a Cloth Lullaby and Cautionary Tale

Yesterday, I went with my friend Isabel to see the Tate exhibition, The Body Laid Bare at the Auckland Art Gallery. The show had some glorious works. Our favourites were a Giacometti bronze of a headless nude woman, which had a dimly lit room all to itself, and a tiny portrait by Gwen John of a semi-nude consumptive looking woman. The woman locked eyes with us and she had such an inscrutable expression that her frail little figure managed to dominate an entire wall of paintings. We returned to her again before leaving so that hers would be the last image in our mind (as opposed to the large-scale hairy bum of a then 74 year old photographer, which was right next to the exit!)

The image above is a detail of a Louise Bourgeois textile figure. There were a number of the artist's later works on paper in the exhibition, as well as the headless bronze figure of a male nude on a bed,  but sadly, none of her textile pieces were included in the show.

My mild disappointment at this was alleviated though by a range of Bourgeois-inspired merchandise in the gallery shop, among which was the children's book (above) that made its way home with me. Written by Amy Novesky, and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, this sweet account of the artist's life, skirts around some of the larger life-traumas that obsessed Bourgeois, which is reasonable given that it's a book for kids. It focuses instead on her deep love for her mother and the way that her involvement in the family's tapestry repair business influenced her later activity as an artist.

These last two pages about Bourgeois' life-long project of unpicking "all the fabric of her life" and putting it back together again reminded me of a project I started a six years ago that involved making a cloth book from the dismembered pieces of an Austin Brown coat. I published a prose poem about it (a cautionary tale about the need to fit in) but I always imagined a textile book would come of it.  Life has a way of intervening though, and sidetracking me onto other things, but I nearly always return to a project eventually. In this case, the revival of the project was triggered by Novesky  and Arsenault's lovely book.

What I love best about Louise Bourgeois is how seemingly effortlessly she slipped between the beautiful and the grotesque. Look at the hideous pink sutured soft sculpture at the start of this post and then look at the intricacy and colour of these three beautiful pieces (all sourced from the book Louise Bourgeois: The Fabric Works by Germano Celant).

I've been trying to get my head around this idea (the beautiful and the ugly)by playing around with pieces from the dismembered Austin Brown coat that used to belong to my mother.

Here's one arrangement. 
Then move a few things around, 
and extract a few more, 
and you have this

another arrangement that tells a very different story.

I'm going to keep playing around and see what develops.

Let's hope it doesn't take another six years...


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