Janus, for whom this work is named, is the Roman god of conflicts, passages, transitions, beginnings, and endings, usually depicted with two faces, as he looks to both the future and the past. Bourgeois translates this profoundly ambiguous entity into a sensual presence, drawing together opposing forces into a single duo-cephalic figure. Its torso is playfully hidden by a metallic “jacket,” the razor-sharp edges in stark contrast to the tumescent, organic forms which curl inwards beneath it, softly drooping yet also poised like pincers. An evocative visual pun on male and female forms, the biomorphic heads of Hanging Janus with Jacket incite both an uncanny discomfiture and an arousing curiosity.
Suspending the sculpture from a wire accentuates its vulnerability and intensifies the state of fluctuation in which it exists, as the piece is free to rotate, offering a constantly shifting viewpoint. ‘Hanging is important,’ Bourgeois has said, ‘because it allows things to turn around. It is very helpless, it changes the hierarchy of the work; the base disappears’ (the artist quoted in F. Bonami, ‘In a Strange Way, Things are Getting Better and Better,’ Flash Art vol. XXVII no. 174, January 1994, p. 39). Hovering at eye level, Hanging Janus with Jacket is simultaneously pendulous yet affixed, the permanence of its material juxtaposed against its perpetual weightless motion, heightening its inherent ambiguity. Demonstrating the artist’s gift for visual wit, this work is a profound philosophical achievement skillfully balanced at the intersections of life, art, sex, and consciousness.
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