A Way of Seeing Things: The Shared Realm of Louise Bourgeois and Peter Zumthor

Author(s)

Project Description

The Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Witch Trials, commemorates the lives of 91 people who were put to death in the Norwegian town of  Vardø  between 1621 and 1663.  The memorial is the result of a collaboration between artist Louise Bourgeois and Architect Peter Zumthor.

The exhibit centers on an installation, which acts as a device for viewing. It serves first as a simulation of the Memorial at Steilneset, and second as a way to reveal the affinities between the work of the artist and architect. As a structure, the installation is a recapitulation of the two pieces of the Memorial, but recombines them into one sequence, one assemblage, and one body. The viewer encounter’s the work of Zumthor, affixed to the frame, seemingly hung to dry like the catch of Vardø’s fishermen. One then enters the body of Zumthor’s structure, an elevated path drawn through eight wooden frames. The chair presents itself immediately and reveals the destination. Sail-like walls enclose the path on either side. Along the path, openings reveal themselves to provide glimpses towards the work of Bourgeois, opposite the work of Zumthor and elevated to the new sight line of the observer. Etched within the opening s are quotes from Bourgeois herself, describing her past, and its presence in her work.   One looks through the windows and through her words to see the art itself. From here, one is meant to see the work of Bourgeois from the inhabited body of Zumthor. Finally, the viewer reaches the chair, bathed in orange light. The light is reflected in the glass surfaces that surround the room on three sides. Through the glass one can see the site of Steilneset, a sublime landscape of pallid hues. While the frame and its path represent outward observation, key to the work of Zumthor, the room and chair represent inward identification, explicit in the work of Bourgeois.

The installation’s polemic is to say that Bourgeois and Zumthor look towards the same things, but from two different points of view, as if they stand on opposite sides of the same window. While Zumthor makes his architecture through the recollection of past physical experiences and external memories, Bourgeois’s art is the objectification of inner emotions which attempt to reconcile an unresolved past. Yet both look through the window of emotive responses made manifest by the haptic properties latent in the presence of things which they create.