The Sacred and the Feminine: Image, Music, Text, Space.
Inside-out - sculpting sacred space in Bernini and Bourgeois
Victoria Turvey Sauron, (University of Leeds)
In Louise Bourgeois’ Spider, Mieke Bal presented an analysis of Louise
Bourgeois’ bronze sculpture Homage to Bernini in terms of its relationship
with several of Bernini’s marble sculptures including the famous Baroque
group of St. Teresa in Ecstasy. I would like to both critique and develop
Bal’s treatment of these sculptors, looking in particular at her characterisation
of Bourgeois’ piece: “this work turns Bernini’s painterly
surfaces inside-out. ” (p. 100)
This paper will examine the transgression of surface and substance in
both sculptures, evaluating the notion of inside-out in art history.
On one level, travelling ‘inside’ the Teresa must lead to an engagement
with the ecstatic experience of the mystics – an experience almost
always visualised (by mystics and artists alike) as an ‘interior’ and
inexpressible state, revealed only through the movements and contortions
of the mystic’s body. Paradoxically, the ecstatic experience can also
be characterised in terms of abandonment, of the spirit departing the body
(hence ecstasy from ex-stasis). To what extent therefore can we say that
either sculpture approaches a visual ‘truth’ of female sacred
experience, if indeed it is possible or desirable to attempt such a representation
in sculptural form?
The nature of sculpture itself is further put into question by the very
term ‘inside-out’, which also gives rise to a specifically formal
questioning of the meaning of surface and interior in this form of visual
art. ‘Inside-out’ evokes then transgresses a physical, bodily
interaction with the art object in terms of its accessibility to light and
touch, and invites the viewer to conceptualise what is hidden beneath the
surface or ‘in the fold’.
This physical act of turning inside-out is also a violation, a radical
penetration of the body which results in its transformation and annihilation.
While this is a model of religious ecstasy, it also invites a psychoanalytical
reading which would examine the consequences of the formal transgression
in semiotic terms.
Louise Bourgeois titled her sculpture, ‘Homage to Bernini’,
and the paper will conclude by considering the significance of this characterisation
in the light of this discussion, and how it calls into question conventional
models of influence and response.