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Light Research @ MMU

Shadows in the Magdalen Laundry

At Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, a disused Catholic convent, now an art and community centre, an elegiac, powerful light projection, Impermanence, devised by Yandell Walton, honours the former inhabitants of the place ( In a part of the site not yet restored and blocked off from public access by a thick wire mesh screen, are the former laundries. The history of these convents has recently become somewhat notorious, especially in Ireland, and as captured in the film Philomena, because of the strict, often cruel, treatment of the young troubled, ‘fallen women’, unmarried mothers and miscreants, who ended up under the sway of the nuns who ran such places. Pre and post war, these young women worked in the laundries, carrying out their duties alongside the holy sisters.  abbotsford shadows 1


The plaster on the walls of these rooms is crumbling and much of the site lies open to the sky. Yandell’s display tracks the rapid movement of daylight across the room, and simultaneously shows the slower movements of two shadowy figures, a nun as she slowly glides along, and a more animated young woman who is running in slow motion. Discussants at the review of the piece were struck by the juxtaposition of these temporalities, one perhaps signifying the sheer routine nature of the day-to-day work of the laundry and the way in which one day was much like any other, the other rhythm showing the contrasting bodily movements of those who worked here, the sedate progress of the nun and the running girl, joyous in movement or maybe trying to escape. Impressions also focused upon the way that the unseemly wire barrier actually provided a border within which the historical resonances and atmosphere conjured up were contained, and upon the way in which the white light picked out the patina of decay on the walls, drawing attention to another temporal effect.Abbotsford shadows 2


June 18th, 2014 - 06:15am

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