More on art’s seduction: Louise Bourgeois

13 November 2008 | , ,

Bourgeois, L. Destruction of the father, reconstruction of the father. Writings and interviews 1923-1997. Cambridge, Mass & London, MIT Press, 1998

Art comes from life. Art comes from the problem you have in seducing birds, men, snakes — anything you want. It is like a Corneille tragedy, where everybody is pursuing somebody else. You like A, and A likes D, and D likes… Being a daughter of Voltaire and having an education in the eighteenth-century rationalists, I believe that if you work enough, the world is going to get better. If I work like a dog on all these contraptions, I am going to get the bird I want… [yet] the end result is rather negative. That’s why I keep going. The resolution never appears; it’s like a mirage. I do not get the satisfaction — otherwise I would stop and be happy. (pp.161-162)

From On Beauty: a conversation with Bill Beckley, on the same book:

As my brain experiences the duality of subjective and objective, my sense of beauty swings between the two. I refuse to choose. I am a woman of emotion who still pines to be a woman of rationality. I am torn between the two, and I have learned to accept them both. To seduce is a harmonious merger of the two, and it is the greatest art of all. Sculpture, which is my raison d’être, is motivated by my obsessive, unsuccessful attempts to seduce.

Uncontrollable beauty is in the effort to seduce one through my sculpture. It is le désir de plaire. Art comes from the inability to seduce. I am unable to make myself loved. I am still motivated by an attraction to “the other,” which is a mysterious beauty. Seduction is a form of convincing. I am the indefatigable seducer. Beauty is the pursuit of “the other”. (pp. 357-358)

This made me thing of Jean-Michel Rabaté’s work on Étant Donnés and the Black Dahlia:

The life of the artist is the denial of sex. Art comes from the inability to seduce. I am unable to make myself be loved. The equation is really sex and murder, sex and death

The fear of sex and death is the same. Attraction and fear move back and forth. Which is the cause and which is the effect? It’s important to know.

Turenne was standing on his horse ready to go to battle. He said to his horse, which was really his unconscious, “You tremble, carcass, but you would tremble even more if you knew where I am going to take you.”

It is at this moment, the thrill of danger, that the erotic impulse is activated. The thrill is an erotic presence, that all-or-nothing feeling. You either resist or let go. If it terrorizes you, it means the resistance is too much. There is the refusal to go to battle with the unconscious. I become paralized by the fear.

In a woman, sex comes when she loses control. In a man, it comes from asserting his control. In sex you lose control and it can be terrifying. By extension, the relationship of Turenne to his horse is an S & M image. Turenne was the artist. The artist is a sadist and afraid of his own sadism, of inflicting death. Is it murder or suicide? It depends on how you feel. Think of the bird ensnared by the snake. Nobody has ever proved that the bird suffers from his fear. Who says that the bird doesn’t enjoy it, that there’s not a sexual thrill? That there’s not ecstasy in death? That the bird dies fulfilled, as he’s gobbled up. One way or the other, the ransom of fear is death.

Don’t forget that the masochist loves a sadist and the sadist loves a masochist, and the prisoner is so helpless and desperate that all he has left is to fall in love with the jailer. (pp. 228-229)

3 thoughts on “More on art’s seduction: Louise Bourgeois

  1. And of course the famous statement:
    “Marcel Duchamp could have been my father.”
    (from Donald Kuspit ‘An Interview with Louise Bourgios’, New York, Vintage Books, 1988, p. 31)

    And also the extraordinary photographs of Bourgeois and Joan Miro
    (Mignon Nixon ‘Fantastic Reality’ Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, p. 14 + 35.)

    With Voltaire and the man who brought Sadie home, might Bourgeois have had too many fathers?

    For Bourgeois, as for Rabate (and always)it’s that sex-violence nexus that proves so seductive.

    I thought of this at Martha Rosler’s talk in Glasgow yesterday. Were you there? She spoke a little about these pieces.

    ‘Lounging Woman’ (2004) –
    and ‘Prototype (Freedom Is Not Free) (2006)

    Sorry I can’t find a better image of the second – there are photos of some very nice shoes pasted onto the leg – dismemberment and shoes – what’s not to love?


    (we met on Black Dahlia day)

  2. Hi Keith,

    Nice to read you! You are right about Bourgeois and her fathers. The whole book I am quoting from seems an endless quest for a father she never had. No one is good enough and the search goes on forever. Electra complex, of course, which may also account for the sex-violence nexus you refer to. Jouissance, too, beyond pleasure. I think I can see that in the Martha Rosler images you posted, especially Prototype. I love its sub-title. Tell me more about the talk. I feel silly about forgetting. I resolved to tackle chapter two, which has so far been resisting me, and before I knew, it was midday. Shame, really.


  3. Hi Laura,

    I am sorry I have been so slow in reply. You are right about jouissance of course – that same seduction of the abject that this week makes people collect gory cigarette packets.

    The talk was good. As you might have heard it was Roslermania – we packed the GFT. She talked alot about her ‘politics of place’ pieces, such as her work in frankfurt. I think the problem some people have with her talk was the same as they have with her work. It very much felt like Martha had been parachuted in to speak in Glasgow, only to fly ot later the same day. Similarly, she worked in frankfurt to uncover the politics of that place – it’s history, place in culture and society etc – but did she really engage with the place or simply describe it? I was thinking about this speaking to Mark Neville this week. When I heard him speak about a project he did in Port Glasgow, photographing the community and its setting there, it was clear that he was engaged with that place – he could remember who all the people in the photos were – I doubt Marth Rosler could do the same. Still, we digress yet further from Bourgeois and her fathers.

    Love the new look. dadalaladadala…


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