selfportrait.net's blog covering community artists, gallery shows, and the whereabouts of young entrepreneurs and artistic talents from NY, LA, London, Paris, the world.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Louise Bourgeois: personal obsessions, the repetitions of them, and the binary relationships that keep them resonant


A lazy accident at night happened in blurry vision and with a fast heartbeat caused by mildly extreme exhaustion from a long run and swim that were part of my triathlon training routine. I should not have been driving in the first place. The side mirror crashed into a stationary and even very shiny object, a warning object - a twist of irony. The mirror popped out and I still have hope I'll be able to pop it back in. The traffic starts bringing the car to a crawl. I have some time, roll the window down and fidget with the mirror, and then immediately realize that it is not easily fixable and the glass of the mirror is even cracked - a twist of the damage costs (later the next morning, I'd wake up, drive to the shop with only one mirror and find out it will be $200 more than the $48 I thought it should cost).

I dropped the car off at my parents' house, just as my mother was leaving, and I knew I would - and I did - confess my guilt. I can't drive anymore, or at least her look reacted to me that way. More flustered, I went straight for a donut and sat in my misery for a couple of hours watching olympians do things I'd never cared to try better than my imagination would let me do them had the thought even entered my mind. The phone rings. Someone wants me to meet them and I say I can't until i take care of some things, which, when I said it, I did not realize that meant going for an 8 minute mile run wearing only underwear - gray boxer briefs that day.

And so after I broke a sweat, then washed some of it off in the shower, I started my day and went to meet this person at the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Guggenheim, hoping that the cultural experience would also lead to me getting treated to lunch (it would). The run for me rested in my mind as a humorous triumph. Running in only my underwear served as a symbol for me of the pathetic state I was in after the accident, but simultaneously, the assertive decision to run and the aggression I let off reinvigorated confidence in me. Combined, the binary relationship of these two aspects formed the perfect catharsis.

Louise, as I like to call her, is a fascinating figure for several reasons. She is currently 96, an art world living legend, an obsessive personality, and a repetitious one at that. Throughout this retrospective, the form and content in her work does show an evolution, but it is an evolution of nuances within repeating themes. Louise's work remains resonant because of a strength in binary relationships and contrast including humor v. trauma, expanding v. contracting, male v. female, penile v. breast-like, and rough v. smooth among others. Repetition in her work reinforces, enhances and attracts interest in the themes, rather than signaling a staleness in it. Her work is tied together through a peculiarity and a genuine darkness that invokes the feeling of hearing someone that doesn't know you're listening reveal their deepest secrets out loud to themselves and then doing it again without losing any earnestness in its catharsis. There is a charm that is produced by that kind of intimacy and it forms yet another binary: attraction v. repulsion.


Louise's work is not impressive for its aesthetic qualities. More specifically, they are not pretty to look at. However, through being overwhelmed with the intimacy of the secrets in her work and the fervent, insistent repetition of them I found myself lulled into an intrigued boredom that I did not want to let go of, and could not escape if i tried. Slowly her secrets evolved from concerning me to reflecting my own secrets in her artwork. As I traveled up the rotunda, through the chronologically ordered display of her work, I became increasingly, but unaggressively, vacuumed into her world and, subsequently, into my own.

The introspective behavior taking place at this moment was a familiar place. I was experiencing repetition of my own in my reflection. Ultimately, it is a mistake to call it boredom, but that word does describe the vessel for which my own personal binaries were taking place. The feeling could better be described as an even hum in my head to the tune of contrasting elements canceling themselves out. The work conveys a steady and still powerful hum that inspires an investigation into acquired routines in life and the formative emotion experiences they are a product of and often cover up. Routines, it turns out, are made up of the same stuff as obsessions.

In this retrospective of Louise Bourgeois's work, the draw comes from the obsession, compelling one to look, to be unimpressed with the aesthetic, but to be moved into a familiar introspection in an unfamiliar way that then becomes recognizable once again along the walk as its obsession-ridden binary relationships begin to morph into one's own.

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