Works exhibited: Eyebenches
The eyes, and their role in the development of the self, are right at the centre of Louise Bourgeois’s art. Her entire oeuvre revolves around certain acts of witnessing and the complex feelings aroused in the witness unable either to avow or deny the nature of what they have seen. While still a child, Bourgeois became aware of her father’s acts of infidelity with her own governess, in a relationship that persisted with the connivance of her mother. Navigating her way through the contradictory nature of this experience turned Bourgeois into an artist for whom acts of sight are always caught up in an unstable and troubling negotiation between permission and prohibition.
Many of her installations, especially the Cells series, complicate the act of viewing. The name Cells itself suggests how the building blocks of life can be used to construct limitations on our freedom of manoeuvre. The artworks assembled under that name are makeshift constructions that combine elements of an early twentieth-century domestic setting that mightaccentuate beds and mirrors while leaving out other items of furniture. They resemble distorted memories which the passage of time has calibrated to focus on the sources of trauma and obsession. Access to the interior of these spaces is generally barred, imposing on the inquisitive viewer the status of voyeur and would-be intruder. And there is often an area that remains invisible unless by means of reflection in a mirror. The viewer is placed in a position evoking that of the child who has stumbled across the secret of adult sexuality without being able to see it for what it is.
The two enormous eyes of stone that stare out from the end of Library Court in the current exhibition are completely unseeing, but their place in the oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois makes their blindness psychological. In Greek mythology, Medusa turned to stone all those
who gazed upon her, but was turned to stone herself by the reflection of her own eyes in the polished shield of Perseus. The subjectivity encoded in the work of Louise Bourgeois is paralysed by the contemplation of a secret on the verge of being revealed; a truth that the eyes of the mind may not acknowledge, short of destruction.