Stratum, 2011 (and 2001)
Islington Mill, Salford
Stratum, first exhibited in 2001, was the first of MacMurray’s major, large-scale works, firmly establishing her presence as an artist almost immediately after she had graduated from her Fine Art BA. The installation entirely transformed the attic spaces of the Islington Mill in Salford, which at the time was being regenerated as a centre for the arts, by carpeting it entirely in eighty kilos of soft, white duck down. The aged, weathered wooden attic is thus reimagined as a kind of dream location, floating above the feathered-clouds, the stuff of fairy tales. MacMurray here was drawing on the poetic associations of attic spaces as rich with history and memory. In the case of the Mill, MacMurray’s creativity was ignited by the palimpsest of eras visibly present in the space: the belts and the wheel arches of its original use alongside 1920s sign writing and 1970s office furniture. In the conception of this work MacMurray mused over the question of where memories of place go – for instance, the fatal collapse of the Mill’s ceiling onto industrial workers below.
What emerged from this, now seminal, work was the overarching theme of much of MacMurray’s work, and in particular her site-specific installations, that is the concept of temporality. Whether it be a memory or an object or a human life, nothing is permanent. In the case of Stratum the purposeful use of such a delicate and organic a material as feathers meant that the installation will eventually bear the evidence of its own history through dust, damage and decay. As temporary installations they also have a commercial life-span, all of the installations mentioned here were eventually deconstructed. However, the morbidity of ends is against MacMurray’s positive nature, all is not lost: Stratum has been reinstalled for the duration of this year to coincide with the Islington Mill centenary.
The installation is in the attic of the building with restricted access. If you would like to view the installation please email email@example.com to book an appointment.
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire
The Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, was designed by the innovative young architect Robert Adam for Sir Nathaniel Curzon as an audacious centre-piece for the house, where he could demonstrate his wealth, finery and taste through cultivation of the arts. Constructed from one hundred and five miles of gold thread wound around the fluted alabaster columns, such excessive volumes commented on the grandeur and pomp of a house whose notoriously lavish interior is accented throughout with gold. In the context of the classical-style atrium, the thread glittered brilliantly under enormous skylights, bringing the transcendental and ethereal to the concrete and material trappings of wealth.
Typically setting up a dialogue between the Twenty-first century and the buildings historic past, Promenade evokes the themes of display and spectatorship invited by such a space. Even in its construction: volunteers were used to weave the threads in a figure of eight, mirroring the promenading guests of a bygone era. One object at Kedleston particularly resonates with Promenade: the beautifully ornate Peacock Dress designed by The House of Worth for Lady Curzon in 1903, itself made from metal thread, seems as if it had come undone to form the work.
The shimmering web of Promenade was much like a lingering spectre of the steps one had taken, thus evoking the concepts of history, journeying, movement and temporality. Like the rope used by Theseus to track his journey after the Minotaur in its labyrinth, MacMurray’s gold threads represent a desire to preserve the path of our movements and make them tangible. However, the many overlapping threads instead produce an ‘insubstantial haze’, and the temporary nature of the installation, again, denied the possibility of ever leaving permanent traces.
Pallant House, Chichester
In 2006 MacMurray engaged with the more tangible emotional history of a space, for her site-specific installation in the magnificent stairwell at Pallant House, Chichester. The house was built in the eighteenth century as both a labour of love and testament to the wealth and ambition for the newly-wed Henry and Elisabeth Peckham – yet it was an empty promise and the marriage lasted only two years. In this work 20,000 mussel shells were collected, scrubbed, individually stuffed with crimson velvet, and meticulously aligned and mounted on the walls. The painstaking labour of its production also haunts the installation, full of the passion and frustration of the Peckham’s sterile union, a frustration which is then obsessively applied to the walls of the building in futile compensation. The result was awe-inspiring but in a weighty, burdensome, and almost suffocating way.
York St Mary’s, York Museums Trust
Echo, which was on show from June to October 2006 in the decommissioned church of St. Mary’s, Castlegate, follows along the same lines. 10,000 hairnets filled with strands of used violin bow-hair were hung at different levels from the top of the nave to the floor, creating a kind of effervescent haze or cloud. In the ecclesiastic context this mirage had a kind of sacred symbolism reminiscent of the clouds of heaven.
As a venue, St. Mary’s has had a long and chequered history since its original foundation in 1020. Parts of the building date back to the thirteenth century; later, during the Reformation, it was subject to iconoclasm and stripped of imagery and ornament. Used as a family church until the twentieth century, it eventually became redundant in 1958. MacMurray’s installation, however, referred to the secret histories of the building, something other than the concrete fact of its material existence. Echo represented the ghosts of sights, sounds and occurrences that are untraceable other than by a kind of ephemeral essence. Again, the installation’s life was limited, constructed of fragile and decomposable elements; it was just as transient as a prayer said amongst the pews.