Louise Bourgeois-inspired outreach in Southampton

10 Apr 2015

Young people in Southampton respond to Louise Bourgeois, creating their own exhibition.

Last September I began working as an ARTIST ROOMS Trainee for the exhibition Louise Bourgeois: A Woman Without Secrets at Southampton City Art Gallery.

Eight months later, as the exhibition comes to an end, I take a look back on the experience. The opportunity that has not only given me a great insight into the honest and extraordinary life and work of Louise Bourgeois but has also shown me the vast amount of thought, work and dedication that goes into exhibiting such influential works of art.

Working with Young People

One of my key responsibilities was coordinating a project which involved working with young people to create an exhibition in response to A Woman Without Secrets. The young people involved were students of two local hospital schools and ranged in age from 4-16. They were asked to select and reinterpret artwork from Southampton’s permanent collection as well as create their own pieces inspired by the life and work of Louise Bourgeois.

Working closely with the collections team at Southampton City Art Gallery, I researched their vast collection and began drawing links between the artworks they hold and the themes present within the work of Louise Bourgeois. On the student’s first visit to the Art Gallery I was able to show them these works from the collection and use them as a tool for exploring the strong themes that can be found in Louise Bourgeois work. We discussed ideas of childhood, friendship, fears and anxieties, and the body. The students were then invited to select a work they felt a personal connection to and create new interpretation that referenced the themes discussed – this would then would form part of a complimentary display to the main exhibition. Their reactions and perspectives were fascinating.

The piece of artwork I have chosen to be exhibited in the gallery is Reflective Head by Michael Aryton. I like it because I can see my reflection in it. It reminds me of myself. If my head was split in two I could look both ways. It links to the work of Louise Bourgeois because it is like friendship, which can be happy and sad.


I also visited the two schools to run art workshops with artist Jo Bressloff and education team member Caroline Piper, enabling the young people to shape and create pieces for their own exhibition.

Bourgeois’ work sees her facing her fears and anxieties, and takes an honest look at her own childhood and traumas, we wanted the workshops to have an aspect of therapy to them and the young people were able to relate and engage with the work on a very personal level.

It was wonderful to see the group open up and really engage with the project, for example: at Bursledon House we made sculptures: clay spiders inspired by Maman, plaster plaque reliefs based on childhood memories, and modrock casts of each other's hands and arms

At Leigh House we ran a textile workshop. It was a calm and therapeutic afternoon with great discussion around the themes in Bourgeois’ work and how it related to the young people.

First, we created tie-dyes inspired by Bourgeois’ spirals and the idea of her ringing out her family tapestries in the river. We also created giant circular weavings using collected fabrics, inspired by Bourgeois’ use of found materials.

Installing the exhibition

After the artwork was complete and the selections had been made, I was given the opportunity to work with the exhibitions team installing the young people's exhibition. Inspiration for the layout and hang was taken from images of Louise Bourgeois’ studio.

It was exciting to see the work come together, and was really rewarding to see the young people's work up in the gallery space. We then helped install the young people's choice exhibition, which included pieces such as Eva Rothschild's Blackout and my own choice Dorothy Cross’s Conventions.


It has been wonderful to see so many people viewing the work of the young people alongside that of Louise Bourgeois, acting as another way to access this fantastic body of work.

As well as general visitors and schools the art gallery’s Touch Tour group has also been able to benefit from this project. Last week the group of visually impaired adults visited the gallery for a tour around A Woman Without Secrets and the complimentary young people’s display with artist Jo Bressloff. After learning about Bourgeois, we visited conservation where participants were able to handle the young people's artwork. It was wonderful to see the participants feel and connect with the work, knowing that the young people had made the Bourgeois exhibition accessible to a wider audience. The work also inspired the group to create their own modrock hand sculptures.

The whole project has been amazing and I have loved every part of it. It has been great to see the young people take a real interest and deliver a fresh insight into the work of Louise Bourgeois. Becoming artists, exhibiting their creations, building their confidence and providing a great sense of achievement. It has been great for me too, learning about all aspects of the curation of an exhibition from start to finish.

The project has left me feeling confident to run workshops with varied audiences and I am excited and inspired to continue my career in Arts Education. I am so grateful to ARTIST ROOMS and everyone at Southampton Art gallery for providing such an amazing opportunity.  




ARTIST ROOMS Louise Bourgeois runs at Southampton City Art Gallery until 18 April 2015.