Summary

Scissors is one in a portfolio of fourteen drypoint etchings collectively titled Autobiographical Series. The image consists of a large pair of scissors with its blades open and a little pair of scissors, lying between its handles, joined to it by a tiny wiggly line. It is a version of a drawing Bourgeois made in 1986 (Untitled, Robert Miller Gallery, New York) of which she commented 'this should be titled, The Umbilical Cord, the cord that ties the little one to the big one' (Drawings and Observations, p.139). She has also said of this image:

It's a way of saying: you think I'm stupid, but I can defend myself. It's a self-affirmation. I'm trying to frighten people. These threatening-looking objects are the tools from my studio - secateurs, pliers. The small pair of scissors hanging from the large pair are myself and my mother. I'm very sorry to be like that, but that's the way I am.
(Destruction of the Father, p.300.)

Bourgeois grew up in a family of tapestry restorers based in various locations in France. In her work, the activity of sewing and the tools it requires (such as needles and scissors) have important symbolic meaning connected to emotional repair and restoration.

Bourgeois's work is based, more or less overtly, on memory. The recounting or recreating of her early years has become a fundamental part of her artistic expression. Through her work she is able to access and analyse hidden (but uncomfortable) feelings, resulting in cathartic release from them. She has said:


Some of us are so obsessed with the past that we die of it. It is the attitude of the

poet who never finds the lost heaven and it is really the situation of artists who

work for a reason that nobody can quite grasp. They might want to reconstruct

something of the past to exorcise it. It is that the past for certain people has such a

hold and such a beauty ... Everything I do was inspired by my early life.
(Destruction of the Father, p.133.)

Printmaking, like drawing, has been an important element in Bourgeois' artistic production. She first took it up in 1938, the year she moved to New York with her husband Robert Goldwater (1907-73). She experimented widely with techniques and effects, producing an important portfolio of etchings titled He Disappeared into Complete Silence (The Museum of Modern Art, New York) in the 1940s. After a long break she took up printmaking again in 1973, the year her husband died. In the late 1980s Bourgeois began collaborating with workshops and publishers. She started to rework and reprint some of her old plates and to create new portfolios. Several of the images in the Autobiographical Series had already appeared in earlier forms. They range broadly in time and concept, encompassing both specific memories and more abstracted and ambiguous states of being. The portfolio was published in an edition of thirty-five plus ten artist's proofs by Peter Blum Edition, New York, and printed by Harlan & Weaver Intaglio, New York. See Tate P77682-5 and P77687-95 for the other images in the series.

Further reading:
Louise Bourgeois, Marie-Louise Bernadac, Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews 1923-1997, London 1998
Louise Bourgeois, Lawrence Rinder, Drawings and Observations, exhibition catalogue, University of California, Berkeley 1995, p.139
Deborah Wye, Carol Smith, The Prints of Louise Bourgeois, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, New York 1994

Elizabeth Manchester
July 2001