"What a wonderful experience it was to see the Sorelle Povere di Santa Chiara at St Augustine on a busy weekday afternoon. Firstly, to sit with the sisters themselves. It was spellbinding to hear only their voices and watch them tell their stories. I was transfixed between watching their listening and their telling.
And then the birdsong signalled the audio work was taking over the church space. There was only one man sitting in the back, a woman had come in and gone. There was no other sound but the audio. I loved the way the text was set out on the lecterns and how the sound was situated so clearly in different parts of the church. It made me feel less of an intruder, but by then I'd been welcomed by the warmth of the Sorelle! When the chanting ended I was suspended in an extraordinary stillness looking at the patches of coloured light on the chapel wall. The timelessness of the silent black and white film was made contemporary by the audio, seeing the chickens and watching the sisters at work and how this creates a space of apparent safety and sanity which of course was amplified for me by the nature of the space of St Augustine.
It was a bit uncanny having such a large space with the capacity to hold hundreds of people to myself, but your work had transformed it by introducing these extraordinary women and producing a way of listening that suspends judgement and the pressure to make amends with all the attendant feelings of guilt, frustration, impossible longings and melancholy.
It made me think how important it is to have people living like this and to have artwork that brings their practice into other spaces for us to know that it's possible! But when I say "know" I don't mean the kind of recognition that Barthes' 'studium' describes - here is a documentary about an archaic way of life - but knowing as an affective recognition of possibility, the 'punctum' that touches.
Congratulations! And thank you for making such a special work. I feel very lucky to have seen it when I did."
Dr Althea Greenan works in Special Collections and Archives at Goldsmiths University of London and curates the Women’s Art Library (WAL) collection, working with this material since 1989. She works with artists and academic researchers to help realise new projects based on the Women’s Art Library collection, in particular those that position the collection in contemporary practices. She has written on the work of women artists since the 1980s and her doctoral research at the University of Brighton considers the Women's Art Library slide collection as a feminist post-digital space.