Walking around the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art recently, I suddenly found myself becoming a huge fan. Her work is deeply personal but immediately takes a ‘known’ place in the viewer’s psyche. Bourgeois worked in all sorts of media: fabric, bronze, found objects, drawing, painting, poetry, embroidery. But in all her pieces she serves her message by placing you somewhere near her initial idea or thought, only ‘near’ because there is a mystery in all of it too, some of the motivation must have been very private but she takes you tantalisingly close to the most intimate of moments. The work portrays all the emotions from love and hate to humour and anger. The pieces are beautifully made no matter which particular material she chooses, there are no arbitrary ‘mistakes’ or bad moves, only the necessary and the functional, it seems; each work directed at the heart and the brain through the eye of you.
So when you walk away from the gallery the work of Louise Bourgeois all stays with you, a story she has told with no beginning and no end, the scenery of a dark and exciting voyage about being a human.
Above all the work looks ‘young’, much of it is, Bourgeois worked until she was very old. There is one piece in the show that was made very close to her death in 2010 but it looks as though she was going to carry on the next week or next day with the same solid exploration, innovation and creativity. Bourgeois looked for the images and materials that most exemplified her innermost soul and never ran out of ideas or imagery to tease us.
That word ‘innovation’ was bandied around quite a lot last year in this office, I notice now that we even have a cabinet minister for innovation. When I mentioned to my son, who works for a branding/advertising agency, that we were making a film about innovation, he commented that it was a ‘slippery’ word… what does it really mean? Innovation may be the new word for ‘creativity’ – another word that is drawn out in almost every walk of life now as if we needed to define it and align ourselves to it. In days gone by we probably didn’t need to use words like innovation and creativity because our daily lives and work were dependent on our artisanal skills, our ability to make something or to be part of the making. There was a sequence in Jeremy Paxman’s BBC1 series Britain’s Great War where he visited The Shuttleworth Collection of ancient World War 1 aircraft. Paxman took a flight in a Bristol F.2B, an extraordinary evocation of innovation and creativity, using available skills and materials in the service of a modern idea – Flight.
In the digital age our artisanal skills are not so evident but somehow we need to remind ourselves of their attraction and function. The trouble is our education system (and modern industry to a degree) has worked against our very strong artisanal gene, the desire to create. Now we need a cabinet minister and conferences about creativity, and we are asked to make films about innovation to encourage our industries to think creatively.