On Memory: Louise Bourgeois

The works of Louise Bourgeois are psycho-biographic, and have everything to do with memory, as they are at once psychological and biographical. What interested me most about Bourgeois was how fresh the traumas of her early childhood were, how they stayed with her all throughout her life, and more importantly, how they manifested into her arrestingly melancholic works. With an artistic career spanning some seventy years—right up until her death in 2010, Bourgeois was able to keep up with the trends and the modes-du-jour over the decades. Like her well-loved spider, Bourgeois adapted, redid and outdid, never once losing her chassis or sense of conviction. Although she constantly updated her use of materials, her subject matter always remained so personal, yet so accessible. However, there was one material Bourgeois constantly returned to, which harks back to her coming from a family of seamstresses and restorers of tapestry. For this reason, I have chosen to write about her 1997 fabric-dominated sculpture Pink Days and Blue Days, for it is patent that it was with the material of textiles that she was able to reflect on and make conscious of her deepest, darkest and most poignant memories.

As a “woman artist” who used many domestic tools such as the handicraft of sewing and working with fabric, Bourgeois took the public into a psychological realm so far-removed from the happy housewife-mother that the world perceived women as, or rather, how they wanted to make them out.[1] Instead, her audiences were confronted with a woman who had endured immense suffering, a woman who held so much resentment towards the stigma she suffered due to her role as a woman. “You can retell your life and remember your life by the shape, weight, colour and smell of those clothes in your closet. They are like the weather, the ocean-changing all the time,” Bourgeois had declared in 1996, marking the start of a decade devoted to representation through garments, which was marked by her Clothes instalment of her famous Cells series.[2]

Pink Days and Blue Days features a coat hanger-like stand which resembles an umbrella clothesline, and undergarments, slips and baby clothing in tones of flesh, rose and baby blue.[3] Along with the garments on display are various memorabilia: a perfume flask, a doll’s torso, a figurine of a cat’s head.[4] Bourgeois herself proclaimed that it was about “the art of hanging in there,” and so literally, that is what she has served up; they are pieces dug out from her own wardrobe and are representative of her life.[5] A recurring reference of abject trauma from Louise’s childhood involves the young British nanny Sadie, who came to live in the Bourgeois family home in order to teach English to the children. Sadie would later go on to have an affair with Bourgeois’ father, Louis.[6]  This was a blow which Bourgeois never recovered from, and even shaped the way she would feel about the role of woman, mother, wife later in her own life. This is evidenced via one of her similar pieces which is untitled, but on the steel base she had written:


That is seamstress being her mother, mistress being Sadie, distress as what the young Louise felt and finally stress, what the Louise at the time of making this work, as well as all throughout her adult life felt as a result of the former three.[7] Furthermore, on one of the pink coats hanging amongst Pink Days and Blue Days, Bourgeois had embroidered various pet names she may have been called during her childhood: Louise, Lise, Lisette, Louison, and Louisette.[8] Certainly, this work is a redoing of her childhood and adolescent years, not in a cathartic sense— since the emotional baggage Bourgeois suffered was integral to her work as well as her understanding of herself. The work can be viewed as a chance to edit this tumultuous period in her life; to pick out the fond memories of that time and highlight it in the form of pretty pink dresses, and toys hanging from a metal memory tree.

pink days

Louise Bourgeois, Pink Days and Blue Days, 1997.

In regards to the two colours, as noted in its title, many believe that they are representative of the traditional colours for baby boys and girls.[9] However, I dispute this and firmly believe that consciously or unconsciously, Bourgeois took inspiration from Pablo Picasso’s Rose and Blue Periods, respectively. It is important to remember that Bourgeois hailed from France and that her mother tongue was French. In the French language there is a phrase, “La Vie En Rose,” which has been translated into English as “to see the world through rose-tinted glasses.” Picasso’s Rose Period was representative of a pleasant period in his life, following from his Blue Period, in which he was heavily depressed and melancholic. Like Picasso, Bourgeois has chosen the “rose” coloured garments to embody her happier memories, thus, Pink Days and Blue Days was Bourgeois’ way of selecting the pictures from a photo album to actualize her fonder memories of her early life.


[1] Ann Coxon, “The Limits of the Canvas” in Louise Bourgeois, (London: Tate, 2010) p16.

[2] Ann Coxon, “Stitched, Stuffed and Stretched” in Louise Bourgeois, (London: Tate, 2010) p73.

[3] “Louise Bourgeois,” Whitney Museum of American Art, http://collection.whitney.org/object/11513.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ann Coxon, “Introduction” in Louise Bourgeois, (London: Tate, 2010) p7.

[7] Ann Coxon, “Stitched, Stuffed and Stretched” in Louise Bourgeois, (London: Tate, 2010) p73.

[8] “Louise Bourgeois,” Whitney Museum of American Art, http://collection.whitney.org/object/11513.

[9] “Louise Bourgeois,” Whitney Museum of American Art, http://collection.whitney.org/object/11513.


The Colour of Decadence

You would think that a colour such as lavender would be synonymous with the verbs “calming”, or “relaxing”, like the flowers of the same pigmentation and name. Instead, it is a colour that is symbolic of decadence—a lifestyle devoted to the aesthetic and the sensual. I can count the number of lavender-coloured items I own on one hand: a lavender lipstick, a bottle of lavender nail polish, a lavender summer dress, a lavender Penguin book tote (which was once closer to mauve, but after too many washes has taken on a worn-out, lavender tinge), and a lavender plastic My Little Pony toy that sits on my desk beside my mint Olivetti typewriter. Come to think of it, it isn’t a popular colour at all. With the exception of flowers, it isn’t a very natural colour either: there aren’t any fruits—or anything at all, really—that bears this unique and pretty hue.

A few months ago, I had my first taste of lavender ice cream. It was at a gelato store on Glebe Point Road—the same one Milo and I went to on our second date back in January. I remember this because we had sex later that night for the first time. I’d also made him buy me two scoops of ice cream, instead of one—because I was on my period. I suppose it now makes sense that the sort of girl who has sex on the second date whilst on her period, would also happen to be the sort of girl who fancies a colour like lavender. ‘If I seem to you to have lavender lips under the leaves of the world, I must tighten my belt’, Frank O’Hara had written in his poem “Music”. I didn’t understand what he meant when I’d first read it—but I think I do now.

I knew that my scoop of lavender gelato wasn’t made with lavenders. It was suffused throughout with the synthetic taste of food colouring and lavender “essence”. I had tasted lavender-infused honey in France. It was exactly like how it was described in A Very Long Engagement: it went perfectly with a bowl of hot chocolate. Of all the ice cream flavours I have eaten, I would consider lavender to be the least decadent one. It is creamy in the same way that body butter is, and tastes like what you’d imagine body butter to taste like—based on its smell.

I’ve always considered my lifestyle to be more “bohemian” than “decadent.”  I like to think of myself as being the opposite of “posh” and “chic”. However, I’ll admit that I do have some rather posh inclinations, such as my peculiar appetite for opera and classical music. I’ve also always preferred traditional art to contemporary art; the sumptuous French court paintings of the Rococo and Baroque period are my guilty pleasure. I also don’t possess the constitution to be able to work a nine-to-five job; but whether this is the trait of someone who is bohemian, decadent, resistant, or just hopeless—I don’t really know. If it doesn’t please me mentally, aesthetically, or sexually—I simply don’t care for it.

The study of language used by LGBT speakers is known as lavender linguistics. As a failed lesbian, it is a language I don’t speak very well. I’m not sure which category of sexual orientation I fall under. What would you call someone who is attracted to others according to how well they “connect” with them—but has difficulty connecting with most people in non-romantic situations to begin with? My reclusiveness and general social-ineptness has hindered me from meeting the people I might connect with. Still, I am not lonely. ‘If you are lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.’ I agree with Sartre.

Lavender roses are symbolic of “love at first sight.” I wonder if this extends to lavender ice cream. Sappho and her lovers reputedly wore violet tiaras in their hair; if I wore a crown of lavenders instead of violets, would it still be poetic? If Fragonard’s soft pink bodies in Naissance de Vénus were painted purple instead of pink, would they still remind me of cotton candy?

Porphyrogennetos (Greek: Πορφυρογέννητος, literally “born in the purple”) was a title given to babies born to a Byzantine emperor. The dyeing purple of robes began in Ancient Rome, using the mucous secretions of sea snails. It was an expensive venture, and so purple was a colour reserved for royalty. It is appropriate that the wearing of the colour of decadence began with the Romans—a society that thrived on living in excess.

If Jackson Pollock had dripped lavender wine over the once raw canvas for Lavender Mist (1950), it would not surprise me. He was a drunk, and a wife-beater—but the world forgives him for his caveman-like tendencies. In my second year at art school I had a class in “Flung Ink Painting”. We were given not ink, but cheap acrylics—which we diluted with water and swished around over scrolls of sketching paper. Our teacher Justine was also a drunk. I learned that in order to be a good abstract painter, I would first have to take up drinking. I stayed sober and returned to figurative drawing.

Milo had watched ice cream melt onto my fingers, and tasted the sweet stickiness of it when it had dried. I made him bite me before kissing me; he bit my neck until it was splotched with purple. Pliny the Elder recommended the use of lavender in order to treat sadness. Milo’s spikey teeth left imprints of membraneous ovals and cylindrical calyxes across my collar bones. It stung, and it bloomed for no less than a week. This made me ethereally happy.

And when he kissed me his lips tasted like lavender wine.

The Consequences of Buying Lingerie

‘Nude lipstick and black lingerie are for porn stars,’ a salesgirl tells me matter-of-factly.

“How peculiar,” I think to myself—it’s my favourite combination.

‘Now this,’ she gleams as she pulls out a Mimi Holliday number, ‘this is the white “coquette” set with black velvet trim—it’ll drive your hubby just wild.’

‘What lipstick do I wear this one with?’


It is an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. I stopped by Norton Street in order to browse second-hand books at Berkelouw’s, and wandered my way into a high-end lingerie store in an otherwise modest shopping complex across the road. I wanted to try on a black Chantal Thomass set. Maybe I did want to look like a porn star—with my nude-painted lips and all. Although, it isn’t so much porn that I’m into but rather, its more softcore, younger-sister variety “porno-chic.” Porno-chic is best exemplified by the glossy Tom Ford ads of perfume bottles arranged on baby-oiled, hairless crotches. I picture myself sprawled in black lingerie in the most extraneous circumstances: at a garden party; in a shopping trolley at an empty car park. I see Ellen Von Unwerth’s grainy, out-of-focus snapshots. She once claimed that the mysterious quality of her pictures differentiated them from porn.

I finger both black and white panties, and discover that the former does not have cotton padding in the crotch inseams. This is a no-no. The absence of cotton padding would infuriate my vagina; nylon, elastane, and polyester go hand-in-hand with tubes of Canesten anti-fungal cream. White on dark is okay if it is an Oreo, or an ice-cream sandwich. My cooch is neither of these. If it were a sweet or a dessert it would most likely be a Viennese Finger—the double-sided ones with jam in between. But sweets are something I’ve had to avoid like the plague—all because I slept with the wrong person (many times, and for the last time) over a year ago. That person also happens to be my ex-boyfriend.

I refer to this ex as ‘Dorian’, not with tenderness or pride, but because he’s rotting inside—literally. Dorian had an eating disorder which involved starving himself half the week, and gorging himself on chocolate the other half. The excessive amounts of sugar he had consumed over a ten-year-period made him yeasty. We never used condoms. For two years my vagina looked like a ripe red strawberry that was cut in half—perforated and without a gap.

Over the last six months, Canesten and cold showers have become a pivotal part of my everyday life. After every shower I place my make-up mirror between my knees, hoping to catch a glimpse of the dark crevice. The cold water helps to ease the inflammation. I was told Femme Fresh would aggravate the candida even more—that my infection wasn’t merely due to a P.H. imbalance, and that the albicans had actually spread to my gut. I think about my gut leaking out from my opening. I imagine its texture and colour to be something akin to heavy whipped cream.

White lingerie with cotton padding, and red lipstick it is.  Would that make me Belle du Seigneur or Belle du Jour? Both evoke certain words: beautiful, French, and vintage. Vintage lingerie tells us about what kind of objectification women were subject to in their epoch. For the 1960’s, one can refer to Buñuel: Catherine Deneuve as Sévérine—who works her first shift as a day-time prostitute is dressed all in white; white brassiere, white suspenders, white knickers, and sheer nude stockings. It is fit more for a bride than an escort. It was Simone de Beauvoir though, who declared that there was no difference between a prostitute and a married woman. In fact, the figure of the prostitute had more autonomy as she didn’t belong to one man the way a married woman did. Sévérine ends up burning her ensemble into the fireplace anyway; the fire both purifies and destroys her sullied innocence.

I end up purchasing the entire set: bra, suspenders, knickers, and the stockings in a non-opaque black. The salesgirl, once again—presuming I am a married woman—comments on how much my husband will enjoy seeing me in my $280 worth of undergarments. I’m tempted to utter: ‘Husband? Never met a man good enough for that.’

This is not true, of course; I’m just a film-nerd looking for opportune moments to deliver movie quotes as real-life dialogue. I would love to go to Paris with Milo, just so that I could later say to him, ‘we’ll always have Paris.’ Milo is also a film-nerd—it is what attracted us both to each other in the beginning. I foresee a quaint life with him, curled up on the sofa watching obscure, avant-garde films with subtitles. Our shelves would be stocked with unbounded feminist literature, and our drawers full of large, non-latex condoms—maybe a tube of Canesten for good measure. We would occasionally take warm showers together, and try not to pee. The peeing part never seems to happen in movies. Then again, the sorts of movies I watch involve characters that probably never even heard of pee, and would find the act of peeing itself to be something in the abstract.

Films use lingerie as a means of representing women as different archetypes: from virginal purity to bawdy sex goddess, and from victim to predator. I don’t fit any womanly paradigm in my white “coquette“ frippery; instead, I fancy myself a delectable cupcake. French vanilla with Belgian chocolate stripes. Perhaps that is the point of such peacocky lingerie—to not feel like a person at all, but to feel delicious and edible. It is like haute cuisine. Food porn—or just porn. I’m sure that the salesgirl at Nocturnal Designs would be thoroughly disappointed with me.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with porn since the age of twenty-three. I had slept with a total of four people by then, and three out of four of them had tirelessly tried to pressure me into having anal sex.  When I objected, they had all offered the same retort: ‘Why won’t you do it? Porn stars do it!’, as if the fact that porn stars did it was somehow relevant to me personally. My ascending hostility towards porn only worsened upon discovering that one of the many women Dorian had cheated on me with was a fully-fledged porn star.

Milo’s favourite porn star is Dani Daniels. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that she— like me, also graduated from art school, and paints in oils. In all likelihood, Milo does not watch her videos due to her penchant for Georges Seurat, but because he likes the way her jiggly butt looks in extreme close-up shots. At twenty-one (before the conflicted feelings about porn began to consume me) I had been quite taken by Sasha Grey. My fascination with her began not with her movies, but by knowledge of her affinity for Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard. There were only two things I required in an ideal lover: (1.) must be good in bed, and (2.) enjoys French New Wave cinema. I chanced upon an astoundingly low number of potential boyfriends who were, I suppose to some degree, good in bed. But one who possessed this “quality”, coupled with even the slightest willingness to watch Breathless with me—I was convinced—just simply didn’t exist. That is, until I met Milo.

I had been searching for Milo since I was fifteen, when I became acquainted with late night SBS during balmy summer breaks. All the French movies I watched were suffused with the same dazzling images of cigarettes being smoked at cafés, and of lesbian liaisons being casually undertaken by impossibly attractive women. And in every instance of a sex scene—lesbian or not— clothes were being torn off, and covetable lingerie revealed. I had come to associate notions of love with what was worn between the naked body and the drapes which veil it. I had dreamed of wearing skimpy accoutrements made from the same crinoline Marie-Antoinette would’ve worn—underneath my cheap cotton clothing, and nuzzled against my skin.

My identity had been both nurtured and shaped through aesthetic experience. I had blossomed under the influences of a French queen, the music of Georges Delerue and Serge Gainsbourg, the cinematography of Sofia Coppola and Alain Resnais, The Second Sex, Vogue magazine, the musings of Jean Cocteau and Charles Baudelaire. Underneath my fine-laced ruffles lies an innate basis to my weakness for panties à la française. Think of an Elizabethan garden with its tall hedges shaped into a labyrinth. One takes many routes and gets lost along the way before getting to home base. At the centre of the maze there is a table, and on it a mirror. My desire to be seen by Milo in all my ornamental glory—I realise—is interwoven with my own efforts to see myself.

It’s like what Cocteau said: ‘mirrors should think longer before they reflect.’

Romance with a Dead Language

I used to pronounce “Plato” the way the Ancient Greeks did: Plátōn. People often made fun of this, and I always argued that the French still called him “Platon.” When I enrolled in a beginner’s class for Ancient Greek, it was one of the first things the teacher mentioned. I was not the only one in the class who knew this; in fact, most students in that class of about fifteen, spoke French.

That summer I was overcome with ennui. I had been dating a Dorian Gray incarnate for too long, who was completely vacuous and a constant disappointment between the sheets. He told me he spoke fluent French when we first met—that he’d learned it at boarding school. This was a lie. When I declared I was to become a scholar of Ancient Greek, he told me he’d learned Latin—also at boarding school. He apparently couldn’t remember a word of it. The summer prior, when I’d met ‘Dorian’, I had been reading Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I technically only read ninety-nine percent of the novel, because the other one percent was written in Greek. For a five-hundred-and-something page book, that curious one percent counted for a lot. I had to finish the book, I’d decided—but in order to do that I had to learn Classical Greek.

It wasn’t just about the novel; learning a dead language was like having an affair. I would look forward to running off to class for two hours every Tuesday evening. Unlike the characters in The Secret History, I lacked a false pince-nez and the endless supply of Lucky Strikes cigarettes. I had actually quit smoking a couple of months earlier, and wore red lipstick to complement the new glow of my skin—which everybody I knew kept pointing out. ‘Your skin has been so radiant since you’ve stopped smoking,’ they would all say. In truth, my noticeably luminous skin was not, in fact, the result of having given up smoking; but by dint of a Chanel skin tone-correcting moisturiser I’d been given and had recently begun using.

The second thing I learned in Greek class was declensions. First declensions were usually feminine, and second declensions were almost always masculine. This was my first experience in which the feminine was given priority over the masculine. The first declension—also known as the alpha declension—meant that in the Ancient Greek script, “alpha” was indeed, female-equivalent. Dorian hated this concept. Dorian liked to openly express his distaste for Simone de Beauvoir, as well as virtually all feminist literature. And so it came as no surprise that he also disliked the poetry of Sappho.

          She’s not here, and I’d rather see her lovely
          step, her sparkling glance and her face than gaze on
          all the troops in Lydia in their chariots and
                  glittering armour.

I became infatuated with two women in my class—both named Heather. Heather #1 was an archaeologist who liked to wear blue: blue jeans, blue button-up shirts, blue bras. Heather #2 was a redhead who was fluent in Latin. She almost always wore grey dresses—the kind that fell shapelessly from the waist-down, and would only be worn if you worked a daytime job in an office. I never spoke to the Heathers—I was always too shy. Heather #2 occasionally smiled at me, but Heather #1 liked to hide behind her cinnamon coloured hair, and only seemed interested in the topic of archaic water jars. One of the students in that class was a quite well-known fashion model for David Jones. She was not named Heather. I only had eyes for the Heathers. Which Heather, it didn’t so much matter as the fact that I was no longer attracted to Dorian—not even on a purely physical basis.

‘It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.’ I once took Dorian to the Nicholson Museum to show him marble statues and Grecian urns. He reprimanded me for this. They were so symmetrically accurate that he felt inferior in the presence of these beautiful, inanimate things. For someone who had put all the weight of his confidence into his appearance, it was strange and baffling that he couldn’t appreciate beauty for beauty’s sake. Like most attractive people, Dorian believed that the world owed him something—and that his gift to the world was nothing other than his beauty. I had foolishly thought that by being around someone abundant with self-love that this would somehow raise my own low self-esteem. Needless to say, this lapse in judgement cost me my dignity and only exacerbated my feelings of self-deprecation. It soon began to unravel that I had no interest in symmetry; I was fed up with Dorian, and found the exercise of staring at the model’s coin-like profile during class to be thoroughly unamusing.

          To have beauty is to have only that,
          but to have goodness
          is to be beautiful

Beauty posited a problem for Plato—especially when it came to poetry. The poet, unlike the critic or the philosopher, could not support inspiration with argument; yet the madness of the poet was something quite divine for he conjured the truth. In Plato’s discourses poetry represented the closest danger than any other phenomenon; whilst beauty took on the form of the greatest good. He did admit, however, that poetry induced pleasure, and even love—which healed the soul. Words and lyrics became to me both useful and enchanting. Poetry became for me something comparable to the vital status of honey in Ancient Greece: it was used as a germ killer, sweetener, and aphrodisiac.

I became engrossed with the figure of Sappho, and her poetry, and started spending my free afternoons on level eight at Fisher library. Her fragments—mostly about love—were peppered throughout with the same imagery: moon, blossoms, crowns, and most of all—honey. I subconsciously began adding spoonfuls of honey to my tea. When I craved cakes, it wasn’t for chocolate cake, but for honey cake. Even the songs I was listening to became condensed with honey. The only words I remembered to a Jesus and Mary Chain song lingered in my head: just like honey, just like honey, just like honey… It was like a new romance in which suddenly everything had been sweetened. I hoped that this love would be for life, and that it wasn’t just a passing fancy.


At night I used to taste
her mouth
Overflowing with poppies.
Eyes that stab with the paleness of misery;
Chestnuts fell from the trees like snow.

Brothels and chocolates
forever remain her Paradise.
Sweetness: a gentle destruction.

She’ll die childless
Under the Parapet of an auspicious moon;
Fields shall prosper around her coffin.


Egon Schiele, Two Girls on a Fringed Blanket, 1911, watercolour and gouache on paper.


Act I

She gives me painfully beautiful stares.
She plays Stravinsky in
A Major on the piano: Romanza.
She giggles with a crooked mouth and
keeps a box of cigarettes in her
Little pocket.
Her skirt bunches up into
a thousand Tulips–
Rosewood with a dash
Of Magenta
Or Pomegranate plume
Like her lips
and her lips
and the folds
and the sheets.

Act II

Our bellies are swollen with
Stardust and tadpoles;
Our breasts—
Smeared with Morning mist.
Our eyes are sunken with
smudged Kohl and the Imprint
Of clouds.
Above us
hang Black mirrors and
Two steely-eyed whores.


Egon Schiele, Act Two Girls, 1911, gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper.

Waltz No. 2

The sky is drunk with your lavender lips.
I am pregnant by strands
Of pearls.

I widen my eyes
As you wander through the Wastelands;
Your heart
Made of Paper lanterns
Light up the cities
from Vienna to Bucharest.

I suck the air out of blooming breath
Until your human face turns into
Silky darkness.
The wind blow only blackens
Button eyes.


Egon Schiele, Two Girlfriends, 1915, gouache and pencil on paper.

Blue Dress

I do not like you
      in Blue.
               Blue is the cityscape in
                                   Blue is the sky when the
                                                      Stars have crumbled.

Blue is an empty bed
            Of forgotten kisses.
                                                      Blue is a wounded river.
            Blue is the face of a


Egon Schiele, Woman in Blue Dress Tying her Garter, 1912, gouache, watercolour and pencil on paper.


Over your grave
White lilies have ceased to grow.
Night has become the image
Of mankind;
Livid flesh and twisted torsos
Cry out
In anguish.

Twilight’s countenance
Blows icy wind from the North and
Paints my lips with the coolness of
               And I long to be under your dead flowers.


Egon Schiele, Crouched Woman, 1918, watercolour, chalk and pencil on paper.

Drops of Honey

Harlot, Starlet falling onto my lap
Hair made of mildew, skin clawing with pus.
Led to my doorstep under a crimson moon;
Your doleful eyes spoke of yearning.

In the naked forest you moved beautifully
Where your body, like a Snowdrop
Wilted in the winter wind.
I dipped my fingers into arid soil and discovered
Darker than night.

Thick with soot and stardust,
Your little cadaver remains in the thornbush
where the webs of black spiders seek your
Raven heart.


Egon Schiele, Nude Girl Standing, 1910, watercolour and pencil with white heightening on paper.