Louise Bourgeois and the Venus of Lespugue

While sewing the other afternoon on my “My Name is Venus” huipil, I listened to a Marija Giambutas video to keep me in the Mother Goddess mood. Giambutas mentioned that the Venus of Lespugue, c. 25,000 year old steatopygian figurine from France, was one of her favorite Venus statues. I stopped stitching to closely look at the figurine because it reminded me so much of Louise Bourgeois’ sculptures.

 Born in France in 1911, Louise came from a family of tapestry restorers. She, too, worked with the family and learned The Aesthetics of Mending. She also learned how to sew. But her childhood was scarred by her father’s infidelities and the illness, both physical and psychological, it caused for her mother.

Our childhood follows us wherever we go and, during the last 50 years of her life, Louise externalized this childhood more and more. Because it was here she found magic, mystery, and drama.

As a young girl, she would draw the missing parts of damaged tapestry that needed to be rewoven. Louise said that spiders, too, repair.  If you try to destroy a spider’s web, the spider will weave and repair it. So even her metal spider sculptures reflected her childhood and the art of mending.

louise bourgeois spider

Standing outside of the Tate Modern at one point, Louise Bourgeois’ extraordinary sculpture, Maman (Mother), is a 30-foot-tall spider crafted of bronze, marble, and stainless steel.

 

“When I was growing up, all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with the needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.” Louise Bourgeois

When in her 80s, Louise decluttered her closet and used old clothes to make her fabric book “Ode à la bièvre”. She said “You can retell your life and remember your life by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your close.”  In other words, clothes are part of our identity.

Foto of Louise by Duane Michaels, 2007 and foto of , Diane of Ephesus

 

Louise also used her old clothes for her “Cell” series as well as for her breast  outfits  obviously inspired by Diana of Ephesus figurines.  These outfits in turn inspired fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo, Hussein Chalayan, and Simone Rocha.

louise and rei

Louise Bourgeois and Rei Kawakubo duet

Louise called her  1960s and 1970s sculptures “bodyscapes” because : “The sculptures were a second skin that I wanted to model. Clothes are as much about what  you want  to hide of the body as what you want to expose. This is a form of communication. Body language is very important to me and it is true that there is beauty in distortion.”

 

The Venus of Lespugue and Louise Bourgeois’ Nature Study (2004)

The more I look at Louise’s fabric sculptures, the more I’m convinced that she was in some way inspired by Venus figurines. Such as that of Lespugue which has found a home at the Musee di l’Homme in Paris, dates the Gravettian period and was carved from mammouth ivory. It was discovered in the Rideaux cave of Lespugue (Pyrenees) in 1922, just 11 years after Louise was born.  As with Louise’s sculptures, the female sexual characteristics such as hips and breast are exaggerated.

I had a space on my My Name is Venus huipil  (99 Art Project) and knew it was meant for the Lespugue figurine.

Venus of Lespugue sketch in sketchbook and on huipil

Venus of Lespugue work in progress front and back

 

Mal Oo

Cynthia Korzekwa  ©

Even Clothes Tell Stories

My journey with the 99 Art Project continues:

White Clothes on a Chair

This is my shirt.  It may seem like just a pile of white clothing but it is really a shirt waiting to be made. I rarely buy clothes  preferring, instead, to remake those I already have or those discarded by my friends. There are various reason why I do this.  To begin with, I grew up during a time when it was not  uncommon for women to make clothes for themselves and their family.  My mom, for example, made many of my dresses when I was a child.  She even made the wedding dress for my Aunt Ruby as well as the bridesmaid’s dress and my flower girl dress, a dress that made me feel like a little princess.

she’d made dresses for the wedding

There is also the ecological and ethics factor.  The fashion industry not only consumes an incredible amount of natural resources, it is also one of the major producers of toxic waste. The industry is also guilty of creating immoral sweatshop conditions for many of their workers. Just think of the 1,100 garment workers crushed to death when the factory in Bangladesh were they worked collapsed on them.

the building was falling on them

But  there is also a more romantic and magical reason. Our clothing absorbs the vibrations we emit thus wearing others’ clothing is like wearing their energy as well.

Just as a song or a smell can evoke a personal memory, so can clothes. White polka dots on red always make me think of a dress my mother used to wear.

If clothes could talk, what would they say?

his shirt remembered her dress

And of course there is the pleasure reward  that positive transformation always gives us. Transforming old clothes, as opposed to using ex-novo materials, means working around what’s already there. But restyling takes patience and skills I don’t have so I use an Ockham’s Razor approach—the simplest way is the best.  The simplest way for me has been that of using the huipil as a model.  The huipil, traditional blouse in Central America, is basically a rectangular piece of cloth folded in half with a slit in the center for the neck and side seams that leave an opening for the arms. So for my huipiles, it’s just a matter of piecing together cut up clothes to make a rectangle.

her huipil made her the center of the universe

The  huipil, of Mayan origin, was not considered just a garment but also a representation of personal ideology. The Mayans believed that clothing could transform a person just as a person could transform clothing, the two existing in symbiosis.

Mayans gave their huipiles a cosmic significance. Having the head placed in the very centre of the fabric has specific implications. When a woman places a huipil over her head, she enters a symbolic universe. As she sticks her head through the hole, she emerges into the external world and her body becomes the axis of the universe. She is the centre of the world connecting the earth and the sky.

she united earth and sky

The women participating in the 99 Art Project are not geographically united.  They come from various cultures and various nationalities.  Nevertheless, they are united in their womanhood.

Even though this concept we call democracy was invented over 2,500 years ago, women worldwide have been given the right to vote only within the past 100 years (more or less depending upon the country they’re from).  This means that the societies created in these 2,400 years or more have been based totally and exclusively  upon male mentality and male domination.  This is a crime against nature.

she touched his brain and he touched hers

Just as the brain is divided into two for reasons of efficiency, two sexes were created. They were made not to compete but to complement one another.  Instead, we live in a masculinized society that promotes dominance as opposed to collaboration. To impair this collaboration not only goes against nature but against our future. Because  this lack of balance has created not only a society that limps, but a society that’s on the verge of self-destruction. We need a more maternal attitude towards the world we live in if we want to survive thus the theme I’ve chosen for my 99 Art Project is that of the Great Mother.

Mal Oo

Cynthia Korzekwa ©