The Freudian dictum holds that where Id was, there Ego shall be. In Louise Bourgeois‘ terms, the successful realization of a sculpture functions to make conscious what was previously unconscious — that is, repressed and inaccessible — and discharge unwelcome or unmanageable instinctual impulses. Her symbolic forms, like the symptoms of the neurotic, are compromise formations between a wish and a defense.
Conscious and Unconscious (2008) is one of four large-format vitrines that Bourgeois made in the last five years of her life. On the left, five spools of thread of different colors are linked to a hanging teardrop, which is been formed cast in blue rubber. The delicate threads symbolize the timelessness of the unconscious. The number five in the artist’s work represents the family: she was the middle daughter in a family of five in Paris, and she and her husband had three sons in New York. The stacked fabric progression on the right is an image of rational order and constructive activity, and hence of the conscious mind.
Photographed as Part of the Exhibit Louise Bourgeois, Freud’s Daughter at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan .