I haven’t written a blog yet about a particular work of art—no hidden agenda, just a response to something that I like, something that I find evocative. This Louise Bourgeois sculpture has haunted me for a long time. I have never seen it in the flesh—I expect that if I did I would be disappointed. In fact it is very hard to find on the web—it is apparently not a very popular piece. So the work itself is pathetic and is having trouble finding an audience—for a sometime sad-sack like me, what’s not to like about that! But, I am jumping the gun here. I am interpreting, judging before I am even out of the gate. Let’s try to back up a bit.
We have a perfect sphere in white marble resting on a rough bed of the same material. A baby doll’s arm sticks out of the sphere. It is perhaps intended to look like a real baby’s arm but in all the reproductions that I have seen of this piece (2-3??) it looks more like that of a plastic baby doll. The arm points down awkwardly, neither reaching nor resting, just hanging there, unable to release. Sphere and arm together are a classic case of surrealist juxtaposition where where two or more disparate objects are placed next to or on top of each other. The frisson created by these juxtapositions is supposed to stimulate our imaginations, shifting us to the road to the absolute that Andre Breton and company were so fond of. And that is one possible outcome here—certainly the sculpture is disorienting. And it is also (as already mentioned) sad, pathetic, an image perhaps of failure, even death. But once more I feel that I have short-circuited the process, arriving at more or less final conclusions too soon, too easily. There’s much more in the middle that we might “unpack.”
A sphere is an image of perfection. Without features, it is the same all over, smooth, and event-free. And for that reason the sphere is also an image of eternity and infinity. Not for nothing did ancient man think of the universe as a sphere or series of concentric spheres. However this sphere has a single interruption—the baby’s arm—which seems not so much to have grown out of the sphere as to be appended to it (admittedly the angle of the photo, where we cannot see the join, contributes to that impression; how might our impression change if we saw the join?). The arm is rounded like the sphere but much more articulated even if, due to its position, it does not suggest life. And of course babies are not only about life but about new life in all its freshness. Because the arm is there by itself (which suggests dismemberment) and because it points downward (gravity brings all things down finally), our normally happy response to a baby is changed to worry, frustration or just puzzlement. We are not sure exactly what is happening here but, whatever it is, it is not good.
And yet I would have to admit that all of this writing while pretty accurate (I think) and thought-provoking (I hope) has not really explained this object. Or even the photo of this object (because that is what we’re talking about, right?). The photo and object are still out there somewhere, more or less unscathed by my commentary. And as fun as interpretation is (and I do find it fun), that’s a good and essential thing about all art. Bob Dylan has a line “With no attempts to shovel the glimpse/Into the ditch of what each one means”—and I think that’s what he’s talking about. Interpretation is a necessary part of experiencing any artwork but it is never the same as the work itself which remains always a little bit beyond us.