Fabricated in cast aluminum, the two figures in Couple (2003) are meant to hold on to each other for eternity. Bourgeois suffered from a lifelong fear of separation and abandonment, a dread rooted in the events of her early childhood. Made out of various materials and at different scales, and sometimes hanging precariously together from a single wire, Bourgeois’s many couple sculptures express an anxiety defined by the potential loss of the love object. The suspended sculptures also have the capacity to spin in opposite directions, existing in a perpetual state of fragility and ambivalence. Spirals, which abound in Bourgeois’s work and are echoed in the movement of the rotating figures, have duality inherent to their form:

“The spiral is an attempt at controlling the chaos. It has two directions. Where do you place
yourself, at the periphery or at the vortex? Beginning at the outside is the fear of losing control;
the winding in is a tightening, a retreating, a compacting to the point of disappearance.
Beginning at the center is affirmation, the move outward is a representation of giving, and giving
up control; of trust, positive energy, of life itself.”

Many of Bourgeois’s couples are made from fabric – clothes, blankets, towels – that she had kept over her many years. These garments were, as she described, significant “signposts” from her life, and together formed a diary of past people, places, events, and memories. By incorporating them in works of art, Bourgeois intended that they would survive her own physical presence. She wrote often that anxiety and fear produce sensations of bodily fragmentation, or a loss of control. The stitching, sewing, and binding in her fabric works express both identification with her mother and a wish to be made psychically whole.

Louise Bourgeois, THE COUPLE, 2003 Aluminum, hanging piece 365.1 x 200 x 109.9 cm. Collection The Easton Foundation, Photo: Christopher Burke, © The Easton Foundation/ Licensed by VAGA, NY /Licensed by VAGA, NY

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