The work of OCA Photography tutor Maggy Milner often strays into installation, and you’d wonder, perhaps, whether she is perhaps foremost a conceptual artist when you see the images that make up her latest project. Indeed Maggy herself says she moves fluidly between using lens based and other media. This project sees the use of photography for research but ultimately is a series of installations within a fascinating space: a ghostly Victorian workhouse in Southwell, Notts. The austere atmosphere of the Workhouse, the social history of the British Workhouse systems that catered for the poor, unemployed and vulnerable created a rich environment to stimulate Maggy’s creativity. Maggy’s work also refers into and draw parallels with the 21st century and the dilemmas facing society regarding state support for those in need today. Southwell’s Workhouse was built in 1824 and masterminded by Rev. Becher. The architecture, (influenced by prison design), required that inmates were given refuge, but also, that they experienced a harsh regime as a deterrent. This workhouse became the blueprint for the whole country. Becher’s philosophy of ‘Supervision, Classification and Segregation’ caused humiliation and degradation for a great many in the years to come.
Maggy Milner’s work refers to Becher’s systems: to the demeaning repetitive drudgery, harsh regimentation and the ‘black and white’ rigid categorisations of workhouse inmates. Maggy hopes her installations (there are six of them) ‘will enhance and expand their experience of the place and it’s complex history and convey the delicate balance between the downward spiral of the ‘poverty trap’ and the rigid demands of state intervention.’ Recently volunteers from The Workhouse had a ‘hands-on’ experience, working alongside Maggy Milner in her studio. They cast plaster hands and modelled delicate translucent Papier-mâché bowls. Thirty-five of these bowls are set in regimented rows on a dormitory floor. Titled ‘More,’ this work portrays both the need and greed in societies. Volunteer Ann Hurt said ‘Getting involved has really given me a feeling for the techniques and materials, and I now have a greater understanding of the thought processes which have influenced the development of the work’.
Maggy says: ‘When I first started thinking about doing a series of installations in The Workhouse I walked around alone with my camera exploring, soaking up the atmosphere of the building and it’s history. I was very aware of the cold light; doorways and separated ways; long unfriendly passages; steep staircases with worn steps; lines scratched by the inmates on walls to mark the time passing; bleak spaces; dark, damp cellars; all of which spoke to me of the harsh existence, the segregation, austerity and lack of privacy that the inmates must have experienced. I also tried to imagine the sounds of feet clattering in clogs, orders shouted, inmates gossiping and complaining…’
The project is a collaboration with the National Trust, and with funding support from the Arts Council. The project is a great example for budding artists and photographers of what can be achieved with vision and initiative. Maggy, who lives near the workhouse, wrote a proposal which she submitted to the Arts Council, and in negotiation with the National Trust, managed to see her vision through to this exhibition. It would be great to see OCA students going for Arts Council funding with interesting proposals…. has anyone been successful or even had a go?
Maggy’s exhibition opens on 3 August and continues until 4 September, at The Workhouse Southwell (call 01636 817260 for details).
Maggy’s website is at http://www.maggymilner.com/index.html