The encounter of Le Corbusier and Louise Bourgeois in the ineffable space
The present study is written under the form of fiction. It’s the story of an encounter between Louise Bourgeois and Le Corbusier. artists were friends and met, several times, in New York. And several other encounters took place, certainly, in both their works. They admired each other mutually, talked about the most diverse ideas, shared experiences, exchanged gifts, gathered in the kitchen to cook dinner. Fiction doesn’t try, in any way, to question the seriousness and rigor in which we think we base this study upon. It is, conversely, a mechanism that tests the very limit of words as symbols. Critique is an interpretation, a construction upon a certain object of study. But that construction is different from the object at its origin and is never to be confused with it. The difference Louise Bourgeois states in relation to the symbols and reality is the same that exists between a critique and the object of that critique. They never confound. Louise Bourgeois believes the work should speak for itself, that all the words that might be said will never be able to replace it. And words, in turn, may deceive us, may betray our attention and lie to us. On the other hand, we’re difficultly deceived in the recreation of the experience, we difficultly confound the sensation a work exerts on us. And we feel it on our skin. Words, in the meantime, are as much symbols as images. They can be our friends. “Words put in connection can open up new relations… a new view of things.” Le Corbusier drew as he talked. The creation of something new, he said, was born in that moment when spontaneity of words and lines drawn by the hand, fell into place and “gave birth” to a new idea. All of Le Corbusier’s ideas about architecture were born, according to himself, during those conferences in the twenties. We believe that fiction totally assumes the difference that exists between the critique and the object of that critique, but, above all, that it powers that new vision on things.
A second reason exists. The encounter of Louise Bourgeois and Le Corbusier takes place in the ineffable space which, as its own name indicates, is impossible to describe with words. It is unsayable. A difficulty Louise Bourgeois, similarly, feared: “saying the unsayable.” But, at the same time, the artist wanted “to confront and conquer her own anxiety.” Le Corbusier, in his turn, when speaking about his more intimate feelings, when he got out of his polemic and assertive declarations’ sphere, felt gravely the “inadequacy of language,” preferring silence. But shouldn’t we confront the unsayable with the sayable? With words? Shouldn’t we overcome and dominate the fear of words failing in the form that these will no longer present themselves as more than the words they are? As fiction? It’s a risk. But the ineffable space and Louise Bourgeois’ work talk to us about risks.
In the end, Louise Bourgeois’ work has its origin in the artist’s childhood and each of her works tells a story that could begin with “Once upon a time….” Louise always liked, as well, writing parables. The encounter of Le Corbusier and Louise Bourgeois takes place in the ineffable space and this is Louise’s house and work. The definition of ineffable space belongs to Le Corbusier, but he didn’t understand, or always resisted to accept, what Louise Bourgeois ends up revealing in her work, in her house. The ineffable space is the encounter, in it, of the two artists: Le Corbusier built it, but Louise Bourgeois inhabits it. And “chez Louise” tells that story.
The story develops itself along three chapters. In the first one, “Welcome Monsieur Corbu,” Le Corbusier visits Louise Bourgeois and they talk about their concern with the ineffable space: its form, its matter, the body it inhabits, the sensations it unites, the mystery it encloses… Le Corbusier believes that Louise Bourgeois may reveal him the secret, because the unsayable has always been one of her concerns. And the works of Louise Bourgeois incorporate, in a certain way, those concerns (not forgetting that a Louise Bourgeois’ work says what Louise Bourgeois wants to say). In the second chapter, “Tea Time,” Le Corbusier and Louise Bourgeois go back to the creative process. The ineffable space is, by excellence, the space of the artist’s creation. If space is, as Louise Bourgeois affirms, “a metaphor for the structure of our existence” (in the way that it’s not the space that determines our existence, neither us who determine ourselves, independently of the structure of space, but in that our existence happens between us and the space where, inevitably, we project ourselves), the ineffable space is the metaphor for the process of the creative act. The ineffable space is the space-time that involves the artist, since the first moment in which he dives in the chaos, until the moment he gets out of it and considers the work of art as finished (or when the work of art finishes), and it starts to speak for itself. A new space is born and sustained, for itself. And this new space can be, in its turn, an ineffable space: the place of ambivalent sensations, in such a way strong and intense, that they throw anyone into that space where words will always be few, rare and impotent. The matter of ineffable space is the existence of whom inhabits it, of whom in it recreates the experience. In the creative act, the spectator is still absent, while in the recreation of the experience, he is the main inhabitant. In the third and last chapter, “Goodbye, ma cher Louise,” Le Corbusier and Louise Bourgeois say goodbye to each other. The secret is revealed. Recovering some ideas (Chapter I), they talk about the revival of the experience, of memory and of the “collection of things.” After the farewell, what remains of the afternoon’s talk, are ideas that, from this story, survive, by themselves.
But, who is telling this story? The narrator is the equivalent of a Louise Bourgeois interviewer. Her words, as Le Corbusier’s words, are, in reality, to enlighten the narrator. Not that this story is for the narrator to speak about oneself, but to think about some of the ideas that the works and the words of the two artists arise. Better still, to create a new vision of the ineffable space, of architecture, from the work of Louise Bourgeois. The idea of the present story doesn’t envisage, as such, a definition of the ineffable space, which belongs to Le Corbusier, nor the existence of the ineffable space as a concept in both artists’ works (because, being unsayable, it couldn’t even become a concept), analyzing common ideas, but rather the construction of a new vision of the ineffable space, from the encounter between Louise Bourgeois and Le Corbusier. The present story is the description of that vision.
CHAPTER I WELCOME MONSIEUR CORBU
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Louise awaits, anxiously, for Corbu’s arrival. It’s been some time since he had visited her and Louise, also, hadn’t been to Paris for long. Corbu, pipe in his hand, walks down the street, raising his cane, in little jumps and rebounds, pleased, from who is about to meet an old friend. Louise awaits him by the building’s door. “Do you know the New York sky?” Corbu raises his hat. “You should, it is supposed to be known. It is outstanding. It is a serious thing. Can you remember the Paris sky? How unreliable, most of the time gray, often warm and damp, never quite perfect, indulging in clouds and shades; rain, breeze, and sun sometimes managing to appear together. But the New York sky is blue, utterly blue. The light is white, a glorying white and the air is strong and it is healthy too. There is no foolishness about that sky. It is a beautiful thing. It is pure.” Louise is, obviously, very happy with the presence, there, of Corbu. Notwithstanding, remembering the Paris sky. Still feeling the pain of being far from those he loved. Love and being loved, the possibility of rejection, of not being loved, of not making herself be loved, always frightened Louise. And the New York sky was, many times, the house of Figures. Louise liked to walk her Figures, the symbolic presence of those who, in some way she felt, also, she had abandoned, and taking them, once in a while, to glance at the New York sky, on her building’s terrace. Corbu starts to be restless, to walk in circles. Days ago he had gone back to reading and noting the texts he had written during his trip to the East. And now Louise had made him remember his rise to the Acropolis. Despite it all, he wanted to tell her that experience, but Louise anticipates: “Once I was beset by anxiety. I couldn’t tell right from left or orient myself. I could have cried out terror at being lost. But I pushed the fear away by studying the sky, determining where the moon would come out, where the sun would appear in the morning. I saw myself in relationship to the stars. I began weeping, and I knew that I was all right. § This is the way I make use of geometry today. The miracle is that I am able to do it – by geometry.” In another passage, Louise Bourgeois suggests the same image: “The title Cumul comes from a system of clouds. [...] It’s a system of clouds, and for me it’s the study of clouds, of the sky, of the heavens; which is something very positive, very calming, and very verifiable, anticipated, and reliable. Consequently, it is peace, the peaceful side of things” Louise is always very bright, Corbu thinks, while she remembers her happier years. “Would you believe it?” - Corbu asks Louise. “Architecture’s key, proportion, has been lost, forgotten. Proportion, which in certain periods meant everything, leading men to the very heart of mysteries, is no longer something for us to think or worry about; it has been abandoned. That’s what we’ve come to. Proportion, eminently visual (for aren’t we dealing with objects measured by the eye?), can concern the metaphysical, thereby linking the material to the spiritual. Proportion may become a plaything with which imbeciles can toy, but if we make the visual factor dominant, we make the game less menacing.” He continues, emotional, but less indignant: “The tool which cultivates our feeling of enchantment is proportion. Our feelings are so closely bound up with it that in its highest form we approach the esoteric, the language of the gods. Feeling derived from architecture is determined by the measure of distance, dimensions, heights, volumes: mathematics possesses the key to – or away from – unity.” But Louise asks, not as much to Corbu, as to herself: “are you together? Yes I am. I am a puzzle with all my forty-four pieces. Tabula Rasa is needed. A map is an object of study, take your time. I am a map. You are a different map.” The map of which Louise tells Corbu is the same map of the sky and the stars. And in the same way that she sees herself in relationship to the stars, she sees her body as a map, that need studying, knowledge, about all of life’s things that, apparently, escape her. It is still hard for Corbu to understand this sudden passage from Louise, but, for her, body and space are one. It is not strange, for this reason, that Louise talks about the unity of her body. Louise doesn’t want to let anything escape, despite the fear that many things bring her: the fear of feeling lost, abandoned, and the fear of loosing, also, her unity, her consistency. For that, she asks herself. “Are you together?” And states she needs a tabula rasa. It is what moves Louise: the destruction gives origin to an active construction. Geometry never betrayed Louise. In that world, she knew herself to be safe. Her Figures are guided, as well, by pure geometry.
Corbu had had an identical revelation, when he visited the Acropolis of Athens, for the first time. But he felt, also, an enormous terror... His famous definition of architecture appeared, exactly, there. Corbu tells Louise: “Afterward I went to Athens and saw the Acropolis. I stayed there for seven weeks in daily contact, with a passion, a very great fervor. I discovered then that architecture was the play of volumes, the play of profiles, the play of, well, a total invention, depending exclusively on the creation of the one who designs it.” The “interplay, correct and magnificent, of pure volumes under the light,” repeats according to his own words in Vers une Architecture, that Louise had read some days before. For the time being, he refrains from telling Louise that it was, also, from the experience of the visit to the Acropolis, that he defined the ineffable space. Louise has a different idea of architecture. Or maybe not... maybe the two ideas meet, exactly, in the Figures exhibited in the Peridot Gallery. Apparently, Louise’s idea of geometry is nearly identical to that of Corbu. Pure geometry is, as well, an instrument of unity, of cohesion, to (and from) Louise. And, inevitably, the sensation, that her works arise (her Figures), depends, intrinsically, on geometry. The miracle, as she calls it, it’s not just that of overcoming fear and feeling safe, feeling according to the clouds, the sky and the stars, but that of, in geometry, her emotions, namely, her fears, realizing, becoming concrete, becoming tangible. It is still early, Corbu and Louise go, linking arms, slowly, up the stairs of Stuyvesant Folly. Architecture assumes a very important role in Louise’s work. And not only her work, but, also, her life. Architecture is the relation that exists between subjects and spaces. A relation that is not only physic, between abstract forms or even between abstract forms and subjects (as is the problem of scale), but, above all, and emotional relation. The geometry of the Figures is solid, symbolic and emotional. “At first,” Louise explains Corbu, “I made single figures without any freedom at all; blind houses without any openings, any relation to the outside world. Later, tiny windows started to appear. And then I began to develop an interest in the relationship between two figures. The figures of this phase are turned in on themselves, but they try to be together even though they may not succeed in reaching each other. Gradually the relations between figures I made became freer and more subtle, and now I see my works as groups of objects relating to each other. Although ultimately each can and does stand alone, the figures can be grouped in various ways and fashions, and each time the tension of their relations makes for a different formal arrangement. For this reason the figures are placed in the ground the way people would place themselves in the street to talk to each other.” “In my most recent work these relations become clearer and more intimate. Now the single work has its own complex of parts, each of which is similar, yet different from the others. But there is still the feeling with which I began – the drama of one among many. They look of my figures is abstract, and to the spectator they may not appear to be figures at all. They are expression, in abstract terms, of emotions and states of awareness.” It is not out of the blue that Louise compares her Figures to houses. What could be an innocent metaphor, reveals much more than what Louise understands as architecture. A sole figure, closed upon itself, trapped in itself, as it doesn’t even have freedom, is, for Louise, a house without windows. And an array of figures?
In the space of Peridot Gallery, the figures created what Louise calls “environmental sculpture.” They created an ambiance, or an atmosphere. Perceptible, not only through their abstract forms, geometric, symbolic, but, also, through the different relations they established with each other. Louise didn’t want her Figures to have bases, they are delicate in the way they touch the floor, but the owner of the gallery was more concerned about its floor than Louise’s work. If they had bases, they’d be autonomous themselves, isolated from each other. Stop talking to each other, stop relating and instead build monologues into the air. The Figures inhabited the space of the gallery as if they were at a party. And the person who’d go to that party, would be able to circulate around them. But the Figures created, as well, their own social space, a symbolic space that, for a certain period of time, was the space of Louise. The space for Louise to remember those whom she loved the most, and whom she missed the most. Homesickness. The space of the Figures was the space of her experience of abandonment. “Homesickness,” Louise murmurs to herself. And she tells Corbu: “Pierre Matisse and Duchamp came by and said, ‘This is extraordinary!’ I told them that it was simply a manifestation of ‘homesickness’.” Corbu puts down his hat, in an intrigued gesture with those words from Louise. First, the Paris sky and, now, this. The question of form interested, obviously, Corbu. His own definition of architecture – “the interplay, correct and magnificent, of pure volumes under the light” – stated the conditions he pursued in form: pure, abstract geometry, the same geometry of Louise’s Figures, of (tridimensional) forms, the virtual composition of those forms in space and the effects of light over that very composition. Louise advances, seeming to guess Corbu’s thought: “Abstracted, the forms if correct should have a direct impact even unconscious.” Louise comes, ever closer, to the experience of terror Corbu lives each time he thinks of the ineffable space, at the same time not wanting Corbu to think that her experience with the Figures is sentimental. Corbu, certainly, that, also, didn’t understand it in that way. He was interested in the impact a certain form may cause, a suspicion that preceded his rise to the Acropolis.
The time comes to tell Louise: “A fever shook my heart. We had arrived in Athens at eleven in the morning, however, I made up a myriad pretexts not to go ‘up there’ immediately. Finally, I explained my good friend Auguste I wouldn’t go up with him. That an anxiety oppressed me, that I was under extreme excitement and that it’d be good for me to be alone. I drank coffee all afternoon and got absorbed in reading a voluminous correspondence, picked up at the post office, and that spanned back five weeks. Afterwards, I walked the streets, waiting for the sun to set, eager to end the journey ‘up there’, since, down here, I could do nothing else but sleep. To see the Acropolis is a dream you nourish without ever imagining fulfilling it. I’m not quite sure why this hill encompasses the essence of artistic thought. I know how to measure the perfection of its temples and recognize that in no other place they are as extraordinary and accepted, a long time ago, that it holds in its custody the sacred measure, the basis of all art. Why this architecture and not any other? I want to believe logic should explain that everything is resolved according to the most insuperable formula; but the taste, or better, the heart, that drives men and dictates their creed, why is it that, besides a frequent desire to subtract oneself from it, we go return to it, why do we go back to the Acropolis, near the temples? For me, it’s an unexplainable problem. How many times did I let myself as a whole be taken by an absolute enthusiasm before other works from other races, from other periods, from other latitudes! But why, after many others, should I designate it as the uncontested Master, the Parthenon, when it appears from its stone platter and bow down, even filled with anger, before its supremacy?” Louise remains silent. Corbu remembers, in the meantime, that it was, only, after his second visit to the Acropolis, in 1933, that he defined the ineffable space. But his idea remounted back to his first visit: the state of anxiety he was in, the choice of the perfect moment to go up the Propilei, see the Parthenon, the perplexity before the sublime beauty of the arrangement and the ultimate inability, a true impotence, in finding the formula that composes it. The first effort was made in Vers une Architecture. He addresses, abruptly, Louise: “The essential thing that will be said here is that the release of aesthetic emotion is a special function of space. ACTION OF THE WORK on its surroundings: vibrations, cries or shouts (such as the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens), arrows darting away like rays, as if springing from an explosion; the near or distant site is shaken by them, touched, wounded dominated or caressed. REACTION OF THE SETTING: the walls of the room, its dimensions, the public square… the expanses or the slopes of the landscape even to the bare horizons of the plain or the sharp outlines of the mountains – the whole environment brings it weight to bear on the place where is a work of art… Then a boundless depth opens up, effaces the wall, drives away contingent presences, accomplishes the miracle of ineffable space.” It is impossible to remain indifferent to this description by Corbu. Firstly, a subtle violence accompanies his will to create a timeless work, composed by none other than immanent forces, which move everything that surrounds that work. And, afterwards, a calm and serene sensation of realization, with the certitude that the miracle is possible and concretized, even if that reaction is disturbing, identical to a reaction before any such abyss that tears, suddenly, beneath our feet. Louise has a lot to say about that. But the question remains. Is it, only, an effect of a determinate formal, visual composition, as Corbu appears, despite all, to understand? Or does it imply something more? A profound knowledge of the body that perceives and inhabits that space? Or a profound knowledge of the chaos, of what’s most inexpressible in life? That only the extremes are known? Grace and terror?
“Several years ago I called a sculpture One and Others,” Louise tells Corbu, after remembering her Figures. Louise still holds the same concern, since the beginning: “This might be the title of many since then: the relation of one person to his surroundings is a continuing preoccupation. It can be casual or close, simple or involved, subtle or blunt. It can be painful or pleasant. Most of all it can be real or imaginary. This is the soil from which all my work grows. The problems of realization – technical, and even formal and aesthetic – are secondary; they come afterwards and they can be solved” Louise was aware that her problem, that which cannot be solved, is the same problem of Corbu, despite a difference that, seemed, at this point, ever more irreversible. Louise didn’t forget Figure endormie. One day she wrote a letter to Alfred. She wanted to tell him about the missing pieces of the Figure he had bought for the Museum of Modern Art. Two holes by the shoulders allowed positioning the arms of the Figure in a way that it wasn’t sleeping anymore. Furthermore, she had done two additional sets of shoulders: a gay one and a sad one. Louise wasn’t, however, sure of the plasticity of the happy shoulders and preferred to send Alfred, only, the serious version. She turns to Corbu, saying: “Also pieces should be added or placed aside according to results wanted. In that fashion there would be a more complete enjoyment of the work of art” Louise enjoys these mechanisms in the body. The body itself, didn’t interest her. But understanding how people move their heads on their necks, the way they dismiss someone with the shrug of their shoulder, or how they throw their feet forward to walk or even the swing of a disjointed hip. The same mechanics of the body are essential to understand the relation between the body and the space, not only of Louise’s works, but any real or imagined space. The idea of adding or subtracting of the Figure endormie is present, for example, in Articulated Lair. Articulated Lair much resembles the Hut of Corbu in Cap-Martin and, at the same time, they’re such different spaces. Corbu and Louise have fun watching pictures and drawings. Articulated Lair may assume different forms, either with a more circular base, or a more oval base, while the Hut maintains its fixed rectangular base, as its volume or its openings. The Hut has a door and several windows. Articulated Lair has an entry door and an exit door, which doesn’t look that much like a door. A simple gap? As for form, the differences between the two spaces are, in fact, many. The light under the form, which was, also, always a concern for Louise, another difference. But, curiously, it is when the Hut becomes more flexible: the shutters in the windows allow to regulate the light on its interior, identically to the panels in Articulated Lair. Looking carefully, the two spaces are nearly identical. So, it wasn’t strange for Louise to tell Corbu about Articulated Lair. “In a refusal to come to grips with the problem you project yourself at the horizon. The landscapes explode in a desire to escape, to distance yourself and dissolve the anxiety. Terror is turned outward toward the understanding of the universe. The introjection of the landscape is the lair.” “What is this ‘lair’?” asks Corbu, pretending not to understand. “It’s when a rabbit takes shelter in his refuge. Therefore a refuge can also, in a certain sense, be a trap. Yes, of course, it’s the bipolarity of what’s a trap and what’s a refuge” Louise appears to test Corbu. “It looks like a trap but if you were clever even though it is deserted and terribly lonely you could get in and out. Inside, there is just one, tiny stool. Nobody’s around. It is a place to face the fact that there is nothing – nothing to expect. You can sit there. It is not unsafe but it is empty. Nobody can hurt you. You are not even afraid of being hurt. You are afraid of being alone. Why? Because you have chased everybody out. You are alone by your own doing. It is total loneliness. It is like the set for No Exit of Jean-Paul Sartre. Jean-Paul Sartre said in No Exit, ‘L’enfer c’est les autres’ (Hell is others). I say that Hell is the absence of others – that’s hell.” Louise know that the structure in Articulated Lair is more complex. Firstly, when getting in one doesn’t know if there’s an exit besides that door through which you get in. Secondly, the stool is exposed to the entrance, so you observe who arrives, but you can’t escape, without being seen. The anxiety, the intimacy and the fear are exposed. The inner space never ceases to be an outer space.
Curiously, what is perceived, felt, in an outer space, like Corbu’s ineffable space, is, in Louise’s work, transferred towards an inner space, symbol of protection and intimacy. But this is Louise’s struggle. There is nothing she dwells that is not in an interior. In an inner space of a work, where Louise’s emotions, which are the interior of Louise’s own body, metamorphosed in work, rest. Everything that goes on in Louise’s body, passes through her work, happens in space. Corbu, in turn, felt very happy in his Hut. He did not fear being alone. On the contrary, solitude was all he craved in his cell. On his trip to the East, he had also learned how the minimal space of a cell, like the cells on Ema’s Convent which he had visited, is ideal for introspection and recuperation. Suddenly, Corbu turns to Louise: “The home is the basic social cell containing that inestimable side of life, intimacy, the feeling that one is master, king of one’s domain, dependent not on others but on one’s alone.” But Louise remembers Twosome. Perhaps more than Articulated Lair, Twosome is, for Louise, the home and explains to Corbu: “This piece was invested with the size of the family. It is scaled to the relations of the family and the house. The opening and the mechanics are very important, because the small one can roll in and out without interference and with great ease. They each have their place but they’re completely isolated from each other. But on the other hand, to be next to each other is better than to be lost in the outside. It relates to birth, sex, excretion – taking in and pushing out. In and out covers all our functions. In and out is a key to the piece. It’s a meditation on these words, a metaphor for being in and out of trouble, in and out of fashion, in and out of line, in and out of synch, in and out of focus, in and out of bounds. A twosome is a closed world. Two people constitute an environment. One person alone is an object. And object doesn’t relate to anything unless you make it relate, it has a solitary and poor and pathetic quality. As soon as you get concerned with the other person, it becomes an environment, which involves not only you, who are contained, but also the container. It is very important to me that people be able to go around the piece. Then they become part of the environment – although in some ways it is not an environment but the relation of two cells.” Corbu doesn’t know whether to feel indignant. For Louise, all was very clear. Even if not talking literally, there were no doubts about her words and, as usual, Louise was back to the beginning of the conversation. The Figure, though they didn’t look like people in the eyes of some, are the same that inhabit Articulated Lair or Twosome. Or, in other way: Articulated Lair or Twosome recreate the same space as the Figures. And that space is, undoubtedly, the ineffable space, which concerns Corbu so much. The sensations, that coexist in that space, are the true concern of Louise. And, as Corbu knows, they are always sensations of such intensity, that a person oscillates between such antagonistic states, as those he experienced in his rise to the Acropolis: between grace and terror. Will the place still exist for the question whether the ineffable space belongs to the form or to the experience? Louise, turns to Corbu, with a smile on her lips: “Tea or Coffee?”
CHAPTER II TEATIME
Corbu accepts, gently, with a nod of the head, tea. “Why do you like your Twosome so much?” he asks Louise, while she pours him the tea. Louise sits by his side, pouring herself some tea, as well, and explains to Corbu. “It’s a work of the unconscious. Visitors see different things in it. Even I interpret it in different ways at different times. There are several levels of interpretation in it. The deepest, most secret level is about pleasure. And pleasure is erotic. That’s why work is always erotic, even though it involves all those admirable qualities of stoicism and masochism. At the root of it all, there’s a return to what is forbidden – the erotic. I didn’t intend to admit this, but you can see it in the work. If you talk to me about it, I’ll deny it, but if you look you can see that it’s there. A work of art is about pleasure. You do what gives you pleasure, but talking about it scares me. Talking to someone scares me.” The hour was the most propitious for the two to talk about fear and failure, but also about gift and faith. Louise knew it and, contrary to what Corbu might conclude of what she had just said, Louise felt no fear at all of talking with him about these themes, because she knew Corbu understood her. Abandoning Twosome, Louise continues: “The life of the artist is the denial of sex. Art comes from the inability to seduce. I am unable to make myself be loved. The equation is really sex and murder, sex and death. The fear of sex and death is the same. Attraction and fear move back and forth. Which is the cause and which is the effect? It’s important to know. Turenne was standing on his horse ready to go to battle. He said to his horse, which was really his unconscious, ‘You tremble, carcass, but you would tremble even more if you knew where I am going to take you.’ It is at this moment, the thrill of danger, that the erotic impulse is activated. The thrill is an erotic presence, that all-or-nothing feeling. You either resist or let go. If it terrorizes you, it means the resistance is too much. There is the refusal to go to battle with the unconscious. I become paralyzed by the fear.” “Turenne was the artist. The artist is a sadist and afraid of his own sadism, of inflicting death. Is it murder or suicide? It depends on how you feel. Think of the bird ensnared by the snake. Nobody has ever proved that the bird suffers from his fear. Who says that the bird doesn’t enjoy it, that there’s not a sexual thrill? That there’s not ecstasy in death? That the bird dies fulfilled, as he’s gobbled up. One way or the other, the ransom of fear is death. Don’t forget the masochist loves a sadist and the sadist loves a masochist, and the prisoner is so helpless and desperate that all he has left is to fall in love with the jailer.” Louise end up handing Corbu not only the image of an artist (Turenne’s, as well as the bird’s), but also the image of himself before the Acropolis, before the ineffable space. Corbu never gave up wishing the experience of the ineffable space, from the first moment he discovered it. In a way, all his posterior experiences were trials (some well succeeded, other not really, as he frequently confessed on the last few days) of recreating the first visit to the Acropolis.
The stories of Louise, in similitude to her works, have various levels of interpretation. This one doesn’t escape the rule and, in a very subtle way, Louise had touched all the points that sustain the ineffable space. While Louise talked, Corbu thought about analyzing each of those points with Louise, because the ineffable space is still an enigma, an equation, to which he was not only interested in determining the cause and effect. Those, rightly or wrongly, he had defined in Vers une Architecture and had just finished talking about that. The problem of the unconscious should maybe be kept for last, despite having Louise started there. Despite Louise always starting and ending there. But, the cause and effect, to which Louise had referred to, respect to the attraction and the fear that the creation of a work of art implies and that, deep down, are the symptoms of the ineffable space. The story of Louise, more than being about the work of art, was about the process of creation and everything that the artist goes through in that moment of defiance and danger. The erotic impulse, pleasure and death symbolize all the process of the creative act. Curiously, Louise some years back, had made a question, apparently in the opposite direction, about the genesis of the creative act and Corbu reminds it to himself: “Is it the process of being born or the process of giving birth?” Art has the countless power of uniting those two extremes: death and life. But if the act of being born seems to belong to the work, such as when Louise affirms that it is the work that determines and ends itself during the process of creation, the process of giving birth remits to a violent and intense movement by the artist (to the guts) or to what the artist isn’t able ti say in other way: to the unsayable in life. In any of the cases, Louise has always referred to one life, inseparable of the artist (it is not the same life of the artist, since the work of art is like his double). Corbu likes to think about these ideas of Louise. They’re familiar to him. But, at the same time, he knows that the ineffable space is determined by the artist. It is up to the artist, to find the reason for that architecture and not other. In Vers une Architecture, he affirms, even, that pure invention is personal, “to the point that it is that of a man.” And not another. The same man may, inclusively, create different works, similar or contradictory, as Louise admits, and none equal that he realizes an ineffable space. Corbu stands up and, before going to the window to watch the Sun, whispers to Louise: “The man feels a great happiness when he feels he is creating.” Louise observes him looking, through her window, at the street. “I love this city,” she says to him, “its clean-cut look, its sky, its buildings, its scientific, cruel, romantic quality.” Corbu remains in silence, sits down again and pours himself more tea.
“I do not know the miracle of faith,” confesses Corbu, while filling up his cup, “but I often experience that of ineffable space, which is the highest level of artistic emotion.” “One day, a friend of mine said: ‘Will someone one day be able to describe the beauty of that life, its hardness, its anxiety, its disappointments, its bitterness and sorrows, its triumphant joy, its need to love and be loved, its need of tenderness, its immense work, and that return to the self so full of generosity? Perhaps it is necessary to experience those disappointments, that anxiety, and the sadness that comes as a result, in order to overcome them with the energy of the self, and beyond the sadness find joy again and transmit it’.” Louise knows this process well: it is the creation of a work of art that allows her the passage from a passive state to an active state. The passive state may be a depressive state, of despondency, anguish, anxiety, as it also be of fury or annoyance. Above all, the creation of a work of art allows her to know her fears. Louise confirms to Corbu: “You convert the menace, the fear, the anxiety, through the redemptive force of art.” “I carry my psychoanalysis within the work. Every day I work out all that bothers me. All my complaints.” It is for this same reason that Louise affirms that Freud and Lacan didn’t do anything for the artists, simply because, by not being artists, they could not know this process. Only the artist can explore, constantly (because they don’t disappear as well, but their contours and limits are known), their fears and fulfill them into works of art. It is a process of self-knowledge, that implies suffering. Corbu has an idea that Freud went through an experience very identical to his when he visited the Acropolis for the first time, as well. But, who knows, following Louise’s idea, fulfilling their fears during the process of creation of the ineffable space, contrary to what was thought, one day, by the (modern) architects? For Louise, it is evident that her fears operate and intervene during the process of creating, as well as becoming part of the work of art itself, which expresses them. The work of art isn’t limited to talking about a fear, how that fear is pictured, a tangible emotional reality in colors and materials. Like black is sad. The fear itself, which Corbu felt, of not being able to construct an ineffable space, equaling the primacy of the Acropolis, can only be tested during the process of creating. And this process is never-ending. Louise, who had heard Corbu attentively and had felt his inquietude, says to him: “You are born an artist. You can’t help it. You have no choice.” “To be born an artist is both a privilege and a curse.” “You can just accept or refuse the gift.”
For two times now, Louise had heard Corbu talking about faith. She wanted to talk about that, but she proceeded with caution: “What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definite way of expressing yourself. This is why modern art will continue, because this condition remains; it is the modern condition… it is about the hurt of not being able to express yourself properly, to express your intimate relations, your unconscious, to trust the world enough to express yourself directly in it. It is about trying to be sane in this situation, of being tentatively and temporarily sane by expressing yourself. All art comes from terrific failures and terrific needs that we have. It is about the difficulty of being a self because one is neglected. Everywhere in the modern world there is neglect, the need to be recognized, which is not satisfied. Art is a way of recognizing oneself, which is why it will always be modern.” Corbu notes a sudden change in Louise. Suddenly, she included him in her words. She begins to understand Louise better, as well. For Louise, recognizing herself is knowing her fears, her limits, all that she has been through before and still does, each time, in each work. It’s the return to oneself, that André had talked about, and whose words Corbu had remembered a while ago. But Louise had introduced an important element: the modern condition and what it signifies. Beyond the famous slogans about the modern experience, for which he had become known, Corbu has, however, another image of architecture. “I would like to present architecture’s true image,” he says to Louise. “It is determined by spiritual values derived from a particular state of consciousness, and by technical factors that assure the practical realization of an idea. It is further determined by the strength of the work, its effectiveness and permanence. Consciousness equals life-purpose equals man. Technology equals the establishment of contact between man and his environment. Technology is the consequence of study. The other element born of passion is the result of a struggle with the self. Jacob and the angel. By constantly attentive, disciplined personal action from childhood on, individual gifts, whether great, average or small, as fate dictates, can be purified, elevated and improved. By the same token, detached, lazy, negligent inattention permits these same gifts to deteriorate in the course of the daily events of life.” Louise and Corbu spoke of the same problem. The acknowledgement of failures is what propels the modern artist to express himself in the world in the best possible way. The gifts of the artist are nothing, if he doesn’t acknowledge what exists of most absolute in life and, above all, if he doesn’t express it. This is the curse. If the artist doesn’t know how to fight, persist and resist to each work he creates, he sees, himself, deteriorating. And not just the gifts. “Inner consistency is the test of the artist,” confirms Louise. The modern condition is inseparable from that state of consciousness or inner consistency, because there is a constant evaluation of the failures and an insatiable desire of overcoming. It is the double movement, through which the world advances. “Without fear nothing in the world would ever be done.”
“I have a religious temperament,” Louise proceeds, “which is why things are so difficult for me. I was brought up in an anti-religious attitude. There are 140 religions or so, so one more doesn’t matter. And my religion is art. It allows me to make sense of everything.” She asks, immediately, if Corbu wants some chocolate, handing out a box of bonbons. In any way, were Louise’s words strange to Corbu. He had already confessed her he believed in the miracle of the ineffable space. And, miracle, to Corbu, is, also, a metaphor. A metaphor for the supreme artistic creation, or, after all they had already told each other, the fight won. But the fight, in the ineffable space, is reactivated, just like Louise goes one work to the other. The symptoms and the sensations, that lead the creative process, persist in the experience of the space itself or the work of art. And it is the experience of those same symptoms and those same sensations that originate the process of creation. Even if the artist doesn’t know, beforehand, the result, he recognizes the impulse at its origin. Isn’t the ineffable space the very process of the creative act? Or, picking up what Louise had said, one day, about space: isn’t the ineffable space the metaphor for the process of the creative act? Louise recalls to herself how Corbu had described the ineffable space. The similarities are aplenty. But is it the same process? And does it refer to the same thing?
Some days before, Corbu had told, to the students of Princeton’s architectural schools, how the creation of architecture was rewarding. After the agonies of all the creative process, of work, the architectural work brought happiness, not only to the architect, aware of having given his best, but, above all, to others. If Corbu demanded and demonstrated, to the students, an absolute faith in the creative act, the same faith which allows him to recognize and believe in the miracle of ineffable space, this, however, doesn’t fit into that kind of architecture, which brings happiness to others. This is the difference between ineffable space and any other architectural work. And it was Corbu who established it. The ineffable space is, simultaneously, radiant and terrifying. In the ineffable space, one looses not only speech to the amazement and profound admiration for the eternal sublime, but also faces the greatest fears that may exists before a space: claustrophobia and agoraphobia. Only to Corbu (the architect) is given the chance to control those symptoms and those sensations. But, just as well, only Corbu (the architect) experiences the terrible fear of failing in the realization of such a space. Intense and brutal, as he had said. It is the story of Turenne and his horse or the story of the snake and the bird. The ineffable space is an experience of the architect as he creates.
The process of Louise is the same process of Corbu. There are no doubts. And, however, the fears of one are not the fears of the other. Will a common portal exist, beyond the concrete fears of each of them, from which a certain life experience emerges, they wouldn’t be able to express in any other way? Louise calls it “unconscious.” Corbu calls it “fourth dimension.” While Corbu delights himself with a chocolate bonbon, Louise remembers, one more time, what Corbu had said, in the beginning of the afternoon, about the ineffable space, and tells him, pointing towards some of her works: “Well, I’m on all these landscapes, unconscious landscapes, soft, the end of softness – even the Cumuls all belong to the same group. They are anthropomorphic and they are landscapes also. Our own body could be considered, from a topographical point of view, a land with mounds and valleys and caves and holes. So it seems rather evident to me that our own body is a figuration that appears in mother earth. This is where these landscapes come from. Technically they are two kinds: there is the poured [latex] landscape that you actually cannot control, since it is poured; and there is a certain kind of sculptured and cut landscape, where the landscape is chiseled with a hammer and chisel. The last landscape I made was a landscape of udders. Well, just picture a female dog, or a cow; you put her on her back and you have a very interesting, moving, live, and flexible landscape. Everything comes back to that. If you hold a naked child against your naked breast, it is not the end of softness, it is the beginning of softness, it is life itself.” Louise is, many times, enigmatic in the choice of her examples. “what do you mean by unconscious landscape?” Corbu asks her. “Unconscious – I mean that this is something you do not want, that you undergo. Unconscious is something which is volcanic in tone, and yet you cannot do anything about it, and you better be it’s friend, you better accept it, and even love it if you can, because it might get the better of you, you never know.” Corbu just wanted confirmation. Louise’s examples reminded him, inevitably, of the fourth dimension. “The fourth dimension,” he explains to Louise, “is the moment of limitless escape evoked by exceptionally just consonance of the plastic means employed.” “In a complete and successful work,” he continues, “there are hidden masses of implications, a veritable world which reveals itself to those it may concern.” Corbu knows that the association with the unconscious of Louise is only possible, because he is thinking about the ineffable space. The ineffable space holds that immense power of generating, to whom inhabits it and to space, sensations of extreme joy or profound pain. And the world Corbu speaks of is the world of Louise, where sensations are real (they are not simple represented sensations, because they have a direct impact in who observes them, “even if unconscious”). The fourth dimension of Corbu is the maximum limit to which Turenne takes his horse or Louise her unconscious. Beyond that limit, the unconscious transforms into a real object, existent in space, containing life. “What that is about is that all of a sudden life is breathed into things,” Corbu concludes. That is the miracle of ineffable space and the mystery of art. However, the fourth dimension and the access to the unconscious are not mere results of a creative process, they are the motors of that very process. The desire that moves the artist. The erotic impulse. The challenge before the danger.
The desire is fulfilled. The impulse, satisfied with pleasure. The risk, overcome. And, after the construction of the ineffable space, after the realization of the work of art, what happens? Louise suggests to Corbu that they visit the place where she works, before he leaves. Corbu gets up and links arms with her.