- Artist: Louise Bourgeois
- Creation date: 1998
- Object type: Installation
During her 70-year long career Louise Bourgeois created a highly distinctive and unique body of work that consists of paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations. The major themes of her work derive from childhood memories, familial relationships, and sexuality.
One of the recurring themes in Bourgeois’ art is the relationship of one person to another that is expressed through a relationship to architecture. Cell VIII is an octagonal cage made of wire mesh with a single door. Clothes of various shades of blue and a large tapestry cross the cage from wall to wall. A small chair covered in flesh coloured fabric with human feet for its legs sits secretly behind the tapestry. A small block of pink marble with carved rabbit ears rests near the wall. A tiny spider clings to one of the cell walls.
The entire installation has a somewhat menacing air. Bourgeois has recreated a memory from her childhood when she would hide behind the tapestries that her family restored. Hidden, she was able to listen secretly to the conversations of the grown-ups. The blue of the clothes relates to the idea of not knowing what is going on and being in the dark. The clothes which belonged to the artist not only stand in as surrogates for her but also symbolize the passing of time. The rabbit ears signify the importance of the sense of hearing when all other senses are blocked. And the spider represents Bourgeois’ mother who restored the tapestries and was the artist’s protector.
Born 25.12.1911 in Paris, Frankrike, death 31.05.2010 in New York, USA
The French-American artist Louise Bourgeois was recognised late in life for her bold treatment of major themes related to psychoanalysis including family relationships, sexuality and human emotions such as anxiety, jealousy, loneliness and grief. Her major international breakthrough occurred at the age of 71 in 1982 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She has been assigned the role of an outsider who is motivated only by her own traumatic childhood. The close relationship between her art and art history is largely overlooked in the interpretation of Bourgeois' art.
When Louise was eight years old, her mother caught the Spanish flu. She survived, but never fully recovered. In the following years, Louise took care of her mother. The convalescence was unsuccessful and her mother died when Louise was only 20 years old. Her mother's illness and early death marked Bourgeois' childhood and adolescence to a great extent and may be the reason why she deals with the themes of anxiety, the human body and love in her art. But these existential themes were not the only ones of interest to Bourgeois. She also had many sources of inspiration beyond her own life, such as anthropology, biology, medicine and architecture.
Cells, cages and totem poles
A recurring theme with Bourgeois is the relationship between the human condition and architecture. The house as a symbolic room becomes particularly evident in the series of installations called The Cells, from the 1990s. Each cell is like a theatre stage. The viewer stands outside and looks at everyday objects, clothes, furniture and sculptures. Cell VIII (1998), is an octagonal cage with a door opening. High up on the mesh wall sits a black spider. Dark blue textiles and a tapestry hang inside the cell. Several pieces of clothing are the artist's.
As early as the 1940s, Bourgeois was inspired by architecture. This is apparent in the Personages series. The first works in the series are made of wood and are reminiscent of totem poles. The series was also inspired by the skyscrapers of New York.
She later created cage-like sculptures of latex and clay. The surfaces are unpolished and seem unfinished. They are reminiscent of something organic and bodily.
A sculpture from the same period was included in the famous exhibition Eccentric Abstraction in 1966. The exhibition laid the foundation for the style "Abject Art" and established Bourgeois as a feminist artist. "Abject Art" relates to aspects of the body that are considered impure or inappropriate for public display. Many feminist artists explored this style in response to the[AK1] patriarchal society's contempt for and rejection of the female body.
In the 1970s Bourgeois declared herself a feminist and fought for the rights of female artists and their use of explicit sexual motifs.
As a female artist who gained recognition late in life, Bourgeois has been assigned the role of an outsider. The interpretations of her art often revolve around Bourgeois as person, and are largely isolated from art history and other narratives.
Bourgeois contributed herself to these interpretations with a photo essay with images from her childhood under the title Child Abuse for Artforum in 1982. Here she told about her English teacher, Sadie, who for many years was her father's mistress, which Bourgeois found difficult. The story of Child Abuse is often used to interpret her whole body of work.
The close and interesting relationship between Bourgeois' art and the history of 20th century art and knowledge is often overlooked when talking and writing about Bourgeois' art. One of her works that shows how her art is deeply rooted in collaboration and dialogue with others and the world at large, is her site-specific commission for the government agency Norwegian Scenic Routes.
In 2010 Bourgeois designed the witch burning memorial, The Damned, the Possessed and the Beloved together with Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and historian Liv Helene Willumsen. The monument is in memory of the victims of the witch trials in the 17th century in Vardø in Finnmark County. Finnmark is the county in Norway where the most alleged witches were sentenced to death. The monument is located at Steilneset, where 91 people were burned at the stake.