I researched Louise Bourgeois for an assignment a while back, but I didn’t particularly like her work. But when I recently saw her work in the flesh at Heide Museum of Modern Art, I was impressed and moved.
Her large sculpture Spider (1997) – a huge metal spider enclosing a cage containing a chair, pieces of tapestry, an old fashioned perfume bottle, darning needles and hatpins, small bones, and a cameo, which seemed like personal objects from her past – lurked in the gloom, resonating with psychological unease. The more I looked at it, the more details I noticed. It’s like a strange museum exhibit of Bourgeois’s traumatic childhood.
Every day you have to abandon your past or accept it, and then, if you cannot accept it, you become a sculptor. L. Bourgeois
The headless and partially limbless torsos, made of bandages, fabric and wood, one with a knife instead of a head, and the headless, deformed couple apparently having sex, were a disturbing embodiment of dysfunction, desire, fear and sexuality. I also found the black female figure hanging upside down like a carcass quite confronting.
Blue Days (1996) – a collection of Bourgeois’ dresses and shirts, on stuffed headless torsos like dressmakers forms, hanging on hooks on metal rods – felt merely nostalgic and ‘lighter’ than some of the other work. A welcome respite from the psychological darkness.
Cinq is five stuffed fabric heads hanging from the same hook. It was suggested that they might represent Bourgeois’s family. I liked the simplicity and tenderness of this work.
There was also a collection of lithographs of drawings and text. I liked the phrase ‘To unravel a torment you must begin somewhere’. The word unravel continues the sewing metaphor which pervades the work.
When I was growing up all the women in my house were using needles. I’ve always had a fascination with…the magic power of the needle. The needle is used to repair the damage.
L. Bourgeois, 1992
In a way I suppose Bourgeois was repairing the damage of her early trauma, using her needle, for most of her life.