The dictionary defines a “cell” as “a small room in which a prisoner is locked up or a small room that a monk or nun lives in” it can also be “any one of the small parts that form all living things.” The meaning of the term thus ranges from a self-contained space to a tiny part of a greater whole. Both aspects are present in Bourgeois’s Cells. Situated somewhere between a museal panorama, a theater set, and a spatial installation, the Cells deal with memory and emotion, pain and anxiety, and, in particular, fear of abandonment.
Bourgeois considered Articulated Lair (1986, shown in Gallery 205) her first Cell, although she did not use the term in a title until 1991, when she created Cells I to VI for the Carnegie International. In these works she employed architectural elements such as doors, windows, and wire mesh screens that came from her studio—formerly a sewing factory—or from demolished buildings. Cells I to VI deal with secrecy, voyeurism, and physical and psychological pain.