What possesses an artist at the end of their career to repeat the same theme over and over again? That has been a question I have thought of often since I saw the exhibition Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait at MoMA New York.
I was delighted to see Bourgeois’ textile work for the first time. As I walked into the galleries, a question began to repeat in my mind: why repetition? What is multiplicity in terms of the research of a lifetime? I was especially taken by the book Ode à l'Oubli or “Ode to Forgetfulness,” a handsewn book made from textiles recovered from different moments in Bourgeois' life.
Deleuze and Guattari's essay Smooth and Striated serves as a point of reflection as I perceive the repetition and multiplicity that Bourgeois seems to inhabit. Within the pages that unfold, smooth, textured patterns encounter lines of multiple possibilities. One could be tempted to find a psychoanalytic interpretation for the repetition in the work since Bourgeois was no stranger to the work of Freud and the newly found discipline of psychoanalysis, but I would like to present a different perspective for exploring the qualities of the textile's nomadic nature.
The fabrics she uses to craft the pages of the book are part of her bridal trousseau of towels and linens. The object of affect is no longer used for its primary function. It takes a life of its own as a different object of desire. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the “body without organs” relates to the artist’s trousseau, to her relationship and marriage, to other towels and linens, and to other books about oblivion, in a rhizomatic way. The book’s repetition and multiplicity in its smooth textures is a machine of desire; its sewn thread and patterns are molecular, capable of “becoming-other.” It is precisely in this “becoming-other” that I find the repetition in Bourgeois’ textile work so compelling and so different from her printmaking and sculptural work. It is in the textile that she encounters this capacity of being affected and of affecting others. The notion of feminine space shared with another woman, Mercedes Katz, whom Bourgeois hired to help with the sewing, is also rhizomatic in the way different circumstances affect the plane of existence and production of the book, its “derive” or drift.
Squares, dots, rectangles, lines, dots (again), here and there an organic shape, a phrase “I had a flashback of something that never existed,” the pages of this “body without organs,” inhabit an intimate and potent state of “puissance.” In Deleuze and Guatarri's words, “It is constructed piece by piece, and the places, conditions, and techniques are irreducible to one another." Ode à l'Oubli constructs the plane of immanence one piece of fabric at a time, touching upon centuries of sewing, fabrication, tears, and voyages taken before. The repetition of patterns, squares, rectangles, dots, and circles makes sense as strata from a topology of the tragic condition. As we turn the pages, we excavate the history, or 'herstory,' as in an archeological ground that has been torn and mended time and time again, tapping into Bourgeois' own view that sewing was mending (licking) her own wounds.