/19 Australia

Anne Ferran

Box of Birds

Box of Birds is my response to a set of little-known photographs from 1948: 38 pictures of female patients taken in a Sydney psychiatric hospital. I discovered them by accident more than a decade ago (in a public library where they have since been removed). In 2013 I thought of working with performers as a way of releasing some of their latent power. The dancers–Tess de Quincey, Victoria Hunt and Linda Luke–used lengths of dyed and painted felt to cloak, extend and distort the shape of their bodies. The felt is a reference to institutional clothing and the white painted lines to the joins where fabric was pieced together. Each photographic session began with two or three bodies huddled under loose pieces of felt and concluded when all the felt dropped to the ground. Out of this improvised, uncontrolled process I hoped new and unforeseen images would emerge.The individual images are titled with the name of a non-existent bird. The series title Box of Birds happens to be a New Zealand expression, almost unknown in Australia, for joyous exuberance or wellbeing: ‘How are you today? Box of birds!’ To me it also suggests the fluttering energy of unquiet spirits in a confined space.