Now, Now, Louison
|Author:||Jean Frémon; Cole Swensen|
Whose is this voice, addressing the artist Louise Bourgeois as ‘you’? It is the voice of Louise Bourgeois as written by Jean Frémon, a gallerist and writer who knew her and has written this insightful, beautifully written little book, which could be classified as a 'second-person ventriloquised autobiographical fiction'. Bourgeois is here, as in her art, both ‘I’ and ‘you’, both present and cast through time, both active and passive, both spectator and actor, both mathematician and instrument of the id, both innocent and knowing, at once both highly connected and aware and utterly separate, both ancient and young; gendered, ungendered, double- and multi-gendered; highly personal and rigorously particular, yet also universal. Bourgeois inhabits a zone that is at once “too complicated and too clear. No need to shed too much light on it,” a zone of vagueness in which the body is the territory of metaphors, though never of signs, the zone from which the formless coalesces into form. Bourgeois’s dreams are as real - and as inscrutable - as actuality: “Let them decipher my dreams - me, I’m fine with the mystery. No need to interpret them. Obscurity has its virtues.” Frémon-Bourgeois captures perfectly the singular intensity and fluidity of awareness that both enables and accesses art like that of Bourgeois, a mode of approach in which the distinction between initiative and surrender is erased. The book explores the key experiences of Bourgeois’s life without converting them into fact - they remain experiences, with all the ambivalences of experiences (though I here list them as facts): her childhood in France, where she would make the representations of leaves and branches with which her mother would replace the genitals cut from old tapestries in her family’s tapestry refurbishment business; her father’s philandering and double standards; her obsessiveness; her sensitivity to trauma, especially childhood trauma; her mother’s death, which prompted Louise to abandon mathematics for art; her departure for New York (“That’s what exile’s like. Apart from here and part from there, apart from everything. … Take an electric adaptor along with you.”); her long obscurity as an artist; her long loneliness following the death of her partner; her immense productivity; her ‘discovery’ in old age; her continued immense productivity; her very old age; her death. Bourgeois strives to understand what Frémon-Bourgeois calls “the survival of the unfit”, the evolutionary counter to the survival of the fittest. Art, perhaps, is a method of survival, as it is for Cyclose and Uloborus spiders, who “sculpt doubles of themselves, and then they place them on the web where they can be easily seen so that predators will attack this bait instead of them.” For Bourgeois only the gauche is beautiful: “Aim for beauty, and you get the vapid, aim for something else - encyclopedic knowledge, systematic inventory, structural analysis, personal obsession, or just a mental itch that responds to scratching - and you end up with beauty. Beauty is only a by-product, unsought, yet available to amateurs and impenitent believers.” And all the time, there is the artist who is indistinguishable from her art yet inaccessible through it (because her art is primarily a point of access to ourselves): “I am what I make and nothing else. I make, I unmake, I remake.”
A second-person fictional autobiography, Now, Now, Louison creates its own genre. Jean Frémon - art critic, curator, novelist, poet and essayist - has painted a portrait in words of the artist Louise Bourgeois; a story of a life in memory: his memory. Frémon first met Bourgeois in the 1980s and curated both her first European show at the Galerie LeLong in Paris in 1985 and her final Parisian show decades later. He visited her in New York over 30 years until her death in 2010, saving snippets of conversation and eavesdropping on her life and work. He started this writing project in 1995, so while he states that this is from memory, and the ‘novel’ was published well after her death in French in 2016 (translated into English by Cole Swenson and published by Les Fugitives press in 2018), there is something of the voyeur in this telling. The narration moves from ‘you’ do this, 'you’ do that as the observer Frémon, to 'I' am, 'I' do, 'I' remember as the central character Louise. It is as if Jean Frémon has thought so intently about the artist he has moved his mind and his words into her mouth, into her head, so that the two superimpose each other. You are here, as the reader, the observer and the observed, as well as the being within the artist’s mind, the curator of your own destiny. This shouldn’t work as a device, but in fact it does, and remarkably well thanks to the prowess of Frémon's writing - subtle and exacting. The prose is like a making process - building patterns and rhythm, building a form - a sculpture chiselled out of pain, love and contradiction. It is a compelling way to tell a life, to create an understanding of a sharp and brilliant - as well as a reclusive - artist, an artist completely bound up in her own work, with an incredible sureness and, at the same time, a devastating doubt. Louise Bourgeois’s work is now well known, especially her giant spiders, her fascinating drawings, and her textile works of the body and female sexuality. In Now, Now, Louison we are given a glimpse into her life, her family and feelings of abandonment, her fraught relationship with a mother who died too young and with a philandering father who wanted her to be someone other than who she was; her ‘escape’ to America, and the life she carved out for herself. Her ongoing art practice, mostly unnoticed during her lifetime - she was well into her 60s when the world started taking notice of her work - marks the pages in description and explanation in a emotionally charged and psychological way: Frémon does not so much describe as reflect the atmosphere of Louise Bourgious, creating, through his subtle use of langauge, through repetition of themes and fragments of knowledge, an essence of the woman who scuplted, painted and stitched. This is not a biography, not a work of fact. It is purposely a novel, yet Jean Frémon in this short work creates an intensely interesting portrait of an intensely interesting person. This is a book that takes the reader to a point of maybe understanding, but more importantly to a place in which to be with Loiuse, the artist, the young girl, the elusive woman and the intellectual. In the words of Siri Hustvedt, “She is here in this book, the artist I have called 'mine’ because I have taken her into my very bones, but I did not know the woman. I know her works.”
Description: The imaginary interior monologue of artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), addressing herself as 'you', as she recollects and goes over her life and work. In a fragmented narrative progressing by image and word associations, Jean Fremon gives the reader a sense of fascinating and moving proximity to his world-renowned friend, from her childhood to her last day, and back. His phosphorescent poem-in-prose evokes Bourgeois's history and inner life with seismographic precision: her relationships with her family, with her adoptive country (the USA), with other artists and her assistant. The voice of this grande dame of the art world (and its shameless old lady), famous for her insolence and humour, all come to vibrant life again through the words of a most discrete, masterful writer.
Review: 'The life of Louise Bourgeois is rendered in ellipsis, quick brush strokes, and a mix of associations of ideas and of sensations waltzing with chronology. An original, sensitive text.' - Liberation. 'Jean Fremon brings Louise Bourgeois close into a fascinating and moving proximity.' - ArtPress. `Jean Fremon is a wholly singular artist, a writer who lives in the radiant zone where poetry, philosophy and storytelling meet.' - Paul Auster. 'Like all the most urgent poetry, it is "fragile and momentary, but momentarily invincible."' John Ashbery
Author Biography: JEAN FREMON is a French author born in 1946, and the director of Galerie Lelong in New York and Paris. Since 1969, he has published a number of works of fiction, poetry, as well as essays on art, many of which have been translated into Spanish, and in English, praised by John Ashbury and Paul Auster. In France he is published by Editions POL, and was a long-time friend of Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens (1944-2018). In 1981, Fremon co-founded Galerie Lelong (formerly known as Galerie Maeght) in Paris. The New York gallery opened a few years later. In 1985 he curated Louise Bourgeois' first European exhibition, in Paris. Thirty years later, he organised her last exhibition, curated by the artist, at the Maison de Balzac in Paris. Some of the artists with whom he has worked the most closely include Antoni Tapies, Donald Judd, Jannis Kounellis, Sean Scully and David Hockney.
Promotional Information: COLE SWENSEN is an American poet, translator, editor, and professor. Swensen was awarded a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship and is the author of more than ten poetry collections and as many translations of works from the French. Her ninth collection of poetry, 'Goest' (Alice James Books, 2004) was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her translation of Jean Fremon's 'The Island of the Dead' won the 2004 PEN USA Literary Award for Translation.