I DO, I UNDO, I REDO
I am guilty of collecting drawings, written thoughts and dreams.
Louise Bourgeois, 1997
Our title echoes the words of Louise Bourgeois, born at the beginning of the 20th century. She is the most significant artist of our present time, although she was almost peripheral, disregarded, until the 1990s. Ode to Forgetting is the title of her illustrated books from 2002. I do, I undo, I redo, I do again, the patient and eccentric Bourgeois frequently enumerated: collections, desires, thoughts, enumerations that emulated punishments, litanies, forgotten things, dreams, guilt or frustrations, verses. List after list. This reminded me of Camille Claudel from a century before, who also suffered: “Je ne suis pas rassurée, je ne sais ce qui va m’arriver; je crois que je suis en train de mal finir, tout cela me semble louche, si tu étais à ma place tu verrais. C’était bien la peine de tant travailler et d’avoir du talent pour avoir une récompense comme ça. Jamais un sous, torturée de toute façon, toute ma vie. Privée de tout ce qui fait le bonheur de vivre et encore finir ainsi”. Evolution along another path of the history of art, disregarded in the glorious accounts of history, especially in past centuries. Disregarded histories still waiting to be told, and which should be narrated. Histories of women artists that have been kept secret, travelling between anger and desire, on occasions imbued with a strong iconoclasm, holding a special relationship with images.
But there is nothing odd about this, as the most important texts on the history of works of art inform us of the absence of women artists, especially regarding their connections with the origin of the modern world. I cast my mind back to the distorted women of Balzac, angels of desire in his fable of our time “The Unknown Masterpiece” (1831), and to the evolution of Constantin Guys and his invisible flâneuse as narrated by Baudelaire in “The Painter of Modern Life” (1863), women who become just another component of Constantin’s outing, the passivised object of his eyes.
From the 1950s, women artists became established with the onset of abstract expressionism (especially so after the 1970s), which is reflected in this exhibition of a group of women artists, whose work is now firmly rooted in the 21st century. They use the images to make a most valuable and significant reflection: things we perhaps should not see, situations upon which it is best not to reflect. But women artists enlighten the world, touching upon the truth, shedding light on places that, otherwise, would have been confined to being forgotten, thus emphasizing the close relationship amongst things.
Eccentric abstraction, to quote Lyppard: by blurring limits the artists question traditional assumptions, linking stories of art and life and then brusquely separating them, travelling amongst the divisions and integrations, merciless with the images using appropriations and reappropriations, slipping between the present and prodigy. The world of many of these creators is full of complexity and peculiarity. The narratives of women artists are like systems of significance, sighs between the silence of a language incinerated by mourning, the past or noise. Forgetting and the language of pain.
And so, while thinking of these words the great ‘Rose’ by Marcel Duchamp-marchand du sel also came to my mind: Rose Selavy, c’est la vie, Rrose, eros est la vie, let’s enjoy life. Marcel as a fake female. Would it also be her, asserting the difference as opposed to all-embracing surrealism, in his troubling ‘to be or not to be’ of the beginning of new words?.
Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, que le silence est beau, wrote Bourgeois.
APPLEBROOG: HUMOUR AND GRAMMAR
Ida Applebroog (Bronx, New York, 1929).
Reading through a text that was published some years ago, I borrowed the words of J. M. Coetzee and wrote that “happy people are not interesting. It is better to accept the burden of unhappiness and try to turn it into something worthwhile: poetry, music or painting”, in order to get a better understanding of Applebroog’s world. A universe of fragments that must be read, image after image, like a succession of sentences that refer to our time, irony and criticism always flickering in tandem with reality, appearances and everyday life, close to the dark aura of things. “Mise-en-scènes silencieuses”, as Ida says with a certain tragicomic smile, confronting us with what is real and what is imaginary, with an art that is at times violent and of a strong ethos, a kind of frustrated idealism but not for this reason less persistent. Frozen scenes seemingly painted with innocent pencils and diffused strokes, but which even so do not lose any of their effectiveness. From a certain inebriation of observation, she portrays sexuality, power, nostalgia of childhood, solitude and guilt. The artist has declared that “my interest in the recurrent emotions of human nature has begun. Most of my work of this time, as well as my books and my paintings on canvas, took the shape of frozen scenes”. And she quoted a poem written by Max Winter: “When explaining pain and frustration, / only the most adroit / do it with humour / or even with grammar-/ Applebroog’s humour and grammar / are, it would seem, ingrained, / encased beneath enamel that once glowed softly / when properly charged, and now, in spots, / explodes outwards. The spots, of course, are hers, / scratched as she wandered from there to here, / collecting passion and dispassion / for future reference, / making notes for a great realization”.
BARLOW: AGITATED STATES OF AWARENESS
Phyllida Barlow (Newcastle, 1944)
Travelling between small formats and large-scale invasive installations, she raises new cathedrals of elements, just like the merzbau schwittersianos, in a kind of mystical praise of the ligneous detritus, or compactions that on many occasions seem meta-artistic: rods, stones, masses, tubes, remains of frames, wooden strips, plans or even accumulated fluids (yes Guillermo, anything can be used to paint). Raising matter to a vertical plane, or even accumulating it in layers on the floor: by hanging, raising or suspending elements, drama and scale become her concern and, like the mad old constructivists, she tempts the utopia of erecting useless constructions. Ruin or construction, it is not important: they are elements that invade the space, anxiously occupying the emptiness, an accumulation with an air of permanent expansion that also seems (in her permanent game of deconstruction) to be at times suspended in time, even to parody, a sculpture standardised by masculine secular rigour.
Barlow, her silent life trajectory barely recognised until a decade ago, reminds me of the bleak refuge of Bourgeois, which we will refer to later. Regarding the work exhibited now chez Ana Serratosa the materials seem to be resting in place, creating a still of a moment with Barlow in her studio, such as The Store by Claes Oldenburg: wood, cement, paint, foam, sand…, resembling carnal waste with a vibrant tactility (It is an hour that makes the dust your escort, in the words of Paul Celan, referring to the dust of the sculpture of Giacometti or Rosso, the meteoros of Fontana, and Camille, who I have already quoted at the beginning), depicting other aspects such as the weight, time, balance or rhythms, fatigue and collapsing of shapes.
Creating that depicts creating.
With its air of exile, questions surrounding her work increase as the moment comes when, now constructed, the work has transformed its constructor. And artwork is created.
Waste returns to an imaginary world, seemingly populated by the dross and the explosion of the debris in a radical affirmation of non-identity. The creator as a creator of senses, a reality that seems to depict issues such as what is material and corporeal, a real world but also a phantasmatic world, where there is a certain uncertainty, an air of suspension and transition, to mediate with the observer as she sees material as a state of energy and residue. She sees the debris used in her work, not so much as still or restrained, but as material in transition, in permanent agitation. States of awareness, forces or kinds of energy that need to be revealed.
An anti-formalist bellicose proposal between emergence-resurgence. The inebriated world of collage of what is formless has reminded me, as I have already mentioned, of certain sculptures by Fontana inhabited by a soul (namely his concettos spaziales from towards the end of the 1950s). I am also reminded of certain works by Barrow displaced from the physical to the iron sculptures of Hepworth, from the delineated to the impure. In addition to a certain cosmogony of debris or waste, the sordid, the formless or what is condemned to being forgotten.
Debris has made it possible to construct a major part of the art of our time, beauty that rises from the ashes.
BOURGEOIS: OUT OF PLACE
Louise Bourgeois (Paris, 1911-Nueva York, 2010)
We have crossed areas of pain.
This artist frequently claimed that her entire work was a reconstruction of the past, and Louise Bourgeois wrote the words embroidered in red: “I need my memories, they are my documents”. Gaston Bachelard recalled that “the important images have both a visible history and a hidden history (…) they are, at the same time, memory and legend”.
Louise’s father said “she is out of place” when he found out his daughter’s wishes were to become an artist. And the recollections, that familiar past, became the exact frequent memory of her work: Bourgeois-daughter tempts access to another reality. Yes, her work was out of place, since what is important is not exactly what is seen but, really, what is not seen: the aphasic trembling of what cannot be articulated nor expressed.
By praising what is contradictory, iconoclasm compared to monolithic thinking, Bourgeois creates a world that unfolds in images conceived as disassembling events, exercises multiplied from inquietude, disturbing with such shocking clarity. Endlessly separating, cutting and putting together. Repairing. The artist experiences and pieces together the fragmented body. Sewing is a defence: by making and repairing we ease pain, says the artist. Even the pain of recalling her old family job of repairing rugs and tapestries: genitalia became holes from which fig leaves sprung. She takes apart, redoes, sticks or cuts, joins or separates, adding a permanent explanatory essence (with evidence of her condition as woman, daughter, mother or artist) and an intense awareness of the difference. Bourgeois constructs-destructs-constructs. She talks and looks around, expressing herself with numerous silences. She does-undoes-redoes, an activity that has been frequented in the 20th century and must be interpreted as a kind of mould that has generated these shapes, rather than a nihilistic proclamation.
Weaving forms an important part of Bourgeois’ work and the work now exhibited at Ana Serratosa is composed of remnants of fabric: a kind of catadioptric-kaleidoscopic net, which seems to be linked to her book of that same year “Dawn” (2006). In the centre of each piece of fabric is an emulation of a flower: nature, Bourgeois said, is communication, a copy of the body we inhabit. The flower also grows wild here. The artist patiently fills the empty space, infusing the material with her spirit. She reveals but hides: nets or nests, web and flower, the tapestry-geometry of lines in a strange-Escherian perspective, materials that without a doubt originate from the memories of her daily life.
A secret, her powerful nature of a woman artist builds images out of the anger she feels.
CALVO: THIRST FOR LIFE AS AN ARTIST
Carmen Calvo (Valencia, 1950)
“The misfortune of my condition is not hindered by the words I put together to gradually form my book, casual and planned. (…) All this is a dream and phantasmagoria (…) All we know is our impression, and all we are is someone else’s impression, a melodrama of ourselves (…)”. This is an extract of the unease felt by Calvo, almost heteronym of Pessoa, and the title of one of her works of 2008, which is now on exhibition. Re-forming accounts, never calmly nor silently, her work is accompanied by enigmatic titles, seemingly imposed at times and avoided at others. The artist starts from an initial urge, a powerful, strong and permanent, intense vision, proposing the unavoidable need for the vision to be carried out. It is common knowledge that creating, like living, is to form an abyss and by extracting beauty from uneasiness her work takes shape, amongst anxiety and questioning. She probes into the complex I-artist in search of lost writings of her inner-self, dominating a deliberately warped perception, a distorting vision, an anti-iconographic iconography. Memory, tumultuous vision and the use of collage are aspects that help us understand a work where there is no room for the innocence of cubist assemblage. Calvo’s work fearlessly verifies how this artist provides a new way of looking at the world, a vision that is distorted if anything, and has evolved into (why not?) praise of doubt. “Cae levemente (Slightly falling)” (2013) by Calvo is another thread woven into the discourse of Bourgeois. “Painting will make you lose your head”, this time it is Calvo’s mother who joins in with the sentence pronounced by Mr Bourgeois. Discouragement and truth. Another woman artist displaced.
Women artists weave, their pencil becomes the needle and thread of patient needlework, the thread or needle of she who sews wounds, mending bodies destroyed by pain. Weaving disparate elements, history and body, writings in the time of shapes with the magic power of needlework, proposing the elevation of new symbolic bodies constructed by hand. Forming a new composition of the pieces as if to soothe their unease, frequently sheltered in the solitude of their age-old confinement. But reconstruction is not always enjoyable for those who reconstruct since it poses questions, some related to human identity itself, writings in search of reconstruction. A wounded air that depicts the patience of piecing together the remnants of what is human (we see this with Louise) a symbol of the thirsty space of confinement inherent to the condition of the artist.
LASHAI: THE NEED TO TELL
Farideh Lashai (Rasht, 1944-Teherán, 2013)
An artist moved by the words of authors such as Brecht and Eliot. Displaced from a land shaken by pain, Farideh has now left us. That is how she conceived her images, from that sorrowful itinerant life populated by images of intense emotions, without distraction, rejecting conventional interpretations of the world, contemplating her work almost as a series that form a collection, a kind of complex diary of emotions. She generates enigmas with intense and subtle artifices, by posing questions that, on many occasions, come from her memory and personal experiences which, in some way, expanded to form a vast record of all that is sensorial, of readings or thoughts, of admired authors, in addition to painful experiences. An account that in this way, in continuous expansion, does not avoid all that is experienced. She uses mechanisms, like this “Rabbit”, with apparent simplicity, -that Duchampian term, the mechanisms-of-sight-, which our artist turns towards an eminently critical perception of what is real. Lashai seemed to conceive art as a form of resistance and action against the world, and in that way, leads the observer along, displacing him/her. Creations with an air of performance, the observer must find the connections or fill in the empty spaces, increasing the questions, like a narrative that reveals a truth or negation, a loss.
Probing into another space of reflection, the image converging with a variety of artistic techniques, she seemed to depict both time and space, reflecting on the limit of words and things, of virtual space and what is real. Her work does not arise so much from a formal approach but from a certain idea of dispossession. Many of her questions, of course, are about the construction, the almost appearance and presence of images within the space, portraying the complex enigma of what is visible. Images tempting with being revealed, an evident brilliance and source of energy, the enigmas hover above what is real. Incandescent enigmatic shapes fill the space, giving a feeling of effort to some of her creations: effort in their fight to emerge.
The artist is an ardent fan of the paradoxical, of playing with representation, of the importance of metaphors to understand the world, of the doubts involved in representing what is real. Cartography of an inner-self, Lashai anxiously searched for signs or metaphors that would make self-knowledge possible -more so than certainty-, contemplating the praise of what is real as a series of discontinuities and fugacity.
Searching for images in a barren land, there is something imperious in Lashai’s creations, as if even now she had a burning need to tell.
RIST: A STRANGE WORLD
Pipilotti Rist (Grabs, 1962)
Rist describes a strange world, which seems to be depicted from another world, looking inwards -as if in dreams at times but without the solitude-, asking herself in her complex creations about the very act of seeing, about a mysterious spirit that wanders in space, universes that have perhaps been made into landscapes or daydreams, like pixelated forests. A defender of rhythms and harmony, her spaces seem to be in suspension, like spatial illusions, fantastic journeys, environments with an introspective air (although they are at times inspired by the complexity of the world around her), in addition to allegories, parables or epigrams, at the same time as contemplating the narrative of a mysterious energy that is emitted from amongst the images. With a hypnotic air, many of her creations -certain questions defend a merging of idea and chance- are related to the construction (almost the appearance and presence) of the images, upholding the idea of how their creation is also a thinking experience, philosophical.
Direct and allegorical, without forsaking mystery and banishment like a poetic otherness, her exploration ends up depicting wistfulness and desire, along with the very limits of perception. With no qualms, Pipilotti elevates a play on illusions like a requirement of the driving force of the creation, happily adulterated by those illusionist elements, certain visual games frequently impregnated in music that seem to be located in electric poetics that, on occasions, seem to transmit the serene vision of the fulfilled life of a painter.
Writing these lines has reminded me of the kimono of incandescent tubes by Atsuko Tanaka (1932-2005), the pure wistfulness of another woman artist creating illusory spaces. Rist’s creations are ordinary places, common spaces or busy areas where, nevertheless, extraordinary things occur. Frequently the images verge on the excessive, but they have always been conceived from a numinous territory of discretion.
VANNERAUD: ATTENTIVE LISTENING
Françoise Vanneraud (Nantes,1984)
Memory, alienation, time, a journey between the visible and the invisible, what is here or what is overlooked, the passage of time: these are just some of the words used by Françoise to express herself. With a poetic air, her images rise in a confessed non-grammatical spirit, narratives in dissolution, like a moment frozen in time with the appearance of a supernatural world. With a wandering gaze, there is something in this trilogy of the coulée verte of petrifaction of the landscape, of burning and abyss.
Images of the country in which Vanneraud lives, which I find similar to the arrière-pays of Bonnefoy, the real country of the inner self.
As if devastated by an unrepentant wind, paint (plasticine) and an assemblage of postcards or photographs paused but submitted to tension, concentrating and expanding: Vanneraud questions spaces that no longer exist, which were inhabited in another time, questioning the passage of time. Unstable geography, archipelagos, cities, stone or stellar landscapes, both natural and historic which, like mountains, seem to be a barrier of our vision, places upon which she traces illusory paths or will spread colour. Heterodox, Vanneraud reflects on the complex essence of the being of the images. In a kind of concentrated expansion, hers is a poetic incandescence of the creation that does not exclude power and clarity.
A tremulous reflection on obscurity or, in short, what is not exactly perceived with the eye. The images conceal other truths and, as Klee recalled, appearances are the sum of isolated facts, “we shall never be able to know all the forms, because they are not legion, but abyss”. Travelling between concealment and revealing, she therefore investigates the power of the evocation of images and what is beyond reality, absence and spirit, in a language based on metaphors and ellipses. With her obsession and yearning, eager to create and delirious, on a journey without limits, Vanneraud possesses something of a tireless exiled artist mapping territories. She seems to paint realities that encounter enigmas, revealing mysteries by deformalising, constructing in frequent negation. Tempting to reveal an access to another real vision through the attentive listening of a murmuring world.
WALKER: THE FLOWER OF HER ANGER GROWS WILD
Kara Walker (Stockton, 1969)
It seems that, by revisiting the violence inherent in human nature, the flower of Walker’s anger grows wild. Sometimes I see similarities between her narratives, -such as “Burning African Village Play Set with Big House and Lynching” (2006) here on exhibition-, and Goya’s prints entitled “Desastres” and “Caprichos”, and I can also appreciate a similarity with the work of Lashai, who I have talked about earlier. To a certain extent, she delves into the history of the suffering of the African American people and the behaviour of her own native America. Excessive images emerging from a period of nihilism, as if in search of a certain reconstruction. Large or small misfortunes and tragedies of history. Seeing Kara’s work has reminded me of the prints by Jacques Callot -miseries and misadventures of war- such as his work “L’arbre aux pendus” (1633). A world of black silhouettes of figures in scenes that seem incinerated, at times alongside drawings that provide a certain liquid being. Silhouettes (Lotte Reiniger comes to my mind) that run (fleeing or perhaps moving frantically), on occasions transformed into intense sculptures of a certain lightness. Provocation and humour, teachings, action and interrogation, Walker analyses history in her incessant narrative, without compassion: colonialism, slavery, violence. She hovers lightly over hell. Admiring Walker’s work, I have also been reminded of that visionary aesthete, the mystical André Pieyre de Mandiargues: the language of pain would be the new essential language of our also new times.
 Text by Louis Bourgeois recorded at her home in New York on 26/XII/1997 by Brigitte Cornand and published on the occasion of the exhibition “Colección de artistas” at the Lambert Collection in Avignon (1/VII-30/X/2001). Translation by this author, published in: DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Artea Bizibide-Arte como vida. Circa XX. Kubo Kutxa: San Sebastián, 2012.
 Reference will be made later to this description from Lippard.
 Letter to Charles Thierry, 21/III/1913. CLAUDEL, Camille. Camille Claudel. Lyon: Fage Éditions, 2014
 WOLFF, Janet. The invisible flâneuse: women and the literature of modernity. London: “Theory, Culture and Society”, vol. 2, nº 3, 1985, pp. 37-48.
 Lucy Lippard, organized in 1966 the fundamental exhibition “Eccentric Abstraction” at the New York art gallery Marilyn Fischbach Gallery.
 Aphorism of Robert Desnos on Rrose Selavy.
 This reminded me of Elena del Rivero in: ACHIAGA, Paula. Elena del Rivero: “Duchamp allows me to be a woman”. Madrid: “El Cultural”, 27/III/2010. “Duchamp is my great idol –she confesses-. I know not everyone liked that photograph of the chess game, but my intention was none other than to pay homage to him as a woman. Duchamp allows me to be a woman in the difference and prompts me to become the woman who is playing, both of us comfortable in that new space”. And on the same subject, Bourgeois-Duchamp: “during her last phase, she has more affinity with him than with anyone else”. FREMON, Jean. Louise Bourgeois. Mujer Casa. Barcelona: Elba Ediciones, 2008, p. 86.
 DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Fragmentos: Arte del XX al XX. Madrid: Ayuntamiento de Madrid-Centro Cultural de la Villa, p. 254.
 COETZEE, John Maxwell. Juventud. Barcelona: Mondadori, 2002
 Vid. footnote 9.
 WINTER, Max, But there is always something else. Denver: “The Denver Quarterly”, 2002,
 I am thinking of her participation at the 57th edition of Venice Biennale (2017), representing the United Kingdom, and of works such as “Folly” (2017) and “Cast” (2011, Kunstverein Nurnberg).
 FREMON, Jean. Louise Bourgeois. Mujer Casa. Op. cit. p. 26
 Ibid. p. 24
 “(…) sewing is a defence”. Bourgeois in: BERNADAC, Marie-Laure; HERKENHOFF, Paulo and NERI, Louise. Louise Bourgeois, Oeuvres récentes. London: Serpentine Gallery, 1999.
 In 2008, Bourgeois’ work entitled “Nature Study” was exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens of Scotland.
 PESSOA, Fernando. Libro del desasosiego de Bernardo Soares. Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1997 (version collated), p. 98. Note 338.
 Conversation between the artist and this author. “’Painting will make you lose your head, you will be condemned to roam the world of painting’, stated the artist’s mother, whose wise words are now confirmed. Wise words that are not too different from those of Jean Genet, which seem so important to me in order to understand the creative task: one is not an artist without great misfortune”. DE LA TORRE, Alfonso. Crear es un engaño. In: “Carmen Calvo. Todas las sombras que el ojo acepta”. Fuenlabrada: CEART, 2014, pp. 14-15.
 Louise Bourgeois, “I have always had a fascination with the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness”. GROSENICK, Uta. Mujeres artistas de los siglos XX y XXI. Cologne: Taschen, 2005, p. 43.
 I am thinking of the reflections of Michel Foucault on the so-called “feminine confinement”, one of the age-old forms being the home.
 “I chose the rabbit as my central character because it is inquisitive, full of energy and so beautiful. His desire to be independent, his attraction towards new ideologies, his disillusionment, his vulnerability and his confusion certainly reflect my own inner journey. But this is not just my story. Most of us have been through a similar journey. We are all like the rabbit – lost and helpless in the hands of systems, ideologies and prejudice, unable to discern right from wrong, oscillating between hope and despair and looking for answers. Like “Alice in Wonderland”, we are caught in a crazy world that seems to be upside down and are desperately trying to make sense of it”. KALSI, Jyoti. Farideh Lashai’s lush lyricism revisited. Dubai: “Gulf News”, 21-30/V/2013
 This is a reference to her recent exhibition at the Museo Nacional del Prado: When I count, there are only you… but when I look, there is only a shadow. Madrid, 30 May-10 September 2017.
 Atsuko Tanaka, Electric Dress, 1956/1957 (redone in 1986). Synthetic Paint on incandescent tubes, electric cables and control console. C. 165 × 80 × 80 cm Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Japan.
 “Formally, my work is divided between two distinct yet complementary practices: a compulsive, intimate and quotidian drawing, which I use as a database that allows me to sort my memories, archive my doubts, my fears, in order to look to the horizon quietly discharged from all internal tensions. On the other hand, a more conceptual work that draws on this raw material to transform it into artwork that is not only emotional, but that combines the four main areas of my work: history, statistics, affection and psyche”. www.françoisevanneraud.com
 BONNEFOY, Yves. L’Arrière-pays. Paris : Mercure de France, 2001. For him, “the place” is situated at a chimerical intersection, a crossroads between what is real and what is dreamed, through this and that, between the relative and the absolute. The place is not so much an exact point nor a languid one-off observation, but rather an experience with the essence of the supernatural. An almost mystical task that seems to bring into contact ineffable qualities merged in the concept and what is real, similar to the moment previous to a revelation, similar to a threshold of light that mysteriously opens up towards the silent space crossed by an instant.
 ESTEBAN, Claude. Traces, Figures, Traversées. Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1985, p. 224.
 BERNARD, Thomas. In hora mortis/Under the iron of the moon. Barcelona: DVD Poetry, 1998, p. 15.
 “A vacuous blank space that opens up when hope is replaced by fear”. WHYTE, Murray. Why Kara Walker’s incendiary slavery art is as relevant as ever. London: “The Guardian”, 22/XI/2016.
 PIEYRE DE MANDIARGUES, André (Paris, 1909-1991) wrote in “Des Visionnaires” (Paris : “XX Siecle”, XII/1961).