Monday, 4 November 2013

Louise Bourgeois - Cells

Cell: You Better Grow Up, 1993

Louise Joséphine Bourgeois (French: [lwiz buʁʒwa]; 25 December 1911 – 31 May 2010), was a renowned French-American artist and sculptor, best known for her contributions to both modern and contemporary art, and for her spider structures, titled Maman, which resulted in her being nicknamed the Spiderwoman.

While in her eighties, Bourgeois produced two series of enclosed installation works she referred to as Cells. Many are small enclosures into which the viewer is prompted to peer inward at arrangements of symbolic objects; others are small rooms into which the viewer is invited to enter. In the cell pieces, Bourgeois uses earlier sculptural forms, found objects as well as personal items that carried strong personal emotional charge for the artist.

The cells enclose psychological and intellectual states, primarily feelings of fear and pain. Bourgeois stated that the Cells represent “different types of pain; physical, emotional and psychological, mental and intellectual… Each Cell deals with a fear. Fear is pain… Each Cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at.” 

Cell, 2008

The “Cell” series explores the relations between microcosm and macrocosm. Cells have many definitions, from a small biological component of our body’s system to the cages, pens, convents, and rooms used to confine prisoners, animals, nuns, and artists. Cells have the connotation of being prolific units, like families, that belong to a larger system.

Bourgeois’s cells serve in these and other capacities. Some are framed by wooden doors and some by metal cages. Most of the structures have openings or mirrors suspended from the ceiling that invite the viewer to observe, perhaps to spy upon, the inhabitants. These works have many layers of activity; others, such as Cell (1993), are minimal containers. The metal is rusted, the windows broken and dusty. Unlike some, this dwelling isn’t fully inhabited. The grouping of a small, less finished sphere between two larger polished marble spheres could represent a family. These forms also recall the round marble eyes that stare out from Bourgeois’s other works. The cage door opens just enough to let the baby, if it could move, squeeze through. Observation mirrors, positioned over the “family” and the viewer, are the artist’s “eyes”; if we look into them, we enter the cage.
Jan Garden Castro

Cell (Black Days), 2006

Among her most explicitly autobiographical installations, the Cells recreate architectures that Bourgeois remembered from childhood. This series of works is perhaps her most influential, and arguably her best: dense, claustrophobic interiors, thick with association.
Jonathan Jones 

 Cell (Eyes and Mirrors), 1989-93

Cell (Eyes and Mirrors) is one of a series of installations which Bourgeois began making in 1989. The Cells are typically constructed from a mixture of such salvaged architectural materials as old doors, windows and wire mesh combined with found objects and sculptural fragments. This Cell has the structure of a cube. The ceiling and two of the walls are made of woven iron mesh joined by iron bars which are hinged in places. The other two walls consist of iron rods welded in a grid holding large square panes of glass so that they resemble oversize windows. Several spaces in the grid are empty of glass. A large round mirror is attached to a hinged circular panel cut out of the centre of the ceiling. The panel rotates to reflect different aspects of the interior.

A large pair of eyes, comprising two polished, black marble eyeballs, stares blankly out of a lump of rough, greyish stone mounted on two sections of steel girder in the centre of the Cell. This sculpture is a later version of a work Bourgeois made in 1984 titled Nature Study (Velvet Eyes). The artist has subsequently developed several versions of eyes carved in marble. As a result of their elemental materials, simple form and large scale, the eyes convey a sense of monumental force, both inviting and repelling the viewer’s gaze. They are surrounded by mirrors of various sizes. Several small mirrors hang off the mesh wall behind them. A large oval-shaped mirror and a small round mirror mounted on tall, old fashioned wood and metal stands are positioned on either side of the eyes. A square mirror is propped on the floor. Breast-like bulges, carved out of the back of the unpolished marble in which the eyes are embedded, are visible through reflection in one of the mirrors. These suggest that the eyes represent a female subject.
Elizabeth Manchester 

Cell (The Last Climb), 2008

Constantly referred to by critics as 'installation pieces' these are rare among installation work for making manifest a self- determined, architectural, material description of the artist's own psychic space, rather than the artist making manifest their psychic(or intellectual or whatever) space within a given architectural space. Their role in protecting the artist from her childhood abandonment and loss of self is apparent from her own statements. Little in the work is reducible to object-status ; things in the works are never treated in a manner that can be identified as symbolic objects but retain an ambivalent status . Thus, for instance, marble 'sculptures', referring in both material and its working to a well-established tradition of object-making are placed in space or juxtaposed with other materials. Likewise, found objects, in the works are not placed to emphasise their Surreal nature or their usage as universal symbols or to encourage a reading of them as fetish objects: rather they are used as visual material with which an idiosyncratic narrative is being articulated. Viewers are attracted in to the Cells . but at the same time kept at bay through Bourgeois's description of this her symbolic space. She does this sometimes literally by making us peer in, while refusing us clear physical or visual access: sometimes she does this through her image. With what can be for the viewer a baffling lack of didacticism for such precisely selected or made things and such rigorously articulated space.
Hilary Robinson

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