do with the fact that I am a prisoner of my memories. The original suite of the Cells had to do with the five senses and memory and had nothing to do with the issues of humiliation and internment. The sense of containment in the Cells has also to do with the idea of isolating problems in order to solve them. I also like to know my limits and that's why I prefer claustrophobic spaces. The Cells also express the notion that people are isolated from one another and unable to communicate. This is the human condition.
I needed to create architecture to house and protect and set the scale for these objects. The objects in the Cells are fragile. The fact that you cannot enter them in most cases had to do with the fragility of the interior. This is a problem when they are shown publicly. I would like people to enter the Cells.
LB: The guillotine, like all my images, is not realistic. It is a metaphor for how the present kills the past. In the Cell Choisy, I recreated the house where I had lived because it no longer existed. There is no real victim in this work because we have to accept the fact that the present destroys the past and there is nothing we can do.
CK: Femmes Maison, is both a series of drawings and sculptures that literally refer to a "wife-house". In Cells, the architecture is transparent, while Femmes Maison is about hiding.
LB: As a sculptor, I am interested in space – whether it is real or imagined. Sometimes I want to hide, and sometimes I want to go out and seduce.
CK: What are your feelings now about feminism? In 1988 you told art critic Donald Kuspit that "Feminism is important to me." Later, you had mixed feelings, associating feminism with victimization. In speaking with Robert Storr you said: "There is no feminist aesthetic (…) The women got together not because they had things in common, but because they lacked things." But you’ve also written: "My feminism expresses itself in an intense interest in what women do."
LB: I don't believe there is a feminist aesthetic. A lot of the emotions that I am expressing in my work are pre-gender. I am lucky to have been brought up by my mother who was a feminist, and fortunate enough to have married a husband who was a feminist, and I have raised sons who are feminists.
CK: Lucas Cranach, a favorite artist of yours, painted Lucretia as she’s about to commit suicide, having been raped. Like most of Cranach’s females, Lucretia is strangely demure, yet extremely violent. I’m reminded of the piece you did in Artforum in December 1982 called Child Abuse that focuses on your father’s relationship with Sadie.
LB: The piece entitled Child Abuse in Artforum was done to coincide with the opening of my first large exhibition in New York. This work was my attempt to explain the person behind these objects.
CK: The Destruction of the Father, done in 1974 is an incredibly visceral piece, cast from lamb and chicken bones. The sculpture is overrun with tumorous protrusions. It’s scary, yet strangely natural. Destruction is about getting rid of someone but also keeping them around. The sculpture’s support resembles a field hospital stretcher. In what way were your childhood visits to see your wounded father in army hospitals during WWI part of this piece?
LB: I accompanied my mother during the War when she went from camp to camp to stay close to my father. I felt my mother's hysteria. The images of the soldiers on the trains and in the hospital have stayed in my mind. The fear of abandonment is very strong within me and relates to that time.
CK: As a registered Democrat, what do you think of the recent re-election of George Bush especially concerning women’s rights? I’m thinking of his potential to appoint ultra-conservative judges on the Supreme Court.
LB: Bush's re-election is unfortunate not only for America but for the entire world. Life is being reduced to economics. Values and the quality of life are at risk. As the disparity between the rich and poor grows, religious fanaticism grows. I believe in the separation of church and state. I'm particularly concerned with the environment; mankind is destroying the planet and seems to be oblivious.
CK: Can you talk about your series of nine engravings He Disappeared into Complete Silence done in 1947?
LB: He Disappeared Into Complete Silence was completed in 1947, and uses architecture as a metaphor for human relationships. These structures are related to the Personages that I was carving at the same time.
CK: The suspended figures, from the Spiral Woman , 1984 through Janus Fleuri, 1968 and Filette (Sweeter Version) , 1968-99 as well as the Arched Figure, 2004 in your current exhibition at Cheim & Read dangle between a moment of danger and beauty. The Arched Figure hangs on by a thread, bobbing up and down. In referring to your suspended figures, you said: "[So] this little figure is supposed to hang (…) She turns around and she doesn’t know her left from her right. Who do you think it represents? It represents Louise. (…) It just means that she is herself, hanging, waiting for nobody knows what." How do you feel about the dangling now?
LB: To hang from a single point is to exist in a state of fragility. It is still how I feel today.