Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I <3 Louise Bourgeois

This evening I saw "Louise Bourgeois: The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine."  It was ... amazing ... weird ... and, yeah. weird.   Watch the trailer here.

I have always been fascinated by Louise Bourgeois' work.  I love her biomorphic forms, beautiful, sensual, and at the same time graphic and vulgar.  Much of her work is creepy or horrifying to me, and her giant spiders evoke a visceral response.  I am not afraid of spiders, but I am afraid of those spiders!

A few things stood out to me in this movie.  For one, she explains that the spiders represent her mother, and she has a favorable view of her mother.  These giant, menacing spiders, creatures who are practically the symbol of phobia, to her are in a way comforting.  They are reliable, she says, without emotional outbursts, not burdened by their passions.  She says this is like her mother, which is the type of person she strives to be - yet she admits to being what she considers too passionate.  We hear stories of her "passion," such as the story told by her son, Jean-Louis, of a time when she was so angry at their response to her cooking that she threw a leg of lamb out of the window.  The children went and retrieved the meat from outside, washed it off, and ate it, I suppose as a way to appease her anger.

It truly is difficult for me to imagine any kind of positive relationship with a mother represented by a giant spider whose legs envelope a cage that holds a chair (and perhaps allows the viewers to imagine themselves in that chair)!  It is terrifying!  Her spiders can be seen all over the world, outside, where people walk under and rollerblade around their legs.

Another work that had a powerful impact on me was her Arch of Hysteria.

In the movie, we see this arch in a different way - lying on a table in a room that seems to be a shock-treatment room or some kind of room in an old psychiatric facility.  The way they presented this piece in the movie was particularly startling - it took a while for them to show the whole thing, it was halfway hidden, it was unclear as to whether there was a head or arms, it was brought upon us, the viewers, suddenly.

Bourgeois uses her art to work through painful memories of her childhood that she still has not fully come to terms with.  The title, "The Spider, The Mistress and the Tangerine," refer to three major concepts in her work and life.  The spider, as I mentioned, is her mother.  The mistress is dealt with more than once in many ways, one of the most profound (to me) is her interpretation of a recreation of the sewing room in which the mistress worked.

The tangerine story is particularly poignant.  It is here that we have a window into the pain that Bourgeois is still dealing with, even at 96 years old, from her abusive and troubled past.

Her art is haunting, thought-provoking and, often, creepy.  Louise Bourgeois taps into something that is hard for me to describe.  When I look at this work, I imagine that she is not much concerned with the physical appearance of things, but instead uses the manipulation of surfaces and environments that allow the viewers (or should I say participants?) to understand what she is feeling and to perhaps commiserate with her to a degree.  Despite the obvious high level of craftsmanship, I might say that Bourgeois' work is a type of Art in the Raw.

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