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In Conversation with Kelli Alred

We’re excited to launch our Magdalen Laundry Program with Temporal Proximities, curated by Kelli Alred. We spoke with Kelli about the challenges of combining static and performative works, and how the unique characteristics of the Convent’s heritage-listed Magdalen Laundry shaped the exhibition.

We’re excited to launch our Magdalen Laundry Program with Temporal Proximities, curated by Kelli Alred. Unfolding dynamically across three evenings (1 – 3 March), this free exhibition features works by Helen Grogan, Katie Lee, Bridie Lunney, Gabriella Mangano and Silvana Mangano, Angelica Mesiti, S.J. Norman, Jill Orr and Clare Rae.

We spoke with Kelli about her curatorial approach, the challenges of combining static and performative works, and how the unique characteristics of the Convent’s heritage-listed Magdalen Laundry shaped the exhibition.

Temporal Proximities presents durational and intermittent performances in dialogue with sculpture and moving-image installations. Can you discuss how this unique exhibition explores the relationship between place and time?

Temporal Proximities explores how we can bring performative and time-based artworks into closer proximity, taking into consideration their temporal qualities and their rhythms. I tried to think about that with a dramaturgical attention, considering the elements in a more compositional way.

I’m drawn to artworks that are process-orientated, whether that’s in the creative development phase or in the exhibition display phase. I’m drawn to moving-image, time-based, performative and also site-specific work. These kinds of practices are often faced with challenges when presented in institutional environments where the procedures and infrastructures are primarily set up to arrange static objects that are complete and intact prior to being installed in a space.

The question is really how can we accommodate many artworks moving and changing within an exhibition and how might time create space – In context of Temporal Proximities, I’ve chosen to create a situation where something is always happening, but not everything is happening all at once. Without formally separating these works, I wanted to see what corporeal relationships, what material relationships, what formal relationships and rhythmic relationships emerged.

The idea of exploring the relationship between place and time came out of the practical challenges of curating work that is both spatial and temporal. Thinking theoretically about the idea of time, I was interested in notions of non-linear time, layers of time, palimpsests of time, discontinuous time…. I was really thinking about how time folds and suspends, time as topology, time as atmosphere and even the physics of time-space itself.

The exhibition follows the natural fall of light from 6 – 9pm. How was the exhibition shaped by the light within the Magdalen Laundry?

One of the really strong characteristics of working in this building is the extraordinary architecture and the way the light falls through different windows at different times of day and night. In meeting the practical challenge of working with artists who are working in a more performative mode, one of my curatorial strategies was to truncate the duration of the exhibition. Then as we began to spend more time in the space, what became interesting was this notion of the ‘twilight hour’. According to Shamanistic beliefs, this is a time of shape-shifting; it is the period where change happens.

There was also a tension between the demands and the interests of installation and spatial-based artists who walked into the building and were delighted by the prospect of presenting their work in natural lighting conditions, and the artists working with video who needed the opposite. The way that’s typically dealt with in a gallery context is to separate the video work into its own black box, but my interest was in bringing them together. I feel there’s a spatiotemporal commonality that we’re not often given the opportunity to experience as a whole and in relationship with each other. I didn’t want to separate video into a black box, I didn’t want to have the performances occurring as one off public programs at the periphery of the exhibition. I wanted to dive into this challenge of combining works that spill, works that change, works which have fluctuating dimensions, works that have sound – how do we put these works together? That’s a challenge in space because often those things counteract or interfere with one another.

Can you tell us about the artists taking part and why they were selected for this project?

Principally, I was interested in inviting artists whose practice in one way or another was process-orientated. I was looking for artists who would be willing to engage in a process and a longer-term dialogue. Obviously, artists had to have a temporal and/or spatial aspect to their work. I was also interested in artists working across different disciplines and those who often worked collaboratively with others.

I was drawn to the idea of a space where people can come together to work through a set of challenges, but flipping things on their head and working outside more formal constructs. In the warm embrace of the Convent, we were able to do things differently and try a different approach.

The artists all demonstrate a subtle attention to a socio-political agenda around notions of agency and change. The artworks created by the artists are drawing attention to underlying things such as our capacity to shift governance structures, to operate in different ways, to re-author the past, or to navigate and have a different kind of agency in our environment.

What influence did the architecture of the Magdalen Laundry have on the formulation of this exhibition?

The architecture was fundamental on a spatial and material level. The patina, textures and surfaces have been a huge influence on all the artists who created new works or made variations of existing works. From a curatorial perspective, the bones of the building, the truss, the volumes and spatial qualities of the building all had a huge influence on the way the show was laid out.

Being the first show in the Magdalen Laundry since initial restoration works, and seeing the space as the building works were progressing, has presented an extraordinary opportunity for the exhibition and individual works to really be in dialogue with the building in a very strong way. There’s a real sense of presence in the space, and it’s been interesting to observe that change as the space has been opened up and renewed.

There was, of course, many challenges around the heritage considerations of the building. The need for a light touch in terms of how materials function within it and rest upon the architectural structure, and the ongoing negotiation process that involved have been pivotal to the development of the exhibition and the individual works.