Funded by the ESRC as a studentship ‘Art, Maternal and Matrixial Encounters’ is my PhD thesis. The opening paragraphs contextualise the research:
‘Ten years ago I saw the art-practice of French born artist Louise Bourgeois. I had come across her work before, but this time it was different. This time something happened. Viewing the work had an effect on me that I had not experienced before. I was drawn to the images and moved by them. I was mesmerised by the sensations that beholding the work was able to ignite in me. I was a newly single mother in my mid-twenties when this happened. I was in the midst of a traumatic time in my trajectory, a time where I felt lonely and lost. Louise Bourgeois' work was something I felt connected to, it made me feel differently about myself and my situation. Over time, I would come to think and refer to this happening as an encounter, it being an event that marked a tipping point in life. This encounter with Louise Bourgeois' oeuvre, this event that catalysed change is the starting point for this research….The feelings, the intensity, the sensations all worked in a way that was new and exciting. I could not let go of this 'happening'. I wanted to understand it, make sense of it and learn from it. At the time of this early encounter with Bourgeois' oeuvre I was in a distraught post-natal state, I felt that Bourgeois', art in a complex way that I did not understand, connected to my maternity. The complex connection to my maternity, both in terms of the reference to the maternal in the images and to how they made me feel is an important aspect of how I experienced Bourgeois' practice from the outset.
When I first started to contemplate what this experience, this happening, might be, thinking of it as an encounter – an art encounter. At the time I was ignorant of this concept's use in philosophical and psychoanalytic texts that I would later discover and use when I embarked on this research. I started reflecting on my experience as an encounter, because when I discovered the work of Louise Bourgeois it constituted an unexpected event that I would credit with catalysing a turning point in my life. Once I started this research my understanding of encounter changed, as did my understanding of the encounter I experienced with the practice of Louise Bourgeois. Following the encounter with Bourgeois' art I read about, (among other uses of the concept of encounters) art encounters in the work of Simon O'Sullivan4 and maternal encounters in the work of Lisa Baraitser, which explore ideas and thinking that art encounters and maternal encounters respectively can potentially have a transformative affect/effect on subjectivity. Both of these books, along with others, which will be explored in the main text, informed how I came to think of the term encounter. The point of raising their use and influence at this stage is to alert the reader to the use specifically of the term art-encounter from the outset as stemming from my initial tacit use of the term encounter to think of my experience of the work of Louise Bourgeois, which would later be informed by reading around art and other encounters. I use it then to literally describe this experience, as well as exploring what an art-encounter is in more general terms as I work-through my art-encounter throughout this thesis.
This research is one outcome of a process of contemplation that I engaged in to try and understand and make sense of this art-encounter. My art-encounter is thus not only used to locate the origins of this research; it is also invoked as a heuristic device to explore encounters beyond the scope of my art-encounter experience. This exploration continues to use my art-encounter, in part, as a case-study to consider, in the first instance, art-encounters' possible capacity for subjective transformation. Part of the contemplation of my art-encounter, which will be explored in more detail in different places throughout this thesis, was a consideration of the place of my maternal experience in the naming of the art-encounter with the work of Louise Bourgeois. The investigation into my art-encounter thus involves a teasing out of the place of maternal experience in this encounter; and, once again, using this experience, or the contemplation of this experience as a heuristic device within this research. In the process of deciphering the place of my maternal experience in the conditions and causes of my art-encounter I explore the potential of using traumatic maternal experience as a site of knowledge in and of itself. The process of inquiry into my art-encounter, and exploration of the place of my maternal experience in this encounter works towards revealing some insight into the conditions and characteristics of possible subjectivising encounters.
This short narrative serves to introduce the research and provides some explanation for the two research questions, below, in terms of the issues embedded into the first, and then to the issues explored through the second:
How can we understand an art-encounter's capacity for subjective transformation?
When the invocation of traumatic maternal experience is explored as site of knowledge in the context of an art-encounter, what new insights might emerge into the conditions and characteristics of potentially subjectivising encounters?’