Bourgeois’s interest in fabric can be traced back to her childhood where she assisted in her family’s tapestry restoration workshop and drew missing elements in scenes depicted on tapestries. Throughout her life she accumulated clothing and other fabrics, which she started to appropriate in her art work beginning in the mid-1990’s. During the last two decades of her career she went on to utilize processes such as weaving, embroidery and applique and experimented with various types of printing on textiles, including etching, lithography, silkscreen and archival dyes.
In Ode à l'Oubli, a 35-panel cloth book, Bourgeois began collaging various accumulated textiles into compositions, exploiting repetitive patterns and layering cloth, which added a tactile sculptural element. The Hours of the Day fabric book is a chronological sequence of 24 page-spreads with text on one side and a sequential clock on the other. The text comes from Bourgeois’s daybooks, which she used for appointments and annotated with short texts and drawings. Ode à la Bièvre is a remembrance of the Bièvre River in Antony, an area outside of Paris, where Bourgeois spent her childhood years. The compositions are assembled from scraps of collected fabrics and depict abstracted landscapes of the surrounding gardens and river. To Whom It May Concern, a collaboration with the writer Gary Indiana, was Bourgeois’s last fabric book. The text by Indiana was written in response to Louise’s images of male and female torsos and at seven inches thick, the bound volume takes on a sculptural significance.
Other works in the exhibition explore Bourgeois’s recurrent themes of motherhood, birth, nature, memory and abandonment. Night and Day, a diptych in dyed silk, depicts a landscape that doubles as a female form likening to a figurative Mother Earth. In Girl with Hair, a woman appears to be transforming into a spider serving as a metaphor for the mother as creator, devourer, and protector. The Ticking Clock alludes to the passage of time and the family cycle – the artist’s birth and that of her own children as well as her mother and her own motherhood. I Am Afraid is a woven text bearing her multiple fears; the fear of silence, darkness, falling, insomnia, emptiness and loss.
Carolina Nitsch published some two dozen projects with Bourgeois, many of them on fabric, either as single images or as variations of a subject in series, culminating in the last project Do Not Abandon me, a collaboration between Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin that explores sexuality, identity, birth, gender and ultimately the need to feel attached to the “Other”. Concurrently on view at The Museum of Modern Art is the exhibition Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait, which explores the prints, books, and creative process of Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010).