Following 30 years of psychoanalysis, the suppressed experiences of her childhood and young life powerfully return in Bourgeois’s Old Age production: beginning around the mid-1980s when she was well into her 70s and spanning the rest of her life, this body of work is characterized by a heightened vividness of memorial allusion. The loss of her husband Robert Goldwater in 1973, the passing of her psychoanalyst Henry Lowenfeld in 1982, and the premature death of her son Michel in 1990, undoubtedly compounded the progressively melancholic and painful emotions driving her late work. Underlining the prevalence of duality and polarity that have played a significant part throughout her oeuvre, the present work focuses our attention on the vehicle and facilitator of artistic creativity: the human hand. Hands are incessantly repeated motifs in Bourgeois’s production from the late 1980s onwards. They represent the source of Bourgeois’s creativity and yet they are simultaneous symbols of emotional support and need; corporeal signifiers of the passing of time and the importance of others. Evoking memories of a childhood spent working at the Bourgeois family’s tapestry restoration workshop, the artist interweaves fingers as though they are threads; their warp and weft knit together in a lattice of psychological and physical support.
Dependency on her memories was accompanied by another form of dependency later in life – Bourgeois’s reliance upon Jerry Gorovoy. For thirty years Gorovoy was the artist’s unwavering confidant, friend, assistant, and, in Bourgeois’s own words, he was her ‘facilitator.’ His constancy, patience, and support are commemorated in the late works featuring hands; many of which are based on casts of his own. They are often shown multiple times, proffering an outstretched palm or defensively balled into fist, and in doing so Bourgeois presents the psychic duality of dependency itself; a social dynamic that the artist did not view as being necessarily reciprocal. We are thus once again thrust back into a psychic state that is at the very foundation of human experience: the mother/infant dynamic. Bourgeois’s dependency and reliance on others expresses a deeper unconscious and ambivalent wish to be united with the original object of desire and affection – the mother. Bourgeois’s need to be mothered, to be looked after, and her ambivalence towards having to look after others, returns us to the very beginning. Indeed, it is pure testament to the brilliance of Louise Bourgeois’s work that through the biographical and specific she consistently brings us back to the most primal and universal of human emotions.
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