‘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 Rua Red Director Maolíosa Boyle, the series features five of Ireland’s leading artists responding to the figure of Mary Magdalene. ‘They Come Then, The Birds’, the first exhibition in the series, launches Friday, 25 June at 6pm.
Coogan’s exhibition 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 will continue until 2022 with exhibitions and interventions by Alice Maher, Rachel Fallon, Jesse Jones, and Grace Dyas.
The Magdalene Series is generously supported by the Creative Ireland Programme South Dublin, The Arts Council, and South Dublin County Council Arts Office.
Open to the general public from 26 June, 10am – 5pm