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Shrouded Consciousness at the Crypt, Triskel Arts Centre, Cork

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This collaboration took its premise from the photograph Shrouded Consciousness, 2013, by Maureen Considine, which is this artist’s conscious reaction to ambiguous and surreal feelings towards how an object has power over thought. Artist’s Statement here 

Cora Burke’s Shrouded Consciousness text, 2016, eloquently describes the work, without reducing it to a mere account of the image. Burke furthers the conversation begun by Considine by opening up the subject matter.

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Shrouded Consciousness (Digital print, Considine, 2013) is a statement on a complex set of oppositions between an idolised stone form and a real human body. Inescapably, the photographic image is imbued with ambiguity and this tension is heightened because the artist and model considers herself a recovering catholic. Initially Considine saw the piece as a rejection of the veneration of female suffering by juxtaposing a stone Virgin Mary statue with her real human body and flesh of suffering. The diminutive statue is dwarfed by the living body. Using long exposure times the artist sought to emphasise the stillness of the statue as an object, as a counterpoint to the movement of her human body via the breath and heartbeat.

The work marks a change in Considines practice, coinciding with the artist’s journey through  acceptance of a neuropathic condition which led Considine to introspection as research. In part, the artist seeks to represent physical and emotional pain through visual means. The entire image is bathed in Virgin Mary blue which Considine identifies as a loving colour imbued with sorrow and the colour she most associate with physical pain. However the nakedness and concealment of the body in the presence of the Virgin Mary is inescapable, some may even say blasphemous but such an assumption misses the point. The veil/shroud is symbolic of the effect of the idolisation of Mary and a Catholic upbringing has had on the psyche. The shroud will always be there colouring perspectives and feelings.

 

Soul Yearnings by Maureen Considine and Kathryn Kelly at Iontas Foyer Gallery, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan

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Two person exhibition by Kathryn Kelly & Maureen Considine ‘Soul Yearnings’ is a joint exhibition of works by artists Maureen Considine and Kathryn Kelly. Working with the medium of photography, the lens acts as if to give a representative voice to the soul searching and internal longings of both artists during periods of personal significance and transition with the process being a catharsis.

Both artists utilise the lens/camera as a means of ‘capturing’. Kathryn Kelly’s efforts at capturing moments in time and place in her imagery are used as a metaphor to express the fragility and transience of life and the enduring quest for something beyond where we are presently positioned. The works function as representations, characters for personal narratives of longing and escape, remoteness and separation.

Maureen Considine’s photograms are created by placing an object onto the surface of light-sensitive paper and exposing it to light and then specific chemicals. A photogram is a direct trace of the object to which it refers, like a footprint but it is often distorted by the bending of light through the object. These works from the series, Searching for the Self/ Soul Images, are influenced by archetypal symbology. In Jungian symbology ‘the Self’, the archetype at the centre of the psyche, is often represented as a circle/mandala.

Artist’s statement and artwork published in THP Christmas 2014 mini issue ‘The Virgin Birth’

You can view the original version of this article in the THP magazine here 

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Part 1: Artists Statement

In 2008, I was injured in a car accident and after much treatment my condition worsened, and eventually I was diagnosed with chronic neuropathic pain. Over the years my condition became increasingly limiting and affected not only my body but my mind and soul too which made daily living difficult. Eventually I began the process of acceptance of the condition and began making works using analogue photography and my own body as my mediums. My research became internalised and I began by seeking to represent my physical and emotional pain as visual.

I researched the idolisation of Virgin Mary as an icon of suffering. I was interested in the Virgin Mary because I was troubled by how much her story affects my own consciousness. To paraphrase comedian Dara O’Briain: I am not a religious woman, I don’t even believe in God, still Catholic though. Baptised and indoctrinated before I could think, speak, or choose – I, an atheist  a humanist, am burdened with feelings of both love and resentment for Catholic icons. Shrouded Consciousness is a statement on a complex set of oppositions between an idolised stone form and a real human body. Inescapably, this photographic image is imbued with ambiguity. That is the nature of the photographic image in general but the ambiguity has further layers because of my recovering catholicism. There is love and respect, for the archetypal great mother, evident in the image which often leads, perversely, to viewers remarking on my presumed religiosity.

Initially I saw the piece as a rejection of the veneration of female suffering by juxtaposing a stone Virgin Mary statue with my real human body and flesh of suffering. The diminutive statue is dwarfed by my living body. Using long exposure times I sought to emphasise the stillness of the statue as an object, as a counterpoint to the movement of my human body via the breath and heartbeat. Shrouded Consciousness emerged from the ether as I worked on a series of planned poses with the statue.

I was shooting with an analogue camera, using a timer and a tripod. I had the set the scene, trigger the timer, run into the frame and pose. I could not view the scene with my body in it, I could only plan and predict. As I worked and played with the camera, scene set-up and lighting it became apparent that this process was also triggering feelings of bodily shame and sexual repression. Impulsively I grabbed a net curtain and tossed it over my head in a manner one sees a tired child play with a blanket. I twirled, I stopped, the camera clicked on the timer and I knew I was onto something. In the darkroom at my studio, I developed the negatives and printed the image at quite a small-scale at 6×4 inches.

A couple of months later two visiting curators asked if I would consider making the same image but much larger for exhibition purposes. I explained that the analogue equipment I was using would not allow me to print at large scale due to quality constraints but the proposition intrigued me. I decided to ‘go digital’ which allowed for large-scale printing, colour and more control of the production of the photograph. As colour photography was now an option for me but not necessarily desired, I decided to ‘play’ with light in order to achieve a monochrome effect like the original analogue shot but this time I worked on creating a Virgin Mary blue cast on the scene. Bathing my own body in the virgin’s colours underscores the ambiguity of the image. The beauty of the colour serves to enhance the sense of my connection to the archetype, it is a loving colour, but, it is also the colour of sorrow. Also it is often the colour I most associate with my physical pain. However the nakedness and concealment of my body in the presence of the Virgin Mary is inescapable, some may even say blasphemous. The veil/shroud is symbolic of the effect of the idolisation of Mary and a Catholic upbringing has had on my psyche. The shroud will always be there colouring my perspective and feelings as a recovering Catholic, all that is left is shame.

Part 2: The Virgin Mary Complex

The expectation of suffering and martyrdom of women in Irish society is borne out of our Virgin Mary Complex which is a deeply ingrained, conscious and unconscious, belief that women should suffer.

The confinement and treatment of women and children in Magdalene Laundries is truly the greatest shame of our nation since the famine.  Its legacy is a culturally embedded belief in matriarchal martyrdom that affects women to this day.  The nuns’ cruel treatment of women and girls in the laundries and their continued unwillingness to apologise betrays the Church’s and the sisters’ conviction that women deserve suffering in the context of their gender and fertility. The survivors of symphysiotomy, a barbaric procedure which involved sawing a woman’s pelvic bone in half, know all about suffering. Their bodies were broken by doctors who were trying to control female fertility in a time and place where contraceptives were illegal due to the moralising of reputedly celibate men of God.

The legacy of our cultural perception of women’s fertility as one that involves martyrdom can be seen in the contemporary debate on abortion. We live in a country where a medical team forced a teenage migrant rape victim to carry her pregnancy to the cusp of viability in order to deliver a preterm child who will face tremendous suffering. A country where rape victims who become pregnant are expected to stoically endure bearing a pregnancy conceived in violence and violation. A culture where women enduring a painful and high-risk miscarriage are left to suffer and, in many cases, die for the ideology of motherhood despite the fact that the fetus would not survive.  We live in a country that refuses to help women whose pregnancies have been given a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, endure their trauma privately to full term.  A country that exports 12 women a day to the UK for terminations of crisis pregnancy. For shame.

Maureen Considine’s ‘Traces’ (video 2006) showing at Blaue Stunde, Koln (November2014)

The “blue hour ” (Blaue Stunde) describes the twilight time between sunset and the dark of night. This deep blue mood pervades an evening of videos exploring the interplay between the regions above and below the surface, the place where the individual pieces of the whole are rejoined.

Video art forms the main focus of ‘Blaue Stunde’, and from the realm of the virtual it returns to a framework based in reality. Together with fine art, music and readings, ‘Blaue Stunde’ creates a shared experience for the audience.

In recent years, the Blue Hour has grown from modest beginnings into a multi-faceted project, and will grow even stronger in the future. The video art, which is at the focus of the Blue Hour, is embedded in a real context, and designed with music, readings and visual arts as part of a shared experience for the audience. Therefore also the selected location plays an important role as an event space.

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Review – Distant Relations: Portraiture and Genre Painting in 19th Century Cork, by Maureen Considine, August 2014

An exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery, Distant Relations: Portraiture and Genre Painting in 19th Century Cork,presents a view of Victorian Cork which is highly relevant to the contemporary issue of our nation’s treatment of women and girls. “Victorian values on moral regulation affected the lives of women most particularly. Women were expected to behave according to a lady-like ideal and to be the ‘angel of the house’, figure of probity, goodness and civic responsibility.” Though historic, the exhibition offers the opportunity for feminist analysis of primary source material from a society which created the Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes. 

Peter Murray’s curatorial decision to display three panels of handmade lace samples alongside  high art portrait paintings of local women is significant because academic art theory is concerned with categorisation and separation of craft and art, with painting at the pinnacle and crafts at the base. Mastery of the technique of lace-making required study, patience and hours of practice. Irish lace was and still is revered for its intricate design and highly accomplished rendering. Murray’s decision creates a direct link between the lace and the content of the paintings, featuring local women dressed modestly in heavy black gowns with lace collars (and at times cuffs and bonnets) providing subtle and reserved decoration to the severe clothing. The centrality of the lace samples provide an entry point, and an anchor, for viewing the exhibition as a whole.

James Butler Brennan, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1860, Irish School, Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 cm

The exhibition essay and supporting archival material inform us that Cork School of Art Headmaster “James Brennan was at the forefront of developing lace-making as a craft that could be practiced by women”. This was an approved form of women’s work which provided income and at times, economic independence to the craftswomen. A cabinet containing archival photographs of women in lace-making classes and a pattern book sends the viewers mind into narrative mode, thinking about the lives of the lace-makers. Adjacent to the cabinet A Portrait of a Monk (Edward Sheil, 1834-1869) connects the methodical craft of fine lace-work as one that has parallels to monastic life and activity. The gallery’s web archive informs us that “an important branch class of the School of Art, which was held in Convent of the Poor Clares, Kenmare, concentrated on teaching nuns and students the art of lace-making”.

Archival photograph: Cork School of Art, Lace-making Class, Crawford Art Gallery

Pondering the promise of economic independence through lace-making, the earning power of a skilled crafts-woman and the idea of monastic life – the story of Esther Harrington, a talented needleworker, comes to mind. Esther’s 70 years of labour and confinement, in the the Cork Good Shepherd Magdalene Laundry, went unpaid and unrecognised. Institutionalised at the age of five following the death of her mother,  Esther was forcibly retained thereafter despite family attempts to bring her home. Her time in the laundry began in the early 1900’s. By that time the Order had totally absorbed the ethos of penitence as salvation for fallen ‘children’ who the ‘Mother’ must endeavour to save through enforcing a regime of punishing work and life-long confinement. Esther had committed no crime but she would have been subject to the ‘moral regulation’ of the Sisters and convinced that she was of little value in spite of the economic benefits she brought to the Order.

Institutions like the Good Shepherd Laundries were established in the 1800’s (initially by lay-persons) in order to facilitate ‘rescue work’ of so-called ‘fallen’ women, particularly prostitutes, in the hope that through training these women could choose other work and a different lifestyle. This aim proved unrealistic when it became clear, to the ‘fallen’ women, a life in the institution was far worse a fate than the lives they were currently leading. In this era of increasing concern over the moral regulation of the masses, Cork was a notorious British Military Garrison city with associated social ills such as prostitution and alcohol abuse. The controversial 1864 Act “for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases at Certain Naval and Military Stations” was designed to protect military Officers from contracting venereal disease from the prostitutes whose services they engaged. An 1866 amendment meant that these women were legally required to submit to periodical gynecological examinations, and if found to be infected they were confined to a Certified Hospital for up to six months. Women who displayed no symptoms were released with a de-facto endorsement of cleanliness and they subsequently referred to themselves, subversively, as the ‘Queen’s Women’ and her majesty’s Officers could continue to avail of their services free from the threat of venereal disease. ‘Cork prostitutes were commonly recruited from the ranks of low dressmakers and servants’, training in lace-making was not an option within their reach. It was because of these women’s lack of options that many ended up in the Good Shepherd Laundry. It was this low status which often prevented criticism of how the women were treated by the Religious who the State left unsupervised.

The the works in the exhibition through a feminist lens. Patriarchal societies largely place the onus for the moral regulation of society on women. While the military officer’s consumption of women in prostitution was seen as a social ill, respectable middle and upper class men could consume the female form through the socially acceptable fine arts. Whilst the portraits of Cork-based women-of-status depict them as reserved and emphasising modesty, the contemporaneous religious paintings show women in states of passion, pain and ecstasy. The Magdalen (copy after Carlo Dolci, 1616-1686) is a representation of an incredibly beautiful, young, repentant Mary Magdalene clutching her breast and gazing open-mouthed towards the heavens. The expression of such emotion is idealised, and often sexualised, in such painted representations whilst simultaneously being denied to the real women of the time.

Follower of Carlo Dolci (Florence 1616-1686), The Magdalen, oil on canvas 72 x 54cm (28 3/8 x 21 1/4in).

 

Other works selected for Distant Relations show the varying contexts into which the female figure was placed. A sculptural representation of Spring (Edward Ambrose, 1814-1890) as a diminutive and erotic female places women in the role of sexual object. The nude figure appears to be scattering flowers which she holds above her head and balances on her hip whilst standing, improbably, at a strange angle with her body contorted in a flattering pose. A strategically placed cloth hangs from her belted waist, covering her pubis but emphasising her nudity. The representation is about a third the size of a real human female which underscores its purpose as a mere object.

 

Central to the exhibition is an allegorical painting, Portrait of Mabel Arnott, by Jeannie Ashton Hackett (1876-1905). The painting depicts a prepubescent girl in an elaborate dress. She holds lilac and laburnum flowers, symbolising early love and danger respectively. The painting is rich with luscious tones and sensuous flowing lines of composition. The child’s cheeks are flushed and she appears to be aware of the gaze, which she innocently returns. Though the artist is female, it is the male gaze that is engaged here to affirm the threat of sexual desire and ‘justification for the gendered separation of public and private spheres’. The painting would have served as a lesson or warning, which Victorian moralists would have understood and enforced.

Jeannie Ashton Hackett, Portrait of Mabel Arnott, c. 1898, Irish School, Oil on canvas, 101 x 85cm

 

Perhaps the nearby sculpture of, A Girl Caressing a Child, (James Heffernan, 1785-1874) was also intended as a moralistic lesson, a warning on young motherhood. This could explain the inexplicably bared breast of the pubescent girl, perhaps she had been nursing the child. Otherwise the breast is exposed simply for the viewer’s pleasure in a society the actively suppressed female sexuality. The girl is not given status as ‘mother’ in the title and something about her pose – the raised knee, sad face and tenderness in gesture – implies a narrative of a parting embrace. Through contemporary eyes, aware of our nation’s treatment of mothers, one can experience profound sorrow in viewing this work.

James Heffernan, A Girl Caressing a Child, c. 1820, Irish School, Plaster, 99.0 x 42.0 x 58.0cm

 

Following a diagonal path away from this work, another sculpture, Sleeping Child (Thomas Kirk 1781-1845), continues with this theme of maternal separation. The life like rendering of the the figure is sentimental, engaging mind with the thought of a newborn baby; full of life, innocence and our projected hopes. However the materiality of the marble establishes an unsettling dichotomy of entombment or death in the depiction of this iconic symbol of new life and the recent grim discover at Tuam lingers in memory. The stone child is the a memento-mori of a baby; perhaps the sculptor’s services were engaged by a bereaved family or it was intended as a wider comment on high child mortality rates at the time, or maybe the artist simply had the dubious opportunity to study an infant’s corpse.

Thomas Kirk, Sleeping Child, 1818, Irish School , Marble, 25 x 43 x 23 cm

 

Ireland’s institutions of Laundries and Mother and Baby Homes crossed the island’s divide of Catholic and Protestant social practices. When we look to understand the past many of us now see the Irish Catholic Church’s role in the the repression of sexuality and the shaming of women as central to the treatment of women historically and contemporaneously. Many of us have been taught to view the Protestant Church as opposite or othered in terms of an Irish Catholic upbringing but both Church’s values are Christian and it was Christian values that shaped Victorian moralism. Both Churches undoubtedly assimilated the Victorian belief that an individual’s misfortune was her own fault and for the nuns this justified their treatment of women internees as appropriate to their perceived crime. For Catholic women the crime was characterised by a focus on impurity and sin. Protestant-run (and often evangelical) homes held primarily Protestant born women who were viewed as having failed to exercise personal restraint. The perceived failings of Catholic and Protestant women sent to institutions originates in the Victorian value-based system of moral regulation and its particularly unequal focus on the role and position of women within such a society. The exclusion of Protestant run homes from recent, and future, inquiries does not serve the interests of justice. The sectarian differences of the institutions are largely irrelevant when one considers that all of these women suffered; confinement, forced labour, torture and separation from their family members.

The exhibition has now ended

Update – Grave and Memorial Garden Project

The information bellow is out of date –  2017 updates are under construction

 

August 2014

I have sent a formal / official request to assess the possibility of leasing lands on Sundays Well to a management company – (to be established) in order to create a Memorial Garden and access to graves of those buried adjacent to the site of the former Good Shepherd Convent, Laundry and Orphanage. The Management Company will include survivors, their family members and specific experts. I personally guarantee that every effort will be made to ensure the project is fully participatory with survivors. I am waiting until I have some kind of formal approval before I call public meetings because I do not want to burden or disappoint anyone.

An adapted version of the report that I sent to Corporate Affairs Cork City Council follows. Trigger warning – content, especially photographs may be upsetting to survivors and supporters

Report

Our motivation is to gain access to the graves of persons who lived and died in the Good Shepherd institutions.

Description of Site
The site includes the area known as ‘the gym’ and the walled in graveyard adjacent to ‘the gym’.
Currently ‘the gym site’ has no access, except via the steep embankment (about 20ft long) behind the College View housing estate

The grave(s) cannot be accessed at all due to the high, 8-20ft, walls and locked gates which surround it

At least 30 women are buried in the mass grave (but records show evidence of more burials) and there is a second unmarked plot on site.

The walled-in graveyard includes trees and 2 graves, one mass plot and one unmarked (this was later found to be the remnants of a greenhouse)

The headstone on the grave has been broken and the grave left untended

The area is land-locked, surrounded by; the Gaol, private housing & lands, the National School, the Good Shepherd site and the Community Centre on Strawberry Hill.

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The site is 30-40 ft above the women’s Gaol with a low wall acting as the only barrier to protect people from falling the distance to the Gaol – this wall has collapsed in some areas.

Access can be created via the community centre could be made and this would be relatively flat and accessible.

Boundary between Community Centre, private property and ‘the gym’ site to be established (I am checking with Land Registry) – this boundary will be crucial in terms of access.

An elevated ‘walk’ runs along the back of the site including the graveyard and ‘the gym’, behind which there is a low wall leading to the embankment.

I have included this link to an album of photographs of the area (trigger warning)
https://plus.google.com/photos/114835636711040805199/albums/6027868219397847377?authkey=CIjRysOQ5_X6IA

The site does not include the Good Shepherd Convent lands which are NAMA owned.

Current status of the site: The lands are held in Cork City Council Titles and the site is leased to the Gaol management as part of the heritage site.

Access via Blarney Street and Surrounding Areas Community Centre/ Association is desirable as the centre’s lands are at a similar elevation to ‘the gym’, to which it is adjacent. The community centre management and National School principal are in general agreement with my proposal and have indicated a desire to co-operate with the project. We are going to hold talks in September when the school returns to full working hours. The school management are looking into creating an outdoor kindergarten but have assured me that they will not stand in the way of a Memorial Garden. The Cork City Gaol Trustees are supportive of the project in principle but many safety and security issues need to be addressed.

Our main goal is to gain access to the graves on the proposed site. It is our hope that the creation of a Memorial Garden at this site will be highly beneficial to our society, survivors, survivor families and the tourism sector. A Memorial Park (concept changed to Survivors Community Garden, 2017) would be a generous and powerful gesture of reconciliation to laundry and orphanage survivors. It would also make for an incredibly beautiful park with clear vistas of Cork, located in a tranquil area. There are many such graves around the country and Cork City Council are well placed to pioneer this model of these sites as historic memorials.

It would be very important to our group to design the park in collaboration with survivors and with practical input from relevant council authorities for health and safety requirements.

I have attached a google earth map showing the area(s) Print

Proposal: Memorial Park/Garden at the Magdalene Women’s Grave

This proposal have been buried in Committee in Cork City Council for about 1 year. We have had support from Cllr Ted Tynan and former Cllr John Kelleher. We now have a petition for the newly elected Council

https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/cork-city-council-approve-the-proposal-to-create-a-memorial-park-at-the-magdalene-women-s-grave-sundays-well-cork-ireland#

I remain hopeful that the new council will approve the plan in principal and then we can move to the next stage – funding.

Proposal to Cork City Council: To create a Memorial Park/Garden at the Magdalene women’s grave and the are known as ‘the Gym’.  (sent August 2014)

memorialGarden copyGroup: Our group comprises of several survivors of the Good Shepard Magdalene Laundry and orphanage, family members of women buried in the grave, supporters and Maureen Considine, visual artist and writer. This project was born out of the frustration of many Magdalene Survivors who have not been able to visit the Magdalene Grave which is located behind Cork City Gaol and adjacent to the site of the former Good Shepard Convent, Laundry and orphanage. The area known as ‘the gym’ is adjacent to the grave and is directly behind the Cork City Gaol. Currently the gym site can only be accessed via the steep embankment behind the College View housing estate and the grave cannot be accessed at all due to the high walls and locked gates surrounding it.

 

Current status of the lands: The lands are held in Cork City Council Titles (confirmed be Ger Horgan, Property Department, Cork City Council). The lands of the grave and the gym are elevated high above the old Gaol. The area is land-locked, surrounded by the Gaol, private housing, private lands, a national school, the Good Shepard site and a community centre. (see attached satellite photograph)

 

The grave lies inside 8-20ft high stone walls. The three gateways, into the garden, have been secured with heavy duty metal fencing and barbed-wire skirts the high walls. The headstone on the grave has been broken by vandals and the grave in left untended.

 

We have identified two possible future access points to the ‘gym’ and grave. The first would be via Cork City Gaol. A ramp or staircase would have to be built at the rear of the Gaol site to facilitate access. One positive aspect combining the site with the Gaol is that the Magdalene story could officially become part of our collective history. The second option is via the lands of Blarney Street and Surrounding Areas Community Centre/association which includes a scouts club. This access point is at a similar elevation, and is adjacent, to the ‘gym’. The community centre staff or users could possibly become guardians of the Memorial Park or assist in the planning and installation stages. It is our hope, and intention, that the creation of a Magdalene Women’s Memorial Garden at this site will be highly beneficial to society as a historic site, in a beautiful location. A Memorial Park would be a generous and powerful gesture of reconciliation to Magdalene Survivors. It would also make for an incredibly beautiful park with clear vistas of Cork, located in a tranquil area. There are many such graves around the country and Cork City Council are well placed to pioneer this model of these sites as historic memorials. It would be very important to our group to design the park ourselves with practical input from relevant council authorities.

 

Photos

 

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