It is the fourth time I have seen the same art exhibition in a month. Is it becoming an obsession? Maybe! Having seen Structures of Existence: The Cells at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, I feel deeply touched by the bleak and brilliant art and person of Louise Bourgeois.
The Cells is a series of spatial sculptures, which represent the artist’s emotions that stem from her childhood traumas. Each cell represents a memory or a psychic injury.
Each time I have seen The Cells, new symbolic details were revealed to my eyes and hidden layers of meaning emerged from the deep. Bourgeois’ symbolism is subtle and straightforward at the same time. At a first glance, the cells seem complex in their inner meanings, but the more you get to know Louise Bourgeois as a person, understand her earlier life and the related fears and anxieties, the easier to decipher.
Though she encourages the audience to look at the objects and create own meanings, not merely look for cues in her life. Of the four times I visited the exhibition, twice I was there with friends or family. Not surprisingly, each of us found different meanings in the same objects or installations. What seemed horrifying to me evoked positive feelings in my friend. For instance, the giant spider, which is perceived as a repulsive and perhaps dangerous animal also signifies a mother’s protectiveness.
One of the cells that has made a strong impression on me is the one named “Red Room (Child)”. The deep red color creates a strong sense of drama and passion. It can also signify a tragic or painful event with involvement of blood. This cell is like a theatrical stage. It is up to the audience to make up the story. The red wax sculpture of small infant hands being held by adult hands from the wrist is striking. There is affection, protectiveness, but also softness and despair. Perhaps the adult is trying to help the child, but his or her hands are cut off, so are the infant’s hands. There is hope and hopelessness. Connectedness and separation. The spools of red thread lead me to think of patience and discipline. Or perhaps the opportunity to influence the rest of your life by weaving the unused thread as you please. There are many objects made of glass, which can mean fragility and vulnerability.
The ambiguity and symbolic abundance of Louise Bourgeois’ work is overwhelming. It is so rich in meaning, that the works unfold continuously at every glance. The exhibition The Cells at Louisiana is definitely worth a visit. But if you intend to get a deeper understanding of Louis Bourgeois’ fantastic universe, you may need more than one visit.