Tears of Eros @ Thyssen Bornemisza – Madrid

, 20 October 2009

5 centuries of eroticism filled with cobras, tears, ropes, sea foam…. animals and objects which may look innocent but that art has transformed into erotic symbols. Need some proof? These symbols constantly repeat themselves throughout history with the same meaning… that’s the case of the snake always linked to temptation since Genesis. Rachel Weisz used a python to hide her charms in front of James White’s camera.

James white
Without title by James White

The exhibition takes its name from “Les Larmes d’Éros” (1961), Georges Bataille’s last book before his death and his final contribution on a theme he had researched in depth in Eroticism (1957): the intimate relationship between Eros and Thanatos, between sex drive and death instinct.

Using images of agony to express sexual climax and the language of ecstasy to depict death was of course not an invention of Bataille’s: we find it in Wagner, in Romantic poetry, in Bernini and Michelangelo, in the Spanish mystics and in ancient Greek poetry. Bataille believed he had found a basis for the connection between Eros and Thanatos: both in death and erotic fulfilment we return, from the discontinuity of individual life to the original continuity of being.

Saint Sebastián by José de Ribera

Eroticism is a subject of taboo, a prohibition (interdit) which illuminates the forbidden “with a light both sinister and divine: in a word, it illuminates it with a religious light”. In eroticism, as in the sacred, prohibition does not exist without transgression. Prohibition excludes the natural, animal impulses, in order to establish the dominion of the cultural. But from the very moment it is formulated, prohibition triggers the return of the excluded, of what had previously been rejected with horror. Animal impulses return in religious sacrifice, during which violence is moulded like some precious yet dangerous material. For Bataille sacrifice is the ultimate stage for eroticism.

To explore the intimate relationship between Eros and Thanatos, the mythological figures are set out in an almost narrative sequence, moving forward from innocence to temptation (Venus… Eve and the serpent), from temptation to the torment of passion (Apollo & Hyacinth), and ending in atonement and death (penitents and head-hunters).

Andromeda Chained up by Gustave Doré

The exhibition is divided as usual in two parts, one in the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum and the second one in the Caja Madrid Foundation…. you have until January 31st to find your erotic symbol.