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Reading: Louise Bourgeois’s Objects to Be Used


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Academic Article

Louise Bourgeois’s Objects to Be Used


Lynn Somers

About Lynn
Lynn M. Somers (Ph.D. Stony Brook University, NY) is a scholar of modern and contemporary art history
and criticism and adjunct assistant professor at Drew University (Madison, NJ). Publications include “A
Taste for Sham: Examples of Perversion and Suffering in Contemporary Art,” Dialectical Conversions:
Donald Kuspit’s Art Criticism (Liverpool University Press, 2011); essays in the online Routledge
Encyclopedia of Modernism (UK, 2017); essays in the Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century
Photography (Routledge, 2005); and The Encyclopedia of Sculpture (Routledge, 2003). She has presented
research on Walker Evans, "Surveillance in the Space Between Literature and Culture, 1914–1945", McGill
University, Montreal (2016); Louise Bourgeois and domesticity, "At Home in the Space Between Literature
and Culture, 1914–1945", University of Notre Dame (2015); and Bourgeois and psychoanalysis at the
National Gallery of Modern Art, Scotland, Edinburgh and The Fruitmarket Gallery (2014), among others.
Somers is currently writing a book on transitional phenomena and the aesthetics of play in Louise
Bourgeois’s sculpture.
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Years before French-American artist Louise Bourgeois underwent psychoanalysis (1952–1985), her work was indebted to memory—those impressionistic threads of narrative chronicling an interior life marked by irresolvable conflicts buried in a roiling unconscious. Bourgeois’s papers from the 1940s onward confirm that she welcomed Freud’s familiar description of neurotics, hysterics, and artists as suffering from reminiscences—repressed memory traces that are stirred up later in life under the guise of hysterical symptoms, including disorders of language, movement, speech, and shell shock. W. R. D. Fairbairn identified the last of these as war neuroses in 1943, just a few years before Bourgeois debuted her first mature sculptures, talismanic figures that she described as cathartic, defensive, and warlike. Called “personages,” these melancholy, wraithlike, abstract pieces evoked traumatic memory as Bourgeois converted destructive feelings (“bad internal objects”) into something beautiful and acceptable (the “good” art object). Two papers published by Fairbairn in 1938 extended the inner world of the individual into the field of object relations via the transposition of the symbolically “restored object.” In advancing a psychology of aesthetics that takes as fundamental the “schizoid” or split aspects of the modern personality, the Scottish psychoanalyst conceived the radical notion of restitution, the mental process of repairing damage in the artist’s inner object world. Fairbairn’s principles are deeply resonant with Bourgeois’s métier, in which the “art-work” becomes a hard-won tribute—a Hegelian synthesis of libidinal instinct and rational form—ushering in a phenomenal, aesthetic experience that satisfies the unconscious emotional needs of artist and beholder alike.

How to Cite: Somers, L. (2019). Louise Bourgeois’s Objects to Be Used. Roundtable, 2(1), 3.
Published on 21 Nov 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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