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Today I want to talk about Louise Bourgeois, because in her biography I have often seen myself reflected and I have found events that somehow I felt mine. Hers is the story of a little girl overwhelmed by her parents, whose dramas, betrayals, and intrigues marked her life forever.
Once upon a time, there was a little French girl, the daughter of tapestry restorers, who from early on learned the art of restoration and also learned that the family can be a place of misunderstandings and secrets, the home a den of dark corners and cobwebs.
Louise’s father had a mistress, who was the family nanny, and Louise’s mother knew and pretended, ignored, accepted. Louise did not understand, she suffered, she felt the weight of guilt because it was her nanny, her nanny!, who created that rift in married life. For years Louise witnessed the family menage, first keeping her father’s secrets to herself, then absorbing the dysfunctionality it implied. The suffering was stored in the soul of little Louise, the weight of those events was too strong and led her to the breakup…
Then growing up, with time, Louise became an artist, because art allowed her to analyze her history and that of the family, allowed her to save herself and transmute the invisible monsters into sculpture, pieces of matter.
Louise Bourgeois, sacrificed daughter
The quest to define family roles and identities becomes fragmented and difficult in a context of hidden and dramatic dynamics such as those she experienced.
How can you be a good daughter when your parents are not as much? Yet society asks us to keep this status intact in spite of secrets and painful role-playing.
The close and binding mother-daughter relationship makes Louise heir to others’ wounds and responsibilities that lead her to attempt suicide. After that moment she begins her estrangement, which will lead her across the ocean to America, where, distant from the facts, she begins, through artistic work, the recomposition and restoration of the fragments that the trauma has left: a real cut and sew of memories.
This laborious work begins with the body and the family symbol, the woman-home that should represent protection, the protection that little Louise lacked, for whom the home was a prison of doubts and betrayals, the woman betrayed and traitor.
In the face of shocking events, the mind protects itself by forgetting. The fragments that remain and are confused, are recomposed through totem-fetishes that restore power of action and catharsis from the evil that has been. Her sculptures resemble pieces of the body and organic tissues on which pain rests and is released. Breasts and vaginas represent love and its corporeality, lustful betrayal, even family roles: the father, the mother, the lover. In fact, Louise becomes the creator and protector of the phallus, which represents the paternal secrets she witnessed and guarded. But then again she destroys her father, tears him to pieces in her diary and her works, so she can get rid of him. With the red, the rooms, the representation of the weaver mother (the spider woman), she declares her maternal secrets, she screams them out: she frees her soul from the dead skeletons her parents bequeathed her.
Throughout a lifetime, by giving sculptural form to the fears and traumas of the past, L. Bourgeois can confront them face to face and reconstruct the reality of what she really was: a sacrificed victim.
The art of Bourgeois: imperfection as medicine
Art has served Louise to redeem herself and re-emerge from the quagmire of facts; it has allowed her to be reborn in a new form and no longer be the one whom the choices of others have shaped. Art is one of the strategies that man uses to heal and reclaim himself, because creation brings us back to a position of power. We can choose the way to tell, place ourselves inside and then outside the events in a continuous exchange of points of view. This is how we are healed in some way: by pulling the trauma out of us, observing it and making it shareable. Sharing, together with acceptance, is one of the first means of healing.
There are artists who need art as a means of psychological survival to overcome the reality that has been and face the one that will be. For these, making art is what keeps them alive, a reason to socialize, a temporal continuum of existence.
Pulling out, creating, being active, can heal some of the daily frustrations or inner wounds.
We call creation that movement that brings the inside to the outside, building a bridge that can also be crossed in reverse and bring the outside to the inside. Each individual builds various bridges throughout his life: between himself and the community from which he comes, between himself and the world, between himself and himself to discover and understand… himself better.
Each artist through her works creates that bridge that sends back her identity mirrored, modified, broken, studied; so that from a personal tool, it becomes a means of archetypal and universal knowledge.
Louise’s world reflects bourgeois respectability and the damage it has done. The illusion that everything must fit into the frame and seem perfect has created many monsters and claimed many victims. Accepting imperfection is a great exercise in reality and working with what you really have, without grasping at the illusion, is the only way to redeem yourself and change your destiny. Silences, lies, unspoken words are the death of identity, they are the mortification of the ego and the cancellation of particularities, of the uniqueness that every story possesses. Her sculpture is imperfect, mutilated, torn to pieces, just like her childhood, but she is no longer afraid, and by materializing her past and her protagonists she can finally act on them.
The influence that family history has on each one of us is immense, and being a child aware of your roots allows you to be an adult with a positive perception of yourself and a healthy self-esteem. Taboos, shame and dysfunctional dynamics have sown the world with wounded, insecure, unconscious, sick individuals, and we see all this madness every day in people’s frustrations, rudeness, depression, psychosomatic illnesses, anger and sadness accumulated in the soul. Trauma is something that arrives and upsets, after which nothing is the same as before; and what changes is not only the surrounding reality but also the perception of how we see and interact with the world and with ourselves. The responses to a trauma are countless and very personal because each individual generates his own strategies to survive and adapt to the traumatic event. Art is certainly one of those positive responses, which should be stimulated and implemented. For this reason it is important to make art, study art, write about art and give the opportunity and the tools to people to tell their stories and face themselves through this medium.