The embrace, a motif closely tied to Louise Bourgeois’ themes of trauma and hidden emotion, is the central focus of Clutching, comprised of organic strands recalling the materials, spaces and forms inextricably bound to her nascent childhood experiences and a period of psychoanalysis between the years of 1951 and 1967. The tensions that result from her practice of exorcising the past into the present serve to form the fundamental conflicts and dynamics central to Bourgeois’ oeuvre.
Entrenched in the mythology surrounding her upbringing, Bourgeois retrospectively replays, reprises and replicates inner distress at a level of artistic production compelled by her own psychoanalysis. Standing at the forefront of this dialogue, the present work alludes to Bourgeois’ childhood desire for an escape from the distress in her home in the cathartic form of an embrace. The profound and complex psychological effect of her upbringing with its underlying cross-currents of betrayal and fidelity has become the accepted “myth” around which Bourgeois’ artistic identity has been constructed.
The metaphors and symbolic figurations that populate her oeuvre navigate the thin divide between the dualities of nurture and isolation and love and abandonment. Bourgeois has famously expressed maternal ambivalence owing to her own need to be nurtured: “One needs a mother. I understand that, but I refuse to be your mother because I need a mother myself.” (Louise Bourgeois cited in Mignon Nixon, Reconstructing the Past: Louise Bourgeois and Psychoanalysis, 2007, London, Tate Publishing, p. 214) The loss of her own mother in 1932 was a trauma the artist never truly surmounted and imparted a denial of separation that is apposite for an understanding of the present work, whose title further ratifies this denial of separation from her mother and her innate desire to hold onto her embrace.
Clutching unmistakably alludes to Bourgeois’ need for protection and her simultaneous rejection of it hinting at the very contradictory emotions and impulses of this most complex artist, all originating from the basic trauma of her early life later articulated through her work to construct a mythic legend that permeated her aesthetic psyche. The present work’s ability to evoke such a personal and powerful emotional response though cast in unforgiving bronze further emphasizes its duality of trauma and comfort. In further interpreting Bourgeois’ oeuvre, Jerry Gorovoy comments: “Through shape and line, material and texture, Bourgeois is able to give a palpable specificity to her memories. More than just marking time, and nostalgic reminiscing, Bourgeois wants through her sculpture to re-create the past, to have total recall to the emotions, to analyze the event, to control it, to correct it, and finally to forgive and forget it. …Bourgeois’ sculptures mark a collection of traumas, fears, anxieties, resentments, and unfulfilled desires which through her sculptures she is able to exorcise.’’ (Exh. Cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Louise Bourgeois: Homesickness, 1997, n.p.)
The encapsulating intimacy of this seminal work conveys a confronting yet comforting presence. The intertwined finger-like spirals are grasping at something which is inevitably slipping away, symbolizing Bourgeois’ conflicting emotions associated with her past, the loss of her mother and her constant struggle with letting go. Clutching is a vivid representation of the artist grappling with the dualities of her upbringing - abandonment and protection - the cause and effect that has come to define her childhood and through her artistic production is exorcised into her work. Clutching bespeaks the physical and emotional calmness tied to the catharsis of an embrace, vulnerable and yet protected, this sculpture radiates a sense of tranquility amidst trauma.
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