Louise Bourgeois in her home studio in 1974. Photo: Mark Setteducati, © The Easton Foundation
Twosome is the first museum exhibition in Israel of the work of renowned French-American artist Louise Bourgeois. The title of the show derives from a large-scale sculptural installation Bourgeois created in 1991, which was first presented in DISLOCATIONS, a group exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art that same year. Consisting of two oil tanks, the computerized sculpture is mechanized so that the smaller tank, moving on a track, travels perpetually in and out of the larger tank. The movement of the piece may suggest the act of copulation, but for Bourgeois the continual expulsion and reacceptance of the smaller tank symbolized the complex relationship between mother and child.
As Twosome attests, Bourgeois’s art oscillates between such dualities as abstraction and figuration, male and female, conscious and unconscious, pleasure and pain, architecture and the body, guilt and forgiveness, and revenge and reparation. Bourgeois’s diaries and writings, many of which were made during her long period of psychoanalysis, confirm the intensity and conflicting nature of her feelings, and the pervading sense of anxiety, guilt, and aggression which led to a constant need for reparation and reconciliation. In her work, such psychological polarities – passive and active, love and hate, murder and suicide – are given formal and symbolic sculptural equivalents.
Bourgeois has stated that many of her pieces express the relationship between self and other, or between the individual and the group. These dynamics originate in the primal bond between mother and child, which provides the template from which all future relationships develop. Her various representations of the couple, though bound together and eternally entwined, express a lifelong fear of separation and abandonment. The Janus series, named for the Roman god who faces both past and future, signifies Bourgeois’s concern with the passage of time, the loss of memory, and the boundary between the real and the imagined. The extended tongues in several of her figures convey a longing for intimacy with the other, while the fear of rejection transforms them into sharpened daggers. The emotional tension in Bourgeois’s work arises from these contradictory impulses, which are often held together within a single form.
According to the logic of Bourgeois’s symbolic world, the smaller tank in Twosome represents the child and the larger tank its mother. The metal chain linking the two is the umbilical cord that is never cut, signifying their eternal bond. If the smaller tank’s outward movement indicates an attempt at separation, its movement inward, toward the larger tank, may be read as a return to the womb. This ceaseless motion represents the life experience, and is echoed again in Bourgeois’s monumental Passage Dangereux, a piece from her “Cell” series which explores a young girl’s rites of passage (birth, fear, love, sex, death). Yet while Bourgeois developed these themes throughout her career, she did not want her work to be read as an analysis of her own biography. Instead, her pieces are expressions of enduring truths about our universal human condition:
It is not an image I am seeking. It’s not an idea. It is an emotion you want to recreate, an
emotion of wanting, of giving and of destroying.
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