Louise Bourgeois cited in: Exh. Cat., Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory: Works 1982-1993, Part 3, 1994, p. 23
“My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama. All my work of the last fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood.”
Louise Bourgeois, Louise Bourgeois: Album, New York 1994, n.p.
Created in 1999, Louise Bourgeois’s Remembering abounds with melancholic poignancy and visceral provocation. Treading the line between tenderness and fragility, this piece is a quintessential example of the artist’s ‘Old Age’ production – the period, beginning in the early 1990s and continuing until the end of her life, in which Bourgeois drew heavily upon her increasingly vivid childhood memories, particularly those concerning her mother. Created using sewing needles, threads and pink fabric, and encased in a wood and glass vitrine, this work recalls the artist’s childhood home in Antony, a suburb of Paris, and the Bourgeois family’s tapestry repair business. For Bourgeois, the emotively laden act of sewing as a means to repair and mend became a cathartic metaphor for her artistic practice – a practice that incessantly followed a tripartite logic of creation, destruction, and reparation: “When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin” (Louise Bourgeois cited in: Robert Storr, Intimate Geometries: The Art and Life of Louise Bourgeois, London 2016, p. 526). Nonetheless, the needles used to create Remembering are undoubtedly tinged with malice, for the coarse pink fabric has been pierced and crudely stitched to form the bust of a figure, arms locked tight around her chest, in an expression of perfect solitude.
For Bourgeois, this undercurrent of violence is essential to her artistic being. Indeed, it is this emotional stance that marks her production out as among the most important and radical of the later Twentieth Century. Powerfully entangled with memories of her mother and her own variegated experiences of motherhood, Bourgeois has opened up a space for an enriched female subjectivity that is qualified by the taboo of maternal ambivalence. Occupying a position that challenges the precepts of femininity as inherently passive and motherhood as exclusively nurturing, Bourgeois presents the contradictory complexities of female subjectivity as active and empowered, destructive and aloof. Driven by her autobiographical recollections, the artist’s oeuvre is entrenched in the mythology surrounding her troubled upbringing, and she retrospectively replays, reprises and replicates the unabated memories of her youth within her practice. “I need my memories” she once proclaimed; “They are my documents. I keep watch over them… You have to differentiate between memories. Are you going to them or are they coming to you. If you are going to them, you are wasting time. Nostalgia is not productive. If they come to you, they are the seeds for sculpture" (Louise Bourgeois cited in: Exh. Cat., Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory: Works 1982-1993, Part 3, 1994, p. 23).
Bourgeois was born into an affluent family in the provincial outskirts of Paris, though despite outward appearances, her childhood was fractured and unstable. Her father was a domineering character and a philanderer, and as a young girl she had painfully discovered his infidelity with her live-in English nanny, marring Bourgeois with an overwhelming sense of betrayal and abandonment. Later, after losing her mother at the tender age of twenty-one, such internalised feelings of desertion and vulnerability would become further entrenched in her psyche. As if stitching together the fragmented pieces of her broken past, Bourgeois’s sculpture offers a potent and bittersweet expression of both the artist’s own child-like fragility, and her prevailing resilience in the face of adversity. Protected within its glass vitrine, with unseeing eyes and a tightly hemmed mouth, Remembering becomes a site of trauma and catharsis, in which memory is simultaneously confronted and contained. The viewer is placed in the role of voyeuristic observer, yet, in spite of the propositional nature of the vitrine, its glass surface prevents us from touching its forbidden contents. It is this scopophilic, fetishistic embodiment of intimacy – the push-and-pull of allusions that simultaneously beg for and refuse understanding – that completes the spellbinding aura of the present work. One of the earliest of Bourgeois’s vitrine works, Remembering commands the exceptional narrative power and memorial allusions that exemplify the artist’s creative spirit. At once haunting and enchanting, this sculpture perfectly embodies the profound psychological ambivalence of Bourgeois's practice.
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