Old Melbourne Gaol, Melbourne
Vestige is a performative installation, which examines my identity as a young woman and reflects the view of women in society. This work explores the fragility and resilience in the cycle of societal shame, that engulfed female prisoners confined to the Old Melbourne Gaol in the mid 1800s.
Fragments were taken from the ‘Register of Female Prisoners Penal and Gaol’s Branch 1857–1887’ and embedded within the suspended threadbare blanket. The ledger of names is all that remains of the lost identities and stories of marginalised women and child prisoners, who were imprisoned alongside men.
Over a period of two weeks, I perform for a total of twelve hours within the gaol cell – six days of two hour long performances.
With needle and thread I stitch the Robert Hughes quote ‘‘Heaven give their weary footsteps, their aching hearts, to a better place of rest, for here this is none’’ into the blanket. I then repair the holes only to pull the threads loose and begin the process again each day. The repetitive ritualistic action represents the cycle of misfortune that these women and girls encountered, from within the gaol system and in society.
I was curious to discover if any attitudes had changed in relation to the female form and identity when placed within the context of a Gaol and public space.
The threadbare blanket obscured my identity and cast a ghostly-disembodied silhouette against the fabric; this obscurity gave me a unique perspective to listen candid conversations about the artwork.
The audience response ranged from curiosity, quiet reflection and ignorant remarks from teenage boys, escalating to threats of physical and verbal abuse by a group of young men. I wasn’t a person but an object; with my identity removed so were the boundaries of acceptable conduct.