Rozsika Parker Tate Modern

Louis Bourgeois

Throughout her long career, Bourgeois has told stories of her life with direct honesty through her work.  She was able to portray her “memory, anxiety, fear of abandonment and pain”. Many consider Bourgeois a feminist artist but she specifically rejected this term, “Some of my works are, or try to be feminist, and others are not feminist”. However, she has been known to claim to be named after Louise Michel who was “infamously known for her anarchist feminist politics”. I see her work as an expression of the immediate emotional responses to the events of her life, many of which include negativity towards her father. Specifically for his unfaithfulness to her sick mother, including the affair with Bourgeois’ English tutor.

“The spiral is important to me. It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them… later I would dream of my fathers mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral- I love the spiral- represents control and freedom”- Louise Bourgeois

Femme Maison (Woman House) 1946-1947

Bourgeois saw her mother ignoring the adultery and I think that inclined her to think about women’s traditional roles in society. You can see in the work above that Bourgeois was considering a woman’s place within the home. Helaine Posner, an art curator, wrote “a house replaces or engulfs the head of a nude woman, negating her identity and isolating her from the outside world…traditional domain and supposed haven of a woman…suffocating confinement, more a prison than a source of familial contentment” (2007). From this piece, I also see an emphasis on the sexualisation and objectification of women as a companion rather than equal.

Phyllida Barlow

Barlow has recently been known for contrasting the traditions of sculpture by creating large scale installations consisting of everyday materials.

“When I’m using those materials, it’s as though I’ve never made anything before. They cast a spell in terms of wanting to take charge, which means I build up quite a relationship with them.”

Despite the imposing size of Barlow’s structures, the work is based on themes of emotion and spontaneity.

When studying at Slade, she reported her sculptor teacher Reg Butler having “charmlessly told her they would not be having many discussions about her work because when she was 30 she would be having children or making jam”.

“The Slade preened itself with its effete masculinity and with that came an iron fist in a velvet glove approach,” she said. ‘Gender isn’t the subject of the work but the understanding of myself and my preferred ways of making, which are quite aggressive, are probably quite gendered. I think from a young age that I noticed my gender difference as being completely unable to cut in a straight line, or make joints… and real problems with things like welding, just skill constantly evading me.’

Tracey Emin

Emin, a lot alike to Bourgeois, uses her personal childhood trauma to connect with her art. She has been described as having “raw and brutal honesty” within her work, creating an intense response for the viewer.

Emin has been considered somewhat of a feminist due to her desire to shock and contrast the traditions of the past. This is evident in the way she portrayed herself (and all females to some extent) through her piece ‘My Bed’ (1999). The past has presented the public with beds alike to Titian’s Venus, whose sheets were crumpled but most certainly did not collect body fluids. Emin admitted within an interview that, whilst in a state of depression, she had actually created this bed.

“A bed without a body, it was nonetheless a naked self-portrait”- The New Yorker

Emin has not kept her brutally honest stories of rape and abortions secret, having even embroidered them into one of her pieces, “Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995”.

The honesty within her work has drawn attention to topics that are avoided within society. These include the ignorance towards rape, the condemnation of abortions and the rejection of females as sexual characters. Not only does she approach these topics but in such a direct way that no-one may be ignorant when in the presence of her work.

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