Trauma. Louise Bourgeois's Transparency

"My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery and it has never lost its drama.” 

Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Bourgeois with Fillette1982
© The Estate of Robert Mapplethorpe

The story of this photograph is actually quite complicated. When Mapplethorpe approached us to make this portrait, I was a little apprehensive….Instead of being photographed candidly in my own studio, I had to go to Mapplethorpe’s studio. That is how it is with highly-professional photographers …they work on their own terms and operate from their own studio. It was up to us to go there. That gives me stress.
So I prepared with Jerry Gorovoy and appeared as scheduled at Mapplethorpe’s studio. This is my attitude towards men, you have to be prepared and work at it.  It is a very strange attitude, but it is consistent. You have to prepare everything. You have to feed them, tell them they are great, you literally have to take care of them. They constantly get insulted, they turn what you say into the opposite. I mean, it’s really a job.
So on the day of this appointment at Robert’s studio, I thought, ‘What can we bring? What prop can we bring?’…So I got Fillette (1968), which is a sculpture of mine, which was hanging among others. I knew I would get comfort from holding and rocking the piece. Actually my work is more me than my physical presence. So the sculpture is in the background of the photograph.
You see the triple image of the man you have to take care of, of the child you have to take care of, and of the photographer you have to take care of.
 From MacDowell Medal Acceptance Speech by Louise Bourgeois, August 1990 in  Louise Bourgeois,  Phaidon,  131     

In her essay "Representation of the Penis", Mira Schor wrote  of Louise Bourgeois's sculpture, Fillette:  “This penis is everything: as Fillette/little girl it is the baby as penis substitute, as rugged depiction of a stiff penis and big balls it is a sexual instrument of pleasure … and as creator of this polysexual object, which she cradles in her arms, Bourgeois is indeed the all-powerful phallic mother.” in Wet, 34

*Epigraph in Louise Bourgeois: Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father; Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, edition Marie-Laure Bernadac and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, 1998.


  1. what a great photo of Louise !

  2. "J'ai apporté la sculpture à l'atelier de Mapplethorpe parce qu'elle me représentait bien plus que ne le fait ma propre apparence physique. Je suis mon oeuvre", déclare Louise Bourgeois en se remémorant cette expérience." Jean Frémon (Louise Bourgeois femme maison) Passionnant, comme elle, et parce que votre article ouvre vers...

  3. Merci pour cette ouverture qui me rappelle votre billet sur les éditions L'Echoppe, que j'aime beaucoup. J'ai le texte de Jean Clair, Cinq notes sur l'oeuvre de Louise Bourgeois dans la jolie série envois, qu'on aime à glisser dans une lettre et qu'on ne garde pas... mais pas celui de Jean Frémon que vous me faîtes découvrir.