Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Salcedo and Bourgeois

Doris Salcedo, is a South American sculptor whose work is, in part, influenced by her readings of philosophy (in particular, the writings of Emmanuel Levinas) and literature (especially the poetry of Paul Celan), as well as by the ‘social' sculpture of Joseph Beuys.1 In the past, Salcedo described her research process in terms of internalizing the grief of others – of allowing their pain to take over [her]…: In a way she claims to become that person. Their suffering becomes hers; the centre of that person becomes her centre and she can no longer determine where her centre actually is.2 Salcedo, by taking on the roles of others within her work is focusing primarily on the human condition, thus reflecting ideas based on existentialist theories through her work. More recently, however, she has articulated a certain discomfort with the notion of identification and the implication that one can move into the place of the primary witness.3

Louise Bourgeois’ work refers to human consciousness and to human perceptual experience. In Cell III – Eyes and Mirrors4 the cells have been linked to the claustrophobic, psychologically traumatic atmosphere of Bourgeois' childhood home, in which her father and governess were having an affair. The cage-like enclosure is dominated by a large marble sculpture resembling a pair of eyes suggests themes of surveillance and voyeurism.5 Many artists, including Bourgeois, put such theories into operation in their own aesthetic discourse and started to focus on the importance of the human’s point of view (and its mutability) for a wider understanding of reality. They began to conceive the audience, and the exhibition’s space, as fundamental parts of the artwork, creating a kind of mutual communication between them and the viewer, who ceased, therefore, to be a mere addressee of their message.6

Bourgeois however did not consider herself to be a surrealist as most would believe her to be. Complaining about critics who kept misunderstanding her work, Bourgeois famously said “I’m not a surrealist, maybe I could be an existentialist”.7 The act of courage involved in Cell III – Eyes and Mirrors8 could be seen in terms of her own identification with – and simultaneous distance from - Albert Camus, whose work The Myth of Sisyphus she often quotes in her interviews9: ‘An artist performs his/her problems. There’s no cure anyway because the representation itself doesn’t involve any learning. It avoids it. That is why it continually repeats. Sisyphus liked pushing his rock up. It was his reason for life. A form of self expression that taught him nothing. Camus didn’t want to learn. He wanted to justify his suffering. I want to learn.’10

1. http://old.likeyou.com/archives/doris_salcedo_whitecube04.htm (Accessed 30th November 2011)
2. Princenthal et al., Doris Salcedo, 14.
3. Interview with Jill Bennett, Camden Art Centre, September II, 2001.
4. http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=21134 (Accessed 24th November 2011)
5. http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=21134 (Accessed 24th November 2011)
6. Sabatini, Federico (2007) Louise Bourgeois: An Existentialist Act of Self-Perception. Nebula ISSN 1449-7751 Volume: 4; Issue: 4; p.1-10. Available at: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Sabatini2.pdf (Accessed 14th October 2011)
7. Sabatini, Federico (2007) Louise Bourgeois: An Existentialist Act of Self-Perception. Nebula ISSN 1449-7751 Volume: 4; Issue: 4; p.1-10. Available at: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Sabatini2.pdf (Accessed 14th October 2011)
8. http://www.tate.org.uk/servlet/ViewWork?workid=21134 (Accessed 24th November 2011)
9. Sabatini, Federico (2007) Louise Bourgeois: An Existentialist Act of Self-Perception. Nebula ISSN 1449-7751 Volume: 4; Issue: 4; p.1-10. Available at: http://www.nobleworld.biz/images/Sabatini2.pdf (Accessed 14th October 2011)
10. Meyer-Thoss, Christiane, Louise Bourgeois, Designing for Free Fall (Zurich: Ammann Verlag, 1992)