Bourgeois AnnotationApril 8, 2007
Louise Bourgeois’ Destruction of the Father Reconstruction of the Father is a collection of writings and interviews with the now 97-year-old artist from 1923-1997. One of the strongest themes to come out of this body of writing is her concern for being misrepresented as an artist and individual. Bourgeois insists that she receive all the master recordings from interviews, insists on final approval of printed material, and frequently goes head to head with an interviewer when she thinks they aren’t accurately portraying her work. Most of her work is intensely autobiographical and concerned with issues of representation.
Her diary notes are much more intimate and give insight into issues she is dealing with or themes she is exploring in her visual work. Her life feeds the work she creates. On January 27th, 1980 she wrote:
“Forgive and forget, they say—name of a piece. I do not forgive or forget. It is the motto my work feeds on. I am shaking like a leaf. I do not want to talk about the past, I want to talk about the future.”
On June 25th, 1984 she wrote:
“Scheherazade talked to ward off castration (assassination). She talks as a last defense. It is a pretty miserable motive, useless and dangerous, silence is wonderful.”
The image of a woman pouring out stories to save her life reframes how I always thought about Arabian Nights. There is part of a story in Stalking America about a girl who wakes up one morning to discover that her words are real. Whatever she says becomes reality and the words themselves begin to take up space. She backs herself into this tiny corner as the world is gradually filled up with the words she spews like word garbage. That is something I have been thinking about lately. Why do I write? Am I simply filling up space? Am I contributing to this word pollution?
In this quote I also see self-consciousness in Bourgeois. Does she see herself as a woman who must tell her stories to continue to live and create? I also am intrigued by her use of the word castration. Does Bourgeois tell stories with her work to ward off castration or to exert power?
Then I came across the question from the other side. Silence is wonderful. Is Bourgeois condemning this process of survival through words? She is a visual artist, usually a sculptor. Is she sitting smugly in her position as a person who creates work that is silent? She produces work that at one time was Abstract Expressionist and later Minimal. How much does a piece of minimalist sculpture really talk? It has a story, but it chooses to sit silently like a sphinx, waiting for you the viewer to ask the right question or invest in it… That is probably more of a place of power. Silence is more elegant. Words are clumsy.
So is she identifying with Scheherazade as a fellow survivor who must talk and tell stories in order to survive, or is she condemning her and all the desperate chatter? Is she looking for a better form of survival? Silence is wonderful. How does Arabian Nights end? I can’t remember… Does Scheherazade successfully recount her 1001 tales until her husband is outsmarted, or does she finish her 1001st only to have her life terminated?