Maman’s Day Kate Greenhalgh style.
You may have come across Louise Bourgeois’ immense spider statues, and perhaps walked beneath the arching, arachnid legs, shuddering. There’s such a pent-up energy in their motionless crouch – creepy like a real spider. But it’s the name she gave them that initially shocked and disgusted me most: ‘Maman’.
There is nothing more grotesque than the morphing of a trusted figure into a monster. The stuff of nightmares. Your own mum: gigantic, evil, pouncing, killing. But then I read how for Bourgeois, the spider was an affirmative image of female strength and ingenuity, a loving metaphor for her own mother; an amazing mum, like Charlotte and her eponymous web. So that’s, erm, ok. But those statues still freak the heck out of me.
Because, yes, admit it, there is something a bit spidery about motherhood. Apart from our hairy legs, I mean. If the family is the web, who’s the one picking up every vibration and rushing out to investigate? Who’s got a sticky finger on everything? Who’ll bite your head off for resisting? Who’s got eyes in the back of her head? Maman! And of course, famously, once we have mated, we have little use for the male, unless they are good at putting up shelves.
My own dear Mama still ticks me off. How old do you have to be before your mother stops doing that? Mind you, I now have a married daughter in her thirties, (I know – incredible – yes, I was a child-bride) and I still had to put her on the naughty step last week for picking her split ends. She, in turn, tells me off for all sorts of things. Me! Her own mother! If Marvel ever wants to relaunch their Spider Woman character, maybe this time she should be a mum – special powers: darting out and nabbing people, tangling them up in a fuss about coming for Christmas, swinging from skyscrapers (obviously) and hatching lots of little Spider Girls to keep up the good work. I think I could be quite sassy. Sorry. Did I say I? I meant she – she, whoever they cast.
Louise Bourgeois’ mother died when Louise was only 21. The pain of her loss was almost unendurable for the artist. As an arachnophobe, I cannot imagine memorialising my mother as something so sinister, but then I compare it to the imagery they pump out for Mother’s Day. Sissy flowers. Soppy butterflies. Drippy women baking pies whilst smiling fondly at their children. Meh, who does that?
Maybe a big old kickass spider is the best compliment to a mother after all.