Louise Bourgeois was a French-American artist who had created notably famous installations and artwork such as Maman’ (1999) and Femme Maison’ (1946-1947) in a career that spanned around eighty years. In the cell Hands and Mirror’, as the viewer, we can peer in and view specific arrangements of objects which make up the cell, in this case, it’s the marble hands, mirrors and doors in addition to the types of materials used, colours and layout. However, we are physically restricted and are only able to observe visually and this links to the fact that the desire and necessity to look in a voyeuristic manner was a familiar theme for Bourgeois.
The materials have been carefully chosen to help convey Bourgeois’ ideas. Firstly, the outside of the doors is drastically different to that of the inside and seem quite rough and weathered with mismatched colours and peeling paint. This evokes realism and emotion as they are so worn down, it appears almost battered and bruised, like it has been through the turmoil of life.
In comparison, the area inside the doors seems organised and precise and provokes a clinical and cold environment because of the colour blue and the arrangement of objects such as the carefully placed mirrors and the carefully crafted marble hands. This pristine arrangement is juxtaposed with the harsh appearance on the outside of the cell which seems like a protective shield trying to protect the fragility that lies inside. Additionally, the mirrors are on the inside of the doors and this symbolises vulnerability and fragility as a mirror could easily shatter if exposed to the battering and bruising of life. The contrast in textures of the marble between the smooth, fragile hands and the jagged, rough surface of the plinth is used to highlight the delicacy and fragility of the hands and perhaps even human life itself. Bourgeois liked to explore the theme of body in many of her works but in this cell, the marble is significant as it provokes realism because it’s comparable to that of the human skin and seems almost lifelike. Furthermore, Bourgeois enjoyed playfully juxtaposing materials that seemed to hint at either masculinity or femininity. In this cell, the smooth appearance of the hands suggests femininity but in contrast to that, the hard, serrated appearance of the plinth seems to hint at masculinity. When looking at the cell from the outside, the only way to see the intimacy of the hands is through the round mirror which gives a sense of voyeurism. This is supported further by the fact that the other mirrors are rectangular and can’t be adjusted and you can’t see much, this suggests that the mirrors are holding something back as they will only show you what they want you to see. The layout does not appear to have perfect symmetry given that it’s open yet not inviting and this incites curiosity which also links back to the idea of voyeurism. For instance, only a few doors are open, so you can only see in from a certain angle and this highlights a certain controlling element to the artwork, this is also supported by the fact you can only see the intimacy between the hands through one mirror. The hands are at the centre of the installation suggesting that this is the focus of the artwork and that Bourgeois wants us to pay attention to the fragility of human life, the fact that there is cradling of the hands symbolises protection and the need for security. Having an enclosed space in the cell gives the idea of fear and anxiety which links back to Bourgeois’ influence of her troubled childhood as she had a fear of abandonment due to the death of her mother, whom she was very close with, and her father’s many mistresses.In terms of colour, it’s quite restrictive as there aren’t many colours featured but the most prominent appearance of colour is the blue on the inside of the doors. The colour blue symbolises coldness and cool expansiveness but also trust and this links in with the idea of intimacy because the blue surrounds the hands, almost as if it’s a shield of safety as the intimacy is fragile. In contrast, marble is a very natural looking stone and the threads of colour running through the marble are like the veins in a human and this gives a living feel to it. There is almost a juxtaposition between the lifelike veins within the marble with the coldness of it; the coldness of it symbolises fragile mortality where as the threads of colour running through it seem to show the idea of immortality given that marble is very durable and has characteristics to that of a human.The subject matter in this piece of art is voyeurism but also scrutiny as the artwork is subjected to critical evaluation from the viewers. Additionally, Bourgeois has been inspired by her own experiences and her artwork usually tends to have very personal themes. In this installation, we see fragility which has a strong link to sexuality, a prominent theme in Bourgeois’ work.The artwork as an installation is a small isolated sculpture in an expansive room. This enclosed installation shows an element of claustrophobia as well as isolation. This links to Bourgeois’ main family influencesIn conclusion, Bourgeois has carefully chosen specific materials, colour, subject matter and layout to share her own interpretation and vision of the artwork. However, this still allows for there to be multiple interpretations of her art as each object, colour or the way it’s set out will likely mean something personally different to each person who interprets it depending on their own experiences or childhood. Bourgeois unfortunately faced a difficult childhood due to the complications with her parents, but these events like others in her life, inspired her to channel her thoughts and emotions into something that could give a small insight into her life.