Polymorph: Female Embodiment in Louise Bourgeois’s Sculptures
Artistic works provide unique ways of understanding the gendered and sexual subject. Bringing together a feminist psychoanalytic materialist approach inspired by Rosi Braidotti with the work of the artist Louise Bourgeois, this essay highlights how sculpture in particular can show the polymorphy of female embodiment. It thereby moves beyond previous interpretations of Bourgeois, which mainly drew on Freud’s and Klein’s psychoanalytic theory. Focusing on three works by Bourgeois, Torso/Self-Portrait (1963–64), Janus Fleuri (1968), and Maman (1999), I argue that these sculptures show amorph, ambiguous, and hybrid modes of embodiment. All three examples thus illustrate the lived polymorphy of the subject’s body. I read Torso/Self-Portrait as an example of what Braidotti calls the state of ‘Becoming-Woman’ and, thereby, as deconstructing phallic identity. Janus Fleuri can be seen as further breaking with the Oedipal logic and as depicting the subject’s profound sexual ambivalence – which importantly is not merely situated in the realm of discourse but in embodied materiality. Finally, I interpret Maman as an example of what Braidotti calls ‘Becoming-Insect’, or in another formulation, a ‘posthuman’. As such, Maman shows how one can escape the Freudian/Lacanian fate of being a woman confined to the Pre-Oedipal state of lack. My essay concludes that sculpture is particularly suited to show the subject’s lived polymorphy, i.e., the ability to have different morphological forms simultaneously. By virtue of its three-dimensionality, sculpture allows the embodied viewer to experience the polymorphy of the gendered and sexual subject by encountering it as another body.
"Polymorph: Female Embodiment in Louise Bourgeois’s Sculptures,"
Journal of International Women's Studies: Vol. 22:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol22/iss2/5