From dismembered forms to delicately woven fabrics; Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child is an exhibition of multitudes. The works featured, relentless in their psychoanalytic examination, were all made in the final 20 years of Bourgeois’ life. This finality is palpable throughout. Many of the textile-based works, reflect on the tumultuous relationship Bourgeois had with her father, a tapestry repairer by trade. In the artist’s words, ‘the magic power of the needle…to repair the damage’ and to offer ‘a claim for forgiveness’. In each space, there is a definite feeling of emotional reparation – whether it’s ever resolved is hard to tell.
Throughout The Woven Child, Bourgeois continually returns to a few chosen motifs; fabric heads, expectant mothers, hanging bodies. Enclosure is also reoccurring as many of the works are built inside cabinets and cages, contained like specimens ready to be viewed or corpses in coffins. For these pieces, the viewer is always on the outside, looking in but never entering. The work is jarring, a glimpse into Bourgeois’ mental state.
It’s hard to ignore the relationship between Bourgeois’ works and the Hayward, such a particular building in itself. The lower floors are challenging – harsh angles, low light and a little too much open space to feel comfortable in. The works sit well in these spaces, revelling in the malaise. Upstairs is brighter and the works feel delicate and sensitive. At times, the pieces feel a little disconnected – placed together unwillingly rather than in conversation.
Upstairs, the large metal sculpture Spider (1997) fills the space. The spider is a recurring device in Bourgeois’ practice. For Bourgeois, the spider is the mother – they are weavers, makers, protectors, ‘I come from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.’ Further, spiders seem to be reflective of the way Louise Bourgeois made work – forming architectures from their bodies, extensions of themselves. However, there is also an ambivalence to these works, people fear spiders. This intersection between love and hate is where a lot of Bourgeois’ work sits.
In the final space, there are 4 works, each one is a large wooden vitrine with blue-tinted glass windows, containing various sculptural forms. Inside Untitled (2005) there is a cluster of sagging, discoloured fabric pouches strung from a pole like an IV drip. They are skin-like and breast-like. The works here feel depleted and clinical, perhaps a direct reflection of the artist, as they were made during the 5 years before her death. A quote to the side of one of the pieces reads ‘To me, a sculpture is a body. My body is my sculpture’.
Incredibly confronting, Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child is full of sexual ambiguity, depression, maternal ambivalence and ageing bodies. It’s sad – a final attempt at healing deep emotional wounds.
Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child runs from 9 February to 15 May 2022 and tickets are available here. It is curated by Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff, with Assistant Curator Katie Guggenheim and Curatorial Assistant Marie-Charlotte Carrier.
Photo of large metal sculpture ‘Spider’, 1997 taken by Amy Melling.
Reviewed by Amy Melling – Amy is a Curator and Creative Producer whose practice is centred around community-led arts projects. Her current research is focused on curatorial methods for exhibiting artworks outside. Amy has a keen interest in the arts and recently completed an MA in Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.