I was inspired to make this piece while contemplating the little gold charm bracelet that I’ve worn almost every day for over 20 years. It struck me how little it would be worth to anyone but me, as the true value is in the meaning attached to each individual charm, all the memories preserved and provoked when I look at them.
Each charm has a complete, standalone story of its own, and when linked together on a single chain they become part of an even more intricate and meaningful whole. A metaphor for life, really, as who we are is the sum of our myriad parts, all invaluable.
I have always had a “things” drawer in my kitchen, a Purgatory for random objects that don’t fit or belong anywhere else. Some are waiting to be useful again, some waiting to be repaired, some waiting for their pair to show up, and some have been in there so long that the outside world has forgotten they exist.
This things drawer has been moved from rental house to rental house over the years, and i thought it was time to explore it. Spending so long with each random piece, cleaning it, preparing its surface and gilding it, then linking them all together was quite an amazing experience. Every single seemingly insignificant castaway had a story to remind me of. Every single thing had once had purpose, played a part in my life. Remembering the tiny ways in which each object had served me over the years prompted all the surrounding memories to surface. I was able to see patterns and links and make sense of the chaos. It was just the start of a very important and ongoing process.
Louise Bourgeois was in therapy for more than 30 years and wrote an essay on ‘Freud’s Toys’. The Freud museum in London has a display of her work and recently unearthed writings about her analysis
Above Freud’s bulbous, oriental carpet-draped couch in 20 Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, hangs a shrivelled, double-headed bronze penis by Louise Bourgeois. In an essay on “Freud’s Toys” (1990), as Bourgeois dismissed the ancient artefacts that swarm over his desk and shelves (including numerous phallic amulets), she described Freud’s cluttered office, with its “half-dead hysterics”, as “a pitiful place”. She also referred to Freud’s patients as “maggots”, which gives additional resonance to the placing of her suspended larval form. Analysis was, in her view, a form of metamorphosis, promising the transformation of seething misery into what Freud described as “common unhappiness”. “A maggot,” Bourgeois wrote, “is actually a symbol of resurrection.”
Though she doesn’t acknowledge it in her essay, Bourgeois had been in analysis herself for more than 30 years. In 1951, suffering from depression after her father’s death, she entered therapy with Dr Leonard Cammer. The following year she switched to Dr Henry Lowenfeld, a second-generation Freudian who had emigrated to New York in 1938, the same year she did. Lowenfeld had been trained by the Marxist analyst Otto Fenichel in Berlin, where he was also a part of Wilhelm Reich’s radical group, Sex-Pol.
However, in New York, keen to assimilate to American culture and disenchanted with communism, Lowenfeld became part of the psychoanalytic mainstream and hid his radical past. At the height of the cold war he stole the incriminating Rundbriefe – letters written by Fenichel in the 1930s and circulated among their group of dissident analysts – from his colleague Annie Reich in an attempt to erase that history.
In 2007, just before Bourgeois’s retrospective at Tate Modern, two boxes of discarded writings that refer to her analysis, which she underwent four times a week, were found in her Chelsea home; after her death in 2010 (aged 98), her assistant unearthed two more. Selections of these have been exhibited in the Freud museum alongside two dozen of her bulging and sinister patchwork sculptures and installations. These jottings, on random pads, letterheads, even playing cards, offer a glimpse into Bourgeois’s psychological states. According to these notes, Lowenfeld considered the artist’s inability to accept her aggression as the central problem to be worked through in analysis. “Aggression is used by guilt and turned against myself instead of being sublimated into useful channels,” she wrote.
To art historians her free associations and doodles not only suggest clues as to the personal relationships and conflicts that inform all her work, but seem to offer direct links to her creative process (one Isis-like sketch is displayed here next to a similar multi-breasted sculpture, as fecund as the Venusof Willendorf). In an aborted letter to “Mon cher Papa”, Bourgeois wrote: “In the 20th century the best work has been produced by those people whose exclusive concern was themselves.” Her father was a tyrannical philanderer who had a 10-year affair with a live-in English governess, the discovery of which was the central trauma to which Bourgeois endlessly returned in her confessional work.
The recently discovered archive reveals the artist to have been an enthusiastic list-maker. In 1958, aged 47, Bourgeois compiled a melancholy account of her failures: “I have failed as a wife / as a woman / as a mother / as a hostess / as an artist / as a business woman”, and so on. She made a suicidal list of “seven easy ways to end it all” (and throws in another for good measure). She listed her fears: “I am afraid of silence / I am afraid of the dark / I am afraid to fall down/ I am afraid of insomnia / I am afraid of emptiness …” And her feelings about analysis: “The analysis is a job / is a trap / is a privilege / is a luxury / is a duty … is a joke / makes me powerless / makes me into a cop / is a bad dream …”