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Beyond Reason: Ordure


Notes: A Neurobiological diagnosis with aesthetic, cultural and philosophical implications.
Part 3: Co-Evolutionary and Aesthetic Practices

The rare presence of the Reflexologist

Having just entered the room Sirb was immediately aware of her. The Reflexologist, a rare presence. She was wearing a long black voluminous dress set off by a powerful orange Naga bead necklace. It’s snake like strands a powerful orange. She was the only person who had been in John East`s dream of Louise Bourgeois’ legs now present in the room, and was the person most likely to establish the identity of the leg lying on the ironing table.

Sirb invited her to respond to the question as to whether the leg is that of Louise Bourgeois or not. The Reflexologist began to massage the foot and leg. She started to speak, hesitantly at first. And then with in the same charged mood she entered into the dream, again.

John East`s dream The Exquisite Corpse as told by the Reflexologist

Under a bright artificial light. The legs lying on the table. Three of us.¬† Lena, John East and myself- the Reflexologist-…………………Louise’s legs if I may be so familiar. None of us have ever met her. Louise Bourgeois. But I’m sure I’ve seen her legs before, seen them somewhere, who knows? I’ve been in the presence of so many feet and legs. Louise’s legs were lying on the table covered by a thin white blanket, part of which had been laid over then pulled back to reveal the full extent of their incomparable forms. We were quite amazed. They appeared to be made of bronze by Henry Moore. The surface of the skin exhibited similar small pock marks to some of his figurative sculptures. We compared one to the other and decided that they were identical apart from the fact that one was biased to the left and the other to the right.

We stood there staring. Could these really be her legs, the Bourgeois limbs that carried her from Paris to New York in 1938 and God knows where else, before and since? Only Louise Bourgeois – the possessor – could tell us their unique story, the true narratives behind them. But then again maybe not. We were surprised to have come across them, her legs I mean. We could only surmise what really went on between them and the rest of herself. But not now, not at the very moment of coming into such close proximity. The stuff of legends, the dreams of gerontophiliacs, akin to treasure, and yet another configuration of the ‘Exquisite Corpse’. Were we performing an ‘exquisite corpse’?

We didn’t examine the severed ends of the legs. So excited by the exposure of such resplendent nudity we quite lost any concern for the manner of their deliverance from the body of the host.

Lena took hold of the right hand leg while I began to manipulate the foot, starting at the toes and gradually working my way back to the ankle. The foot was quite flexible and responsive to the touch. For a moment I wondered if Louise could feel what was being done. Since these were evidently amputated legs it was not beyond the realms of possibility for the amputee, to feel the sensations radiating from the massage. We still had the intimation that she either had another pair of legs, more likely to be prosthetic attachments. These were the original legs. Was she legless in New York? We didn’t want to inquire into Louise’s private life and habits other than to accept what she had been prepared to make available in the publications on her work and life, and in whatever interviews she may have given to the media. The loss or amputation of her limbs would have made the news, after all she is as we have since discovered a significant figure, a famous octogenarian artist, possibly even approaching her ninetieth year. We instinctively knew that the legs in front of us were a significant part of her. But did she know where they were? I massaged the foot and discovered that although the legs were technically dead they actually responded to manipulation. I am confident that Louise was in harmony with herself as her feet were so responsive.

Although rumours had it that she along with her family were reputed to have eaten her father for dinner when they were living in Paris before she left for New York in 1938. I am not convinced.

It was rather extraordinary that these two limbs appeared to retain some form of life after the amputation. But we were heartened by the response to foot massage and what it revealed about Louise. If she had eaten her father along with the others at least it had not inhibited her and on the contrary may well have been the liberating force behind her subsequent successes. Who is to know? I should like to ask her. After all she is a public figure and bears some responsibility for her public stature and therefore for my interest prurient as it may be. As I massaged the right foot I made the diagnosis. It appears that Louise went through a traumatic ‘forceps’ birth. She may even have been physically impaired for life. Stemming from this traumatic entry into the world she developed a problem with her ears, possibly the surgical removal of a diseased mastoid bone at an early age. And she has a chronic problem with her lower back especially on the right side which is the result of the body’s attempt to compensate for the birth trauma. It is apparent that her body has carried the effects and memories of these events throughout her life. There is some evidence of kidney inflammation, and on massaging the left foot there was evidence of a deep pain arising out of the feminine side of her nature, the source couldn’t be ascertained from massage alone, which is only capable of revealing the presence of pain if the source is not strictly physical. However Louise was in good shape for her advanced age.

We were intrigued that the amputated leg still held the life force of the whole body which could be read through the sole of the foot, the various pathologies and the wounds where the legs were amputated, from the heel the site of masculinity to the instep, to the part just beneath the toes which carries the yielding feminine part of the foot. One can see what kind of relationship there is between the masculine and feminine elements of the psyche. Those of us being dreamed by John East left the severed ends of the legs covered, respectful of the woundedness of psyche such as could be palpated through a remote aspect as the sole of the foot. We were respectful of the wounds where the legs had been amputated -midway between knee and crotch. To know and recognize the disregarded aspect of the wound and discarded amputated part often shows the whole person not seen before as when the person was a complete physical assembly. The amputated part can be read sensually taking stock of the life of the whole person, sensed through the fragment. It continues to act in life, but from a different perspective, becoming complete as it transmits a wholeness of itself, and demonstrates the incompleteness of the entity from which it was removed.

The Reflexologist stood for a few moments by the leg. There was a burst of spontaneous applause. She made a gracious gesture of recognition with her uplifted hand, put on a pair of black gloves, turned to the curator smiled, and left the room.

The curator was stunned by her performance She was in full command of what to him was an ongoing dilemma. Her unsolicited recollection of the dream encouraged him. Soon after he had asserted that the leg was a discrete object he recalled watching a tv programme the night before. The leg could be considered to be a discrete entity in itself, more than merely the severed part of the human body.

It could be a thing unto itself inducing anxiety, fear and horror in the viewer. The TV documentary was a docu-soaped investigation into an obscure phenomenon (body dismorphic disorder) where the sufferer perceives that his/her well being will only be assured if a specific part of the physical body is amputated. Completeness can only be fulfilled if the body is experienced by the self and seen by others to be incomplete. This apparent conundrum has its connection to a culture of fragmentation, the broken body as the site of well being.

The execution by a thousand cuts in 19th century China reveals another paradox when in the course of mortal punishment, the subjects were reputed to have experienced ecstasy.

Come to that, death is no dream.

There is an inverse relationship to Auguste Rodin’s radical innovation to make sculpture where casts of bodily parts, where spare parts were kept as a resource for use in the assembly of complete human forms, a kind of body dismorphic disorder in reverse, where the resource is an approximate alphabet of body parts in different positions. When will the scientific growth of parts of the human body include more critical zones like the brain? Then it might be possible to make a human being entirely out of spare parts, as a living art work?

La… lalala…. lalalalala¬† la… lalala.. lala.. la.. la.. la

When looking at the leg on the ironing table and recalling the dream of Louise Bourgeois’ legs, what exists is what can be seen- the amputated part. The rest: stumps torso arms and hands, neck and head and whatever else -are assumed to be still joined up longhand. There is no news of a dismembered celebrated octo/nonogenarian artist whose parts have all been separated. As far as is known she hasn’t taken the fantastic route by the artist John Farliegh who was reputedly progressively dismembered, one part at a time preserved and exhibited alongside the shrinking body as an on going exhibition until….. Who was going to take responsibility then?

The fate of the slowly disappearing man, the body being finally democratised by the concomitent transfer of all the parts into an identical set of glass jars and suspended in formaldrehyde. The outcome it is not known. As far as the dream is concerned all those other parts are alive well and in communication with each other in the Brownstone in New York going under the nomenclature Louise Bourgeois.

Stuart Brisley is an independent artist working with text, painting, performance and social projects. Last publication a novel, Beyond Reason: Ordure published Bookworks 2003. Recently published video by Illuminations: Stuart Brisley. Currently working on the Peterlee Opera with composer Jay Arden for the Peterlee Newtown Project, County Durham, which Brisley founded in 1976.
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