'our creation is that guru; the duration of our lives is that guru; our trials, illnesses and calamaties is that guru. There is a guru that is nearby and a guru that is beyond the beyond. I humbly make my offering to the guru, the beautiful remover of ignorance, the enlightenment principle that is within me and surrounds me at all times.'
Guru Stotram

Monday, 21 May 2012

The tulips at Poppy Sebire are certainly not excitable, despite the bold spring day streaming into All Hallows from the skylights above. These tulips are calm, quiet, dank almost. The colours are ochre, pale lilac, beige and brown, here and there a dab or two of dullish green. It feels like something of a non-event. A woman artist painting flowers, photographing and collaging, stitching flowers even, shocking for all the wrong reasons.

Yet there's a whispered sense of something else at work here. Nikki de Saint Phalle haunts the space, although there's nothing of her wacky exuberant vivacity. Rather there's a listlessness that borders on painful, a nothingness that's almost too much to bear. I don't want to linger long. I want to be somewhere else, somewhere brighter, more alive.

The title of the exhibition, The Wounded Tulip, comes from a poem by Sylvia Plath that she wrote in March 1961 whilst in hospital for an appendix operation and following a miscarriage in February of the same year. “I didn't want any flowers,” she says in the poem as she catches sight of their blood redness beside her, “I only wanted to lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.” The flowers seem threatening to her, reminders of the world outside that she has temporary respite from. They demand things of her that she is not able to give. “The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals,” she says.

Georgie Hopton's tulips hold no such threat and make no such demands. These tulips are themselves wounded. Perhaps they reflect our own transience and vulnerability, maybe even our brokeness. We recall Georgia O'Keeffe and her wildly passionate flower paintings, erotic and alight with sensuality and movement. All that is present there is absent here.

Hopton's flowers, in an anthropomorphic sense, are brittle and dry, uptight and asexual, frightened almost of their own existence. Or they are bulbous and heavy, drooping under the weight of their own portentiousness. They seem sad, dissociated and forgotten, as though time and life has passed them by. They are old men and women who missed their chance to sing and dance and laugh and cry and now prefer to pretend they have missed nothing, to tell themselves they're happy as they are. They smile a dry, shallow smile. They are nobody. They have given up their names and their day-clothes to the nurses. Their history to the anaesthetists and their bodies to the surgeons. These tulips are not livid red, alive and screaming. They are the patient, quietly numb, dying a slow sad death from which they turn tragically away.

Poppy Sebire
Georgie Hopton
The Wounded Tulip
11 May to 16 June 2012

written for Spoonfed

Friday, 11 May 2012

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

In 1952, in the wake of her father's death, Louise Bourgeois began therapy with the Freudian psychoanalyst Dr Henry Lowenfeld. She was to continue to see him, three times a week, for thirty years. It is probably impossible to over estimate the influence this must have had on her life and work. And yet it was not until 2004 that her long time assistant Jerry Gorovoy unearthed two large boxes full of hand written notes made in response to the treatment, notes she had previously kept hidden.

The exhibition at the Freud Museum, Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed was inspired by those notes. It is an intimate enquiry into the extent to which art was itself a transformative, therapeutic tool for the artist who more than once asserted: “art is a guarantee of sanity, that is the most important thing I have said.”

Featured in the exhibition are some of the works upon which Louise Bourgeois's reputation as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century are founded. Femme-Couteau / Knife-Woman was a motif the artist returned to again and again across her seventy year artistic life span. It appears here in the form of a vitrined blancmange pink, near life-sized figure with half a leg and both arms missing. From the neck a long, rusty knife emerges, floating horrifically and menacingly over the soft fabric body.

Next door, in the rarefied, near holy atmosphere of Freud's study, the room in which he conducted his talking cure some seventy years ago, Janus Fleuri hangs over the couch, a revolting, flaccid, apparently decomposing sexual organ of neither specifically male nor female origin, cast in bronze. Its eloquent placement reminds the viewer of Freud's and Bourgeois's and perhaps by default our own preoccupation with sex. In its shadow a powerful, almost mocking flavour of failure and dissatisfaction is cast over the hallowed space.

In the garden lurks Maman, the giant arachnid for which the artist is probably most widely known. Although we are often told that Maman represents the safe and protective influence of the mother that Bourgeois claimed to love, I wonder if I can be alone in finding it repulsive, alive with the terrifying primitive horror that exists outside words.

Before her death in 2010, Ms Bourgeois's permission was sought and granted to display her psychoanalytic notes alongside the work. What the notes bring is evidence of her humble and humbling self-awareness, the minute by minute battle to remain engaged, to look at that which would be so much more easily swept under the carpet, in order to transform or transcend it.

“I have failed as a wife, as a woman, as a mother, as a hostess, as an artist, as a business woman, as a friend, as a daughter, as a sister. I have not failed as a truth seeker...”

These are not the words of an unhappy or depressed woman, they are the words of a brave woman, a woman bold enough to stare into the void and have it stare back at her. Only such a woman could smile as she spoke the words: 'I have been to Hell and back and let me tell you, it was wonderful.'

Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed
Curated by Philip Larratt-Smith
Freud Museum Hampstead
8 March 2012 to 27 May 2012

written for This is Tomorrow