Doctoral Thesis: “The plastic arts expression of Louise Bourgeois. Feminist strategies for a therapeutic praxis.” Thesis written under the guidance of Prof. Carmen Senabre Llavata. V-2816-2007/978-84-370-6586-1. Published, electronically, by the University of Valencia. (No images were published because of copyright)
Researching in the field of feminist aesthetics has helped me to understand aspects of human psychology. Over time, diverse artistic approaches that can be analyzed within gender and sex discourses, have developed through different cultures in separate parts of the world. When we try to understand a work of art: a sculpture, a tapestry, a drawing…, created either by a man or a woman, the analysis of this leads us to a territory beyond gender construction and immerses us into the depths of our conscience, essentially illuminating our own fears and anxieties.
Therefore, we should always consider the cultural relevancies that surround the work and the artist. The response to interactions with others and relationship with the surrounding environment can be symbolized in a work of art in a variety of ways. For example, universal concepts such as the communion with nature, the cycle of life or love within parental relationships are often expressed differently, depending on how each individual has been brought up.
This thesis about Louise Bourgeois is developed within three areas of research: feminist aesthetics, art therapy and visual expression, parting from her sculptures and drawings. In the first chapter: “Feminist Influence on Louise Bourgeois“, the historical context of her work is considered in line with postmodernism, from the feminist perspective on aesthetics and critic. On the one hand, Bourgeois’ work is analyzed from semiotic, philosophic as well as aesthetic aspects. On the other hand, her work is studied in relation to spinning and sewing, as a result of having analyzed the pictorial representation and literary interpretation of sewing along with the trade of spinning from a feminist aesthetics viewpoint. This involves revealing within her work similarities with the “Fiber Art” which links to ancient cultures. The presence of fashion in her installations and sculptures is studied reflecting on feminist issues.
In the second chapter: “Intimate Reasons for Creation”, the healing aspect of Bourgeois’ work is introduced. She is in search of a cathartic treatment for the pain generated by her childhood and adolescent traumas. The analysis that several authors have completed on this therapeutic side of her work, shows us how the treason and abandonment that the artist suffered on the part of her own family, which leads to trauma that provokes the need for such a healing practice. This practice takes the form of partial representations of the body that condemn verbal or physical violence, by means of the multiple sculptures Bourgeois makes which symbolize her mother. These sculptures adopt the form of animals which is an aspect we could unfold within theories of mythology and feminist aesthetics.
The representation of androgyny, the auto analysis and the dream are the main issues analyzed in the last chapter “Under a surrealist view”. It is an analysis of the psychotherapeutic connotations of her work, comparing with the works of surrealists as Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Remedios Varo or Leonora Carrington, among others.
I wrote the next comment two years before Louise Bourgeois passed away.
Women have taken part in the contemporary art scene contributing with unique artistic values, of which the artist Louise Bourgeois continues to be an outstanding example. Given that now she is close to her centenary, what are her true reasons for creating art?
Bourgeois enhances the therapeutic power of art through feminist strategies, which in her artistic incursions are more silenced than deafening. Her plastic arts expression answers to a therapeutic function, though she prefers other terms such as catharsis or exorcism to define it. In this process, she brings together traditional techniques and “remakes” of daily life by discomposing garments and transforming objects that recall her childhood. Therefore, her work has been often analyzed from its autobiographic aspects more than from their simple existence as objects.
Art and life have been always linked to the eyes of the 70s feminists. Bourgeois’s imagery, indeed, can be related to feminist matriarchal art theories. Only by observing the sculpture “Maman”, an enormous spider, the viewer feels the overwhelming strength of nature. Without the influence of any literature about it, the author’s sex or gender seems much less relevant. However Bourgeois, herself, does not consider her works as independent of her body and mind. At the same time, she shows a diverse world in which the plastic process is redefined, going forward and backwards in “the spaces in between” big concepts, such as modernist art or even feminist art.
The way she expresses union between life and artistic expression can be understood by analyzing the multiplicity inherent to postmodernism, as rejection of the totalitarian pretensions of modernism. Postmodernism does not define an essential truth, and plurality becomes necessary to art. Diversity, indeed, is a characteristic of Bourgeois’s broad art expression so that her aesthetics go beyond the solitude figure of the modernist artist. She needs to collaborate with others to make her work a tangible and selling object. Besides, through the art of sculpting, she relates the different parts of a single work to the whole piece.
Furthermore, looking at Bourgeois’s work beyond time, like placing each of her sculptures, drawings and installations on a chess board, we can appreciate a structuralist conception as a basis. A repetition of symbols and similar ideas that make of Louise Bourgeois’s aesthetics a representation of her life as the remote signifier of a myth.
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