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Elements of Surrealist practices in contemporary visual art: Louise Bourgeois' critical reworking of Surrealism von Stark, Joachim (eBook)

  • Erscheinungsdatum: 25.06.2010
  • Verlag: GRIN Publishing
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Elements of Surrealist practices in contemporary visual art: Louise Bourgeois' critical reworking of Surrealism

Master's Thesis from the year 2008 in the subject Art - Sculpture / Plastics, grade: distinction, The Open University (Department of Art History), language: English, abstract: This research project wants to assess to what extent Louise Bourgeois is employing Surrealist practices in her work. Another question is in what way Bourgeois criticized the practices of historical Surrealism and how she has developed these practices further in order to adapt them to new subject matter, for instance feminist themes. Chapter I tries to elucidate, how art historians and art critics since the 1980s referred to Surrealism when interpreting Bourgeois' work. It is possible to show that Bourgeois used the concept of the 'Surrealist object' for her installations. However, she did this in a way in which the female body is only present by implication. The erotic dimension, which was of great importance for the Surrealists, is destroyed by allusions to old age and death. Bourgeois' installations of the 1990s can therefore be considered as a radical and feminist reuse of the surrealist object. Chapter II looks at works which imply allusions to the unconscious and psycho-analysis, like the installations Arch of Hysteria (1992/3) and Precious Liquids (1992). Here I also take into account Bourgeois' own comments on her work. Although artist's comments do not represent a definitive interpretation of a work of art, this aspect seems justified as Bourgeois claims that her art is the result of her direct access to her unconscious. At least according to Freud this direct access is impossible, the unconscious being something impenetrable, which communicates with the conscious only by signs. However, in her installations Bourgeois consistently makes allusions to the erotic and desire, but she also shows their reverse side: fear, pain, violence, voyeurism, ephemerality, and the ambiguities of male and female identity. Chapter III looks at the overall social context of the 1960s and 1970s, to which Bourgeois responded with her art, for instance by supporting the Women's Liberation movement. It seems likely that the story of her personal traumatic experiences as a young girl in France was motivated so late in life by changes in the art world, where Modernism had lost its impact and where art again should deal with content and the biographical. Conclusion: Louise Bourgeois uses the aspects of emancipation and critique inherent in historical Surrealism, in order to criticize the patriarchal aspects of Surrealism. At the same time she develops Surrealist practices further in order to deal with new subject matter, like feminism, the body, and emotional violence.


    Format: ePUB
    Kopierschutz: none
    Seitenzahl: 63
    Erscheinungsdatum: 25.06.2010
    Sprache: Englisch
    ISBN: 9783640651351
    Verlag: GRIN Publishing
    Serie: Akademische Schriftenreihe Bd.V148392
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Elements of Surrealist practices in contemporary visual art: Louise Bourgeois' critical reworking of Surrealism

Chapter II

On unstable ground:

The unconscious as one of the foundations of Bourgeois' art

As we have seen in the previous chapter, the "Surrealist object" according to Dalì is based on phantasms and representations likely to be provoked by the realization of unconscious acts", which correspond to "erotic desires and fantasies". The Surrealists have dealt extensively, and based on the work of Sigmund Freud, with the unconscious and its effects on the conscious, the emotions, the erotic, desire, the behavior in general, as well as the psychic and emotional disturbances linked with the unconscious, manifesting themselves in neuroses, hysteria, sexual anomalies, feelings of guilt, fear and other psychic experiences, caused by repressed memories stored in the unconscious.

Therefore it is of interest to assess the role of the unconscious and the human psyche in general in Bourgeois' art. There are works by Bourgeois, whose titles alone indicate that they imply theories of the unconscious and its psycho-analytic background, like The Destruction of the Father (1974), [62] Cell: Arch of Hysteria (1992/3, figure 6A), [63] Oedipus " (2003), [64] or Art is the guarantee of sanity , better known as Precious Liquids (1992, figure 7A-7E).

In interviews and other texts, Bourgeois time and again has talked about her view of the unconscious and its relationship and influence on her work, together with the teachings of Sigmund Freud. The question arises whether and to what extent it is possible to use Bourgeois' comments for the interpretation of Bourgeois' works. If we do use her comments, this does not mean that we better understand the intentions she had at the moment or during the process, when she designed her work of art. Artist's intentions are not necessarily well defined. It may well be that Bourgeois'intentions changed during the process of creation, or that a statement which she made years later, is the result of subsequent reflections or reactions to criticism, which do no longer relate to the original intentions. In so far it seems natural that the statements or interpretations of the artist do not represent the sole true and authoritative sources of meaning. [65]

However, her own interpretation may enlarge or narrow the possibilities to read meaning into the piece of work, depending on the consistency of the artist's views over time. If there are manifest contradictions, the viewer finally is alone with his findings and the emotional effect the work causes. This does not mean that we should interpret Bourgeois' works as an expression of the artist's mental and psychic states, or her individual sexual orientation, for instance when we are dealing with works which are displaying erotic and sexual subject matter. When I use texts published by the artist, I am not using them in order to establish the artist's intentions. I am just trying to explore the spectrum of possible meanings. [66] Finally, a public statement by the artist almost necessarily becomes part of the work. The title of the work, and most of Bourgois' works are titled by the artist herself, are also texts. The works are not just "untitled", followed by a number, as in the case of Cindy Sherman for instance. These texts by the artists herself, cannot be ignored. Titles like Arch of Hysteria or Precious Liquids say something about the subject of the work and its relationship with ideas, social relationships and history. The onlooker, an amateur or a professional art historian, may take it into consideration or may not. This is his or her own decisi

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