Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries
Photo installation by Diane Fenster
Sound environment composed by Michael McNabb


 

- Versión en español -



Fantasy is sanctuary. For me, the imagination is a threshold to an inner world. I uncover the tension between an image that conjures its mutable revelations and the idee fixee. My work embodies the hidden poetry of the ordinary, making visible what previously was hidden.

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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.

As a point of departure, I was drawn to the history of the Magdalen Laundries. These convent industries in Ireland existed from the mid 19th century until the late 20th century. The Magdalen Laundries institutionalised women who were smeared with the reputation of being immoral, or who were indigent, and kept them imprisoned through the social machinations of the 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 my images these women live in a private world of desire, longing, and unreachable fulfilment, forced into a mundane ritual of service without pleasure or amenities. Their vitality and eros, bound by the superficial morality of the Church, reemerges 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. I work on discarded sheets to give form to the 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 the oblique perspective, the images vanish like the women lost in time. Facing them, they assume their own dreaming existence.

Diane Fenster


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Diane Fenster: The Alchemy of Vision (*)

"My work derives technically from two different mediums, from the computer which I first learned as a graphic design tool, and from photography which I initially used as "found" material in the vintage or family photographs that I used in my art. It also derives from the practice of photography itself which I began to explore in 1992 by taking my own photographs as a source for the images, or photomontages, that I had created with my earlier work. My experiments with photography opened a surprising new realm of meaning for my work, as I was able to find my own voice and create personal landscapes from images that persistently impelled me to photograph them.

There are two encompassing metaphors that preoccupy me. These are of the architecture of creative work and the archaeology of the soul, which like building out or digging deep are mirror images. Through these fundamental themes I grapple with internal and personal processes of identity, desire, longing, and the inevitable losses sealed in memory. The metaphor of architecture suggests the processes of constructing, building, and creating a place for the self. The idea of place implies safety and sanctuary, intimacy and warmth, but also isolation and loneliness in the home of one's past, as well as boundaries and limits, both protective and fearsome. The other metaphor in my work is that of the archaeological excavation of memory, which, while it reveals, also conceals through illusion, transformation, and deeply embedded ideas that may obscure the truth. And I am after the truth of myself, the one I can define as each artist must, with the hope that it extends into a common intimacy with the viewer."


(*) Excerpt from the homonymous chapter by Celia Rabinovitch and Diane Fenster of the book Women and New Media, edited by Judy Malloy and scheduled to be published this year by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.


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ABOUT THE ARTISTS

- Versión en español -


Diane Fenster: fenster@sfsu.edu - http://www.dianefenster.com - http://art.net/~fenster
Michael McNabb: michael@mcnabb.com - http://www.mcnabb.com

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