Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child at the Hayward Gallery
Representing the creative works of Louise Bourgeois in the final decades of her career, The Woven Child is the first major retrospective of the artist to focus on her work with fabrics and textiles, exhibiting a range of sculptures, installations and tapestries all incorporating – and exploring – textiles as a medium.
The daughter of tapestry restorers, Bourgeois had an interesting and complex relationship with textile art, and the works on display in The Woven Child represent that perfectly. Bourgeois plays with texture and form in fascinating ways, making use of the physicality of fabric to create art that is at once intimate and grotesque.
Large fabric sculptures evoke something raw and medical, with pink and tan fabrics bringing to mind flayed bodies and skin, which mix with images of sexuality and birth to create some powerful and visceral images that marry creation and destruction. The sculptures also contrast soft textiles with the harsh angles of operating tables and cells in a number of evocative and fascinating ways.
Bourgeois’s installations play with ideas of image and memory, with clothes suspended in the air like moments suspended in time, the artist’s own outfits held up by cattle bones in an intersection of life and death – that which has long gone and that which continues to endure. Spools and needles are a recurring motif in the’ work, representing the interconnected threads of memory that make up the tapestry of human life; an additional recurring numerical motif of five objects calls back to Bourgeois’s family, giving the displays a deeply personal and tender touch.
The centrepiece of the exhibit, 1997’s Spider, is a striking representation of all of these interconnected themes and visuals, mixing styles, forms and textures in a grand piece that is at once complicated and simple. A sprawling metallic spider looms over a cage, adorned with tapestries and fabrics and decorated with personal touches from Bourgeois’s life, suggesting feelings of intimacy and isolation, of protection and vulnerability. It’s a work with a lot of moving pieces, but it coveys them simply and effectively.
The Woven Child is a touching tribute to a life well-lived, giving Bourgeois’s fascinating and creative twilight years the perfect stage to shine their brightest. The pieces on display here cover a fantastic spectrum of emotion, representing the constant process of creation and destruction that is the human experience perfectly.
Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child is at the Hayward Gallery from 9th February until 15th May 2022. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.