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Louise Bourgeois died aged 98. She didn’t die with a “young spirit”, but as what she was: an old lady who had traversed a whole century, without ever allowing the century to pass her by. Faced with the fragility of the human body and of life that Bourgeois captured over and over again in her work, to manage to become old is in reality an almost heroic circumstance, as Gilles Deleuze affirmed at the end of his life, before throwing himself out of the window of his apartment in Avenue Niel. But the most surprising thing about Bourgeois is not her longevity but the fact that at no point did she stop producing, sewing and stitching away at her work-life-thought, three concepts that in her end up inseparable, while at no point falling behind the times.
HONNI soit QUI mal y pense (SHAME on he WHO thinks ill of it) is the exhibition, curated by Danielle Tilkin, with which La casa encendida celebrates its tenth anniversary –a good motive for celebrating if it wasn´t tarnished by the fact that the future of the institution is uncertain after the disaster of Bankia–, an exhibition that presents a selection of the works produced by Louise Bourgeois in the last ten years of her life. If the Museo Reina Sofía dedicated a retrospective to her in 1999, also curated by Tilkin, when José Guirao directed the museum, uniting and exhibiting the work of these last years, in Spain, was left pending. Last years that maybe don’t transmit the most vital of Bourgeois, but that end up being relevant to know the prolific work of an artist who emphatically refused to untie her work completely from her life, SHAME on he WHO thinks it.
Her always latent desire to renew herself through the search for new multiple techniques and materials, and her determination not to be corseted within any of the artistic movements that she saw arise, and with which she coexisted, throughout the 20th century, led Bourgeois to develop an original style free of labels. And this, despite the intents of art historians to interpret her work through the feminist aesthetic, when not psychoanalytical, analysing her work through infant trauma. Bourgeois always wanted to rid herself of the feminist label, recurring to the words of Simone de Beauvoir that “one is not born a woman but becomes one”. As far as psychoanalysis is concerned, Bourgeois always proved resistant to a discipline that she considered had done nothing good for women.
Running through the exhibition prevails an idea that has always been used to qualify this artist the fact that it has always been impossible to classify her. The works exhibited belong to the last ten years of her life, but to the eyes of an inexpert spectator they could pertain to any other period of her existence. Rag dolls, or fragments of them placed in vitrines, such as Knife woman (2002), the cells or sculptural cells, stitched fabric or eroticised drawings, are themes that repeat. One is only able to perceive that she is in the last stages of her existence on reading the titles of some of the works that allude to the passing of time; to fear and the void, the deterioration of the body and to the hope, perhaps for her death: Hours of the day (2009), À l’infini (To infinity, 2008-2009), Eternity, (2009). The hours of the day are a series of fabric panels, printed, with a clock that marks the hours of the day and where the artist writes the sentences, in English and French, that talk as much of everyday things, carried out during the day by a woman, as of warnings or adverbs, that talk about the passing of time. In the end, an obsession with life. Hence also the fixation with representing the subject of pregnancy and lactation, a from of holding on to life and transcending the self, as in the blood red gouaches, The Family (2007) or in her series of lactating women. A recurrent theme in her work, to the point that it has become an emblem of herself, returning almost obsessively at the end of her life, is that of the needle, the spider, or the act of weaving and unweaving.
Often the Bourgeois spider has been interpreted as a metaphor for her mother, a weaver of tapestries, however, in her last pieces it seems to be Louise Bourgeois herself –as in the piece Lady in Waiting 2003– the spider that sews and stitches over and over again the remnants of her life. Remnants that aspire to universal thought and transcend personal experience, therein lies the interest and emotion that her work arouses.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)