Diane Fenster, Michael McNabb: Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries

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  • ©,



    Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries


Creation Year:






Artist Statement:

    Fantasy is sanctuary.

    The imagination is a threshold to an inner world, uncovering the tension between an image that conjures its mutable revelations and the idée fixe. This work embodies the hidden poetry of the ordinary, making visible what previously was hidden.

    “Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries” explores the theme of imagination in the inner life. Dreaming, reverie, and fantasy are ways of being that make the reality of circumstances more tolerable.

    The history of the Magdalen Laundries serves as a point of departure for the installation. These convent industries in Ireland existed from the mid 19th century until the late 20th century. The Magdalen Laundries institutionalized women who were smeared with the reputation of being immoral, or who were indigent, and kept them imprisoned through the social machinations of the Catholic Church. These misused women lived in punitive labor, lost to both their families and themselves. Henceforth, they became invisible, concealed beyond the margins of society.

    At the boundaries of the visible exists the invisible.

    In these images the women live in a private world of desire, longing, and unreachable fulfillment, forced into a mundane ritual of service without pleasure or amenities. Their vitality and eras, bound by the superficial morality of the Church, reemerge as images on the sheets that they repetitiously wash, a reminder of their stained existence.

    They dreamed until the secret images were burned onto the sheets.

    Sheets facilitate dreaming. They enfold the body, carry its warmth, desire, perfume, and wrap it in death. The discarded bedsheets give form to an imagination that releases desire in spite of circumstances. The sheets move from matter to metaphysics, reminding us of the body and its dreams. The portraits from the Magdalen Laundries appear and disappear as you move around them. Viewed from an oblique perspective, the images vanish like the women lost in time. Facing them, they assume their own dreaming existence.

    The unique sound composition for “Secrets”, created by Michael McNabb, brings a psychological fourth dimension to the work. Ten independent audio sources surround the viewer with the voices of women conversing in Irish Gaelic, transformed by the composer’s software, using only processing with no synthesizers or conventional instruments.

    There are two concentric four-channel layers. The inner presents an intimate perspective while the outer, more distant and manipulated, represents the deeper emotional desires of the women, transfigured by memory and imagination. Additional channels emanate from washtubs, their watery resonance a secret communication across time.

Affiliation Where Artwork Was Created:

    Bete-Noir Studio