LOUIS(E) – BILINGUAL PLAY ABOUT AN EXCEPTIONAL ARTIST
by Alexandra Osvàth
Her works sell for the same price as a Picasso, but you may not have heard her name. Who really was Louise Bourgeois?
A new theatrical production in Geneva for both English and French speakers, Louis(e), aims to explore how the artist’s emotions and life experiences shaped her art, as well as how our own perceptions of a work of art are influenced.
THINGS TO DO IN GENEVA speaks to Rachel Gordy, the actress interpreting Louise and co-creator of the project with director Trisha Leys.
“What’s fascinating about Louise is the myth she spun around herself as an artist,” Rachel says. “What is true, and what is untrue?”
LOUISE: THE MYTH
Born in 1911 in Paris to a wealthy family, Louise’s childhood deeply affected her artwork throughout her life. Her father, Louis, hadn’t wanted another daughter, so Louise put pressure on herself to live up to her father’s expectations. Louise felt protected and close to her mother, even though her parents viewed her as her father’s daughter.
Louise struggled with inner torments throughout her life, likely linked to the pressures she put on herself and, later, the death of her parents. Her insomnia led her to work around the clock, using art to soothe herself.
“Louise didn’t wake up in the morning thinking, What am I going to create today?” Rachel explains. “Instead, she’d think, How am I going to get through the day? Art was her answer.”
The artist’s 3500 works offer a window into her life and unique worldviews, exploring the magic and drama of her childhood, as well as themes of motherhood and sexuality. “Louise actually brought images of birth into Western culture,” Rachel tells me.
Louise’s mother was a great inspiration for her work, epitomized in her famous giant spider sculptures. To Louise, spiders were not something to be afraid of, but were rather protective, motherly figures.
“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)
Louise believed that people’s perception of art was affected by what they knew about the artist. Rachel gives me an example: “You might see a painting and dislike it. But then you find out it’s a work of a famous artist, and you then see it in another light. Your impression of the work might change even more if you know the artist was a woman, or a man.”
Louise was aware of these questions. While she didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, separate her life from her art, she was protective of her personal life, keeping her husband and sons away from the public eye.
LOUIS(E): THE PRODUCTION
In keeping with Louise’s philosophy, the production of Louis(e) is shaping how audiences will perceive and understand the play by limiting how much people know in advance.
“We don’t want the audience to know too much about the writer, or about the play itself, so they aren’t influenced by any background information. We’re very curious to hear their impressions. And we have a few surprises in store, too,” Rachel says.
Rachel does unveil a few details for our readers, however.
“I’ll be interpreting Louis(e), and my son will play Louis(e) as a young child, which reflects her relationship with her father. The stage will be divided in two, and we’ll be incorporating live video. The audience will get to use their imagination for part of the play.”
“We’re really hoping to connect with the English-speaking community in Geneva,” Rachel adds. “Geneva is such a cosmopolitan city, but the cultural scene is mostly in French. Our play is in English and French, and we’ll even have English subtitles.”
“What I love the most about Geneva is how diverse it is,” Rachel concludes. “I don’t feel like an outsider here because so many of us are outsiders. In Geneva, people are just people.”
WHEN & WHERE
Louis(e) will be performed at the Grütli Theatre every night at 8pm from 24th February to 8th March.
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