There is no natural light in the Hayward Gallery. The artworks are illuminated in a soft, artificial glow, similar to the flat light of dusk. Gallery visitors creep around in the crepuscular gloom and I watch their shadows flit across the weave of Louise Bourgeois’ fabric children.
These creations are curious and malformed. They invariably slouch or hang - anything but stand up straight - as if loath to keep their form. Even at their most structured, seams ripple and fabrics fray. I skirt around a headless devil of red linen and try to figure out what the exhibition's title, ‘Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child’, could mean. ‘Weave’, and its synonym, ‘fabric’, has a double association with the domestic sphere and the world of women. ‘Child’ also further duplicates meaning - a comparison between Louise Bourgeois’ creative process and the birth and regeneration? Or perhaps the exhibition will explore motherhood and feminity? As I stare at a golden orb of twisted metal, feminism obtrudes its lovely head into my thoughts and I start to wonder how transgressive this exhibition aims to be.
Louise Bourgeois often remarked on the use of clothing within her work, explaining that “clothing is [...] an exercise in memory. It makes me explore the past: how did I feel when I wore that”. For her, clothes are “signposts in the search for the past”.
I wander past a carousel of white nighties and huge, glowing bones, and note the stains, rips and creases. This piece doesn’t just articulate a moment in the past - it also shows the patina of time that weighs upon it, distorting it. Moving through the first room of the gallery, this distortion is a constant presence, creating a sense of making and unmaking, mending and un-mending. The experience is disorientating. Even as meaning is found between the disparate elements, it falls away, leaving discordant symbols. If each piece is an ‘exercise in memory’, it is like memories uncovered in a dream. They shift and shuffle, resisting definition.