Toward the end of her life, nonagenarian Louise Bourgeois handed over a set of watercolours to Tracey Emin to do with what she would. It was a daunting invitation which resulted in Emin layering text, print and drawing onto the fluid grounds. The repetitive images within the works are figurative: phallic and pregnant. Bourgeois and Emin are obvious bedfellows: both confront themselves, and the art world, with their autobiographical unravellings and interrogations. While this is obviously a collaboration, like oil sitting on water, it doesn’t feel entirely integrated; there’s a gossamer thin, almost visible intake of breath separating their identities. While the idea of this alliance provoked the possibility of art as a great girls’ night out – risk-taking, fur flying, confession, Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin Hauser & Wirth strokes, while Tracey, the daughter, is forced into reaction with a dark, naughty, detailed mixture of deliberate and hesitant scribing.
There’s a dynamic of scale at play here, too: the monumental (Bourgeois) versus the tiny (Emin). The latter’s marks are diminutive, almost graffiti-like interventions on the former’s ‘landscape’ of bodies. Emin, the receiver, is forced into a reactive position. It’s not hard to understand the difficult situation she was in: who wouldn’t be tentative, faced with such a task? But this is also the strength of the exhibition – the dynamic between two strong women, the complexity of female communication and the terrible vulnerability that drawing can so mercilessly expose. Some of the works can simply be appreciated for the quality of the drawing, the gesture of a breast or a hole (particularly on the piece ‘I lost You’, with Emin’s lines echoing Bourgeois’s forms), rather than the narrative or visual mischief prevalent throughout the series. This is evidence of mutual respect, too; even though Emin’s contributions sometimes feel frivolous, she never attempts to erase Bourgeois’s imagery. These, in some ways, very different artists have always seemed to share a language, or spirit, and the symmetry in some of the works (‘Waiting for You’, for example) – the pairings of breasts/buttocks, females, mirror words, and so on – works as a kind of visual viscosity, a palpable synergy. For all that, Do Not Abandon Me is ultimately just an elaborate sketchbook: an exploration of a theme, but without any grand conclusion. These combined voices feel like they belong to the world of Gustav Jung and perhaps go some way to articulating the ‘archetypal woman’ often lost within the dark depths of our dreams. Louise Clarke