The Magdalene Series
They Come Then, The Birds
25 June - 18 September 2021
‘They Come Then, The Birds’ is a new body of work by Artist Amanda Coogan commissioned by Rua Red as part of the Magdalene Series. Curated by Maolíosa Boyle, the series features five of Ireland’s leading artists responding to the figure of Mary Magdalene.
Coogan’s work is inspired by the Wrens of the Curragh, a group of women who lived on the margins of society around the military camp at the Curragh, County Kildare, in the mid-nineteenth century. Outcasts and prostitutes, or ‘camp followers', the women lived and raised their families in ‘nests’ within the furze bushes. The Wrens led a communal existence supporting each other through the sharing of food, child-rearing duties, and financially through the money they earned from their sex work.
Coogan draws parallels between the Figure of Mary Magdalene and the Wrens, both looked upon as social misfits; wayward and unmanageable women who refused to conform to societal rules. The work references the historical representation of Mary Magdalene in painting, tales of the Wrens of the Curragh, Christian and pagan ritual, sign language, the Wren boys, and the eye of providence.
The performers' costumes, made from torn net curtains, hint at twitching window gossipers. Scarlet fabric flows like hair; torn ribbons and netting shift in sync with their swirling dervish-like gyrations. Skin coloured nylon tights are displaced and stretched over facial features, disguising and smothering identities bar one all-seeing eye.
Coogan inserts rich, evocative metaphors; tumbling golf balls, an empty vessel, chocolate offerings, and looking glasses. She is an artist who engages all of our senses. The acidic yellow of the furze bushes, both on and off-screen provide context, their sweet coconut scent permeates the space; balm-like, mingling with the earthy smell of the bush roots. The deep organic cello of Mary Barnecutt’s soundtrack reverberates through the gallery and body as the audience walks through the space.
The Magdalene Series is a programme of exhibitions, interventions, performances and events curated by Rua Red Director/Curator Maolíosa Boyle and features five of Ireland’s leading artists: Amanda Coogan, Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon, Jesse Jones and Grace Dyas. Rua Red commissioned the five artists to research and produce new work in response to Mary Magdalene.
The Magdalene series will explore Mary Magdalene’s associations with the incarceration and institutionalisation of women and other themes such as forced labour, morality, shame, reparation and penitence. The series will propose a new world, uncurbed by religious, political or societal doctrine, a world led by the experience of Magdalene and viewed through the lens of contemporary feminism and feminist theology.
Mary Magdalene has been a subject of fascination and curiosity throughout history. She is a binary creation: conflicted and mysterious, noble and humble, strong yet morally weak, beautiful and haggard, passionate yet penitent, erotic and unreserved, reclusive and solitary. The Magdalene is the earthly, carnal and sensual counterpart to the celestial Virgin. She embodies humanity and humility – she sweats, cries and bleeds.
The Magdalene Series is the culmination of a three-year collaboration between the artists and curator. The process has also included input from leading international theologians, academics and researchers.
(Maolíosa Boyle Curator, The Magdalene Series)
The Magdalene Series is generously supported by the Creative Ireland Programme South Dublin, The Arts Council and South Dublin County Council Arts Office.
“Wonderfully evocative and sad, makes you think of the hardship these women suffered. Beautifully performed, thank you.” - Andrea
“Very powerful works, particularly appreciated the Chinese ink and coffee works.” - Oona
“Stirring, threatening, moving. Gives me a feeling of the Otherworld. Feeling connected to something exciting and very old.” - Siobhán
“I've never seen anything quite like this so thank you. Very Powerful.” - Bebhinn
“Wow! Absolutely mesmerising. Enchantment at its finest.” - Sally
“Loved the way you brought us into the landscape space as if we were amongst the ferns with you, and holds us as a viewer. Love the use of the colour red as the connection throughout, even the paint at the doorway to the three screens.” - Courtney
“Loved to see the working in of the sheelagh na gig! An interesting take on Irish women's history I've never known about.” - Susannah