A lot can be learned from the environment that we live in

A lot can be learned from the environment that we live in. What we witness, and experience tells us a lot about society within which we live; our belief system, economic undertakings, politics and material culture. Through this material culture we can get an insight in the world and its people that lived before us. Culture is defined as the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by people in a place or time. Today with the issues facing women in Ireland at the forefront of everyone’s conversations, I decided to look at the of Louise Bourgeois. Her work was viewed upon with interest by the feminist movement in the 1970’s. With the back story of ‘Maman’ and the figure of the motherhood, this was something that would have been challenging for her an is universal in that it can be interpreted in its duality between always carrying this figure within you and also having experiencing motherhood yourself to then witness the transformation of the tiny egg. In this essay I will discuss firstly Louise Bourgeois’ life, the key ideas in her work, what influenced her work and I will thoroughly discuss her most iconic sculpture ‘Maman’ (1999).
Bourgeois’ worked dealt with women’s issues of the female body and its sexuality. She was awarded the Achievement in the Visual Arts Award in 1980 and when she was announced as the winner, the members said ‘you say in form what most of us are afraid to say in any way. Your sculpture defies styles and movements and returns to the sources of art—to the cultural expression of communal belief and emotion.” (Wye, 110). Spiders signify danger, mystery, femininity and its webs are nurturing and beautiful but act as a deadly trap and Bourgeois delves into a spider’s symbolism and methodology.
Louise Bourgeois was a worldwide known artistic entity who captured her culture through her artistic undertaking. Bourgeois was born in Paris in 1911 she then later travelled to America in 1938 to enhance her artistic abilities. Bourgeois first studied mathematic and then painting and sculpture in Ecole du Lourve and Art Students League of New York. She was a studio assistant to Spanish Surrealist painter and sculptor Joan Miró (1893-1983) and she also assisted French Cubist painter Fernand Leger (1881-1955). Through her mediums of sculpt and paint, she paved the way for contemporary art with many of her works. Many of her works are abstract, while others are life like and she is popular for her work of spiders. Over her 70-year career Bourgeois used no signature material and had managed to remain ‘contemporary’ over a span of three generations. She wasn’t bound by particular materials. She used old towels, animal skin and yarn. Her early work was crafted from wood and house paint whilst her later work was made from cloth and thread. She insisted that her work was based on personal memories.
As a way of depicting the society around her, she used a myriad of inanimate objects of horrifying ghosts, fear, tortured people and mental illness in an attempt to understand these emotions and she punishes her subjects. Bourgeois pieces portrayed the social, intellectual and historical conditions that existed during that period (Gorovoy, p27-28). To highlight the ongoing horrors of the First World War, her work contained carved limbless bodily sculptures and she used black in most of her paintings and sculptures to depict death and mourning (Gorovoy, p24). Bourgeois’ work also indicates her inclination towards Communism. From her sympathy towards the Russian regime she expressed this through posters, which were displayed in Moscow. She made abstract art pieces that reflected her experiences as a child, portraying how family relations were entwined together therefore bringing in the aspect of socialisation and kinship. Her ‘Femme Maison’ (1964-1967, figure 1) and ‘Fallen Woman’ (1981, figure 2) series depicts a female who is struggling to outgrow the structures in which she is trapped – that is attempting to outgrow masculine society in which woman were trapped. Although Louise Bourgeois is now considered as a widely acknowledged genius it is often forgotten that during the 1950’s and 1960’s she was known to the New York art world as the wife of the influential art historian Robert Goldwater than for her own work. Her position within the art world was typical for women artists in the years after the Second World War. Despite this she made a place for herself and worked with feminist issues without stating it all the time, it just permeated her own art due to the fact that she recounted her own story.
Among Bourgeois’ most well-known sculptures is that of a giant spider, called Maman (1999, figure 4), Mother en francais. The greater-than-life size work would seem eerie to me when you’re in its presence. From my research the 8 spindly legs seem strong and defensive, and like a ballerina they stand on their points touching the ground, seemingly waiting to pounce upon their prey. Each of these ribbed legs are made with two pieces of steel and is attached to a collar above with a ribbed spiralling body that is then balanced with the egg sac. The shape is very organic. Through her artistic career, she created multiple works featuring spiders, entitled Maman (1999). In an interview with the Guardian she said that ‘ the Spider is an ode to my mother’ as her mother was ‘ like a spider, my mother was a weaver….. like spiders, my mother was very clever….. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother'( The Art Story). Bourgeois was brought up in a disciplined household and was raised with family values and taught the importance of education. However these lessons were muddied by her father as she spoke off his domineering presence during her childhood and his copious affairs as a trauma that reflected in her work. The death of her mother at 21 is another pain that is translated in her work, including the Maman 1999 series. When Bourgeois made ‘Maman’ (1999) she was 88 years old.