If one is to take a brief walk across the Garden of the Rijksmuseum this June, they will find themselves destabilized as their gaze come to meet the gigantic metallic installations which preside over the greenery, reminding its onlookers of an inherent anxiety. Along the hedges, between dense foliage of old trees, sunbathing tourists rest amidst the vestiges of Bourgeois’s repressed memories.
No amount of light can distract the viewer from the somber undertones of these symbolic structures marked by an absence of safety, both in physicality, as well as an inherent emotional instability. This inability to find grounding can be felt in Spider Couple, a pair of bronze spiders with all sixteen angular extremities firmly planted into the ground, intertwined upon one another, as if to give shape to a new entity with enough strength to face reality. The tension between heaviness and lightness is adequately formulated in the juxtaposition of material to space, almost as if to express the malleability of essence itself when a substance is transported outside its allocated boundaries. The latter finds application to individuals, ideas, and impressions, as they undergo ceaseless displacement and negotiation to find a place of their own.
Bourgeois herself seem to be unwilling to acknowledge these feelings, as every depiction comes to inform the audience of an alternate reality. This repression can be witnessed in Welcoming Hands, a series of intertwined hands slashed at the elbow grasping at one another tightly. While the sculpture is said to represent attachment and affection, the absence of body reflects the artist’s own alienation from the safety sought from the guardian, while Give or Take, an outreached hand adjoined to a clenched fist, expresses at once a desire to show vulnerability and a hesitancy to keep to oneself by burying the past and letting it be.
In Maman too, we come to observe Bourgeois’s frustration at having had to play protector to her mother, as the latter took notice of her husband’s infidelity. Despite the disquieting presence of its overbearing structures, the work is ultimately depicted as an ode to her mother, with the arachnid as protector, rather than the somber shadow over the artist’s life, as well as the birthplace of much of her anxiety.
Behind these descriptions lie the artist’s desire for an alternate reality, of a childhood that can no longer be recovered and an ideal that can only come to be through a modification of memory. Ultimately, there can be no reparation for a broken past, only new interpretations in its deconstruction, so that one may someday establish an understanding that will generate through its expression, an eventual acceptance, and in Bourgeois’s case, perpetual artistry. Elaine Xheng 6th June 2019
Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens continues until 3rd November.