‘In my sculpture, it’s not an image I’m seeking, it’s not an idea. My goal is to relive a past emotion. My art is an exorcism’ (L. Bourgeois, quoted in M. Unterdorfer, Louise Bourgeois: Works in Marble, exh. cat., Hauser and Wirth, Zürich, p. 20).
Building on her own deeply felt experiences and her extraordinary aesthetic imagination, Louise Bourgeois sought to convey universal feelings of desire, anxiety and distress throughout her oeuvre. Executed in 2004, Geometry and Youth hovers between abstraction and figuration in a three dimensional mixed medium, reveling in the macabre aspects of disembodied signifiers that evoke the multifarious and lasting forms of unease that lay at the base of Bourgeois work.
Entrapped within the confines of a bell jar, the figure’s placement recalls an important series of works that the artist created in the late 1980s. Inviting the viewer into an intimate psychological interior, Bourgeois’ widely celebrated Cells were room-sized assemblages which combined objects and sculpture. The Cells refer to both small-scale living organisms as well as a place of imposed or desired solitude. ‘Each Cell deals with the pleasure of the voyeur, the thrill of looking and being looked at. The Cells either attract or repulse each other. There is this urge to integrate, merge, or disintegrate’ (T. Sultan, ‘Redefining the Terms of Engagement: The Art of Louise Bourgeois’, in Louise Bourgeois: The Locus of Memory, Works 1982-1993, exh. cat., Brooklyn Museum, New York, 1994, p. 41). We gaze upon a contained body, recalling the cage-like motif found in Francis Bacon’s paintings as well as the encased sculptures of Giacometti, both of whom Bourgeois admired. There is a fine line between self-containment and entrapment. It seems, however, that Bourgeois works better alone: the figure is of course protected by its glass, and imbued with a sense of iconic and reliquary power. ‘I’m a complete loner. It doesn’t help me to associate with people; it really doesn’t help me. What helps me is to realise my own disabilities and to expose them’ (L. Bourgeois, ‘Statements from an Interview with Donald Kuspit, in H-U. Obrist and M-L. Bernadac (eds.), Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father, Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, Cambridge 2005, pp. 164-65).
Indeed, this psychologically intense sculpture epitomizes Bourgeois’ ingenious use of mixed media in sculpture as a means to capture her own biography, which is further accentuated in this particular instance by the title Bourgeois has assigned to the piece. Indeed, the metaphor of weaving, demonstrated in the figure’s stitching, is an important motif throughout Bourgeois’ oeuvre. From its autobiographical genesis in the textiles atelier owned by her parents, the idea of sewing together and repairing was closely associated with her mother, who Bourgeois saw as a protective, nurturing figure, and who had herself been irreparably damaged by her husband’s unfaithfulness and cruelty. Her mother, who often manifests in Bourgeois’ oeuvre as the image of a spider, died in 1932, causing the young Bourgeois to alter her focus from mathematics to art as a way to cope with this tragic event. As the title suggests, Geometry and Youth relates to Bourgeois’ interest in mathematics as a young student in Paris. ‘I majored in mathematics at the Lycée Fénelon,’ Bourgeois has recalled. ‘Solid geometry was a revelation and was continued at the Sorbonne. It was the origin of my love of sculpture’ (L. Bourgeois, quoted in Louise Bourgeois, p. 148). Geometry and Youth illustrates how time has shaped the artist’s work creating a mysterious labyrinth of content built layer upon layer, year by year.