Pera Museum, in collaboration with Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), is one of the main venues for this year’s 15th Istanbul Biennial from 16 September to 12 November 2017. Through the biennial, we will be sharing detailed information about the artists and the artworks.
Louise Bourgeois’ series Femme Maison, begun in the 1940s, depicts a nude woman who, in place of a head, has a multi-storey house. The woman appears to be locked or costumed within its domestic interior. The home itself is not drawn with conventional perspective, and contains windows and planes of differing styles. The body, meanwhile, is naked and vulnerable, and its small arms do not correspond to the anatomical proportions of the body. The piece plays with a familiar childhood trope wherein the home is a head: windows for eyes, and a door for a mouth. More generally, Femme Maison presents an interplay between self-exposure and hiding, a union between interior and exterior space, between external gaze and private reality. The title takes literally the meaning of ‘Femme Maison’ – housewife – pointing to the home as a site of gender inequality or gender differentiation, as well as domestic labour as an activity of alienation. In the 1940s, when Bourgeois was beginning this series, she was living in a country foreign to her, the US, and becoming a mother: tied to the exigencies of the body yet alienated from her home terrain. The piece is ambiguous: it could imply that domestic responsibilities were occupying the artist’s mind; or it could be a tragic, humorous or absurdist notion of a body completely united with a home. Of the woman depicted in this series, Bourgeois once wrote: ‘She does not know that she is half naked, and she does not know that she is trying to hide. That is to say, she is totally self-defeating because she shows herself at the very moment that she thinks she is hiding.’ Bourgeois also once said in an interview that ‘for me, sculpture is the body. My body is my sculpture’, which points to a possible third interpretation: that she identifies both the woman and the home with the constructive potential of art.