Louise Bourgeois & Tracey EminJust Hanging from DO NOT ABANDON ME (2009-2010)

Whether you think you know these artists or not, I’m pretty sure you do. Bourgeois was responsible for that unsettling giant spider sculpture Maman & you’ve almost certainly seen documentary photos from Emin’s Exorcism of the last painting I ever made (here and here).

In this collaboration between the two Bourgeois painted watercolors and then Emin added line drawings. (Interestingly, it took Emin two years to decide what to do with her part and then executed all the drawings in a single day.)

Originally, I was going to reblog this post from the always astute @psyche8eros. In the process off trying to figure out the date, I saw the above image and had a stronger reaction to it.

In the context of the image I was going to post and then this image and the title of the collaboration, there’s this sort of histrionic romantic fatalism. That feeling reminded me of a high school English teacher who found Romeo and Juliet “far-fetched” due to the fact that “no one ever died of a broken heart.” (This was the same teacher who informed me “life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel” to which I responded immediately: but how can anyone go through life without feeling?)

These are two questions I’ve carried with me ever since:

  1. Can you really die from a broken heart?
  2. How can anyone go through life without feeling?

I saw this post the other day:

This living-with-myself is more than consciousness, more than the
self-awareness that accompanies me in whatever I do and in whichever
state I am. To be with myself and to judge by myself is articulated and
actualized in the processes of thought, and every thought process is an
activity in which I speak with myself about whatever happens to concern
me. The mode of existence present in this silent dialogue with myself, I
shall now call, solitude. Hence, solitude is more than, and different
from, other modes of being alone, particularly and most importantly
loneliness and isolation.

Solitude means that though alone, I am
together with somebody (myself, that is). It means that I am two-in-one,
whereas loneliness as well as isolation do not know this kind of
schism, this inner dichotomy in which I can ask questions of myself and
receive answers. Solitude and its corresponding activity, which is
thinking, can be interrupted either by somebody else addressing me or,
like every other activity, by doing something else, or by sheer
exhaustion. In any of these cases, the two that I was in thought become
one again. If somebody addresses me, I must now talk to him, and not to
myself, and in talking to him, I change. I become one, possessing of
course self-awareness, that is, consciousness, but no longer fully and
articulately in possession of myself. If I am addressed by one person
only and if, as sometimes happens, we begin to talk in the form of
dialogue about the very same things either one of us had been concerned
about while still in solitude, then it is as if I now address another
self. And this other self, allos authos, was rightly defined by
Aristotle as the friend. If, on the other hand, my thought process in
solitude stops for some reason, I also become one again. Because this
one who I am is without company, I may reach out for the company of
others–people, books, music–and if they fail me or if I am unable to
establish contact with them, I am overcome by boredom and loneliness.
For this I do not have to be alone: I can be very bored and lonely in
the midst of a crowd, but not in actual solitude, that is, in my own
company, or together with a friend, in the sense of another self. This
is why it is much harder to bear being alone in a crowd than in
solitude–as Meister Eckhart once remarked.

–Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgement

“A true solitude is not unbearable since it allows for otherness.”

— Hélène Cixous, Readings: The Poetics of Blanchot, Joyce, Kafka, Kleist, Lispector, and Tsvetayeva 

I‘m someone who requires a great deal of solitude in order to function; by the same token: I loathe loneliness. (I frequently refer to loneliness as being akin to buzzing florescent light tubes. You can tune them out and completely forget they’re there–but if someone says: hey, how do you stand that noise… it’s back and the only thing you can think about.)

It’s rare but there are several folks I’ve met that I can experience solitude with them in the same room. (Most people just make me feel increasingly alone the more time I am compelled to spend with them.)

That’s probably why this particular piece resonates with me so much: from one vantage it’s maudlin romangst–the idea that if you abandon me it will lead to my mortal undoing; it’s also, from another vantage: understandable given the losing of someone with whom you can share solitude.

Isamu NoguchiPeking Drawing {Man Reclining} (1930)

The longer I spend as an art nerd obsessing, the more I am becoming aware of this sort of feeling halfway between déjà vu and jamais vu–seeing something that is at once something you swear you’ve seen before while at the same time feeling certain that what you are looking at is entirely unfamiliar.

It’s the feeling I had upon seeing this–though the name Isamu Noguchi meant nothing to me. Turns out he was a sculptor and designer. He designed the Red Cube sculpture across from Zuccotti Park and produced the sets for several Martha Graham’s productions. (As a side note: I think one thing that is sorely overlooked in modern education with regards to creative practice is the value of relationships. Even in the times before the advent of the internet, email and social media, the artists that we are still enamored with today almost all maintained expansive written correspondence with a cohort of folks with similar interests, sensitivities and aesthetic preoccupations. I am at a point in my own creative development where I’m realizing that this is something my practice is sorely lacking.)

But–the reason I had that feeling of both the foreign and familiar with this drawing has to do with the thing that Noguchi is arguably most well known for: designing furniture.

He worked with Charles Eames and several other prominent designers to create items for Herman Miller. The so-called Noguchi table came out of this collaboration and remains one of the most popular pieces of furniture ever manufactured.

Even though I didn’t realize they were called Noguchi table’s, my nesting instinct–which I struggle to never indulge–has had a jonesing for such a table for years now. (Further now that I’ve realized the connection, it’s fun to see the heavier lines in the drawing above as echoing the wooden supports for the table.

Musubu NakaiUntitled (2012)

I really like this guy’s style. His compositions tend to be too busy but he has an interesting way of parsing things so that although his stuff is frequently overwhelming, it does surrender to a sort of implicit ordering structure after the initially dismaying over-stimulation.

Consider the variegated pointillism of the color here, the green red and blue of the wall, the complementary cover of the book from which the boy is reading. The subdued pink and blue of her skin; the blue of his shorts and the bluw in the pants of the person standing at the edge of frame. The red, blue and hints of green in the floor tiles.

I am, however, not 100% on-board with some of his content. The cat–which seems to be the way he inserts himself into his paintings and the young woman with her eyes closed are almost certainly a veiled reference to Balthus. (Which is very much in line with the work he’s done… notable projects include illustrating The Story of O and a lot of stuff that looks more or less like a cross between Sailor Moon and Alice in Wonderland.)

I don’t have a problem with artists depicting age appropriate sexual curiosity. Some of the aspects of this strike me as unsettlingly suggestive. The way she is naked and he isn’t suggested a sexual freedom, whereas he’s forced to hide his erection behind the book. It’s presented as a sort of seduction.  I don’t think I need to explain why that’s problematic.

But what I find unnerving is the orderly type figure standing off to the side. As if this exchange is being monitored somehow? Which given what is shown–there’s no way to spin that in a slap on the wrist sort of way. I’m not going to say that this crosses a line but it’s definitely toeing it in a way that feels irresponsible to me, somehow.