Martha and the Lost

Art — Produced by Michael O’Reilly

The figure singing and moving slowly among the tombstones is dressed entirely in full mourning regalia from the 1800’s; a black dress complete with hoop skirt and veil. She looks out of place or lost, somehow. This is the artist Martha McDonald, and through her performance here, she is mourning the history of the Woodlands, and all the living things that have been lost with the garden. McDonald has been performing and making objects and costumes for years, but it is only relatively recently that she has been combining all of this. She is making installations and doing performances within the space and with the objects (she calls this “activating” the space and objects). One of her most successful “activations” was THE WEEPING DRESS. While in Australia, she spent scores of hours fashioning a replica of a 19th century mourning dress entirely from black crepe paper. She stood under elaborate plumbing designed to mimic the volume of tears shed by the grief stricken, and performed while black dye pooled under her petticoats. The dress, now almost light blue after losing most of its color, sits in a corner of her studio in Philadelphia. After that productive time spent abroad, FRIDAY ARTS visits Martha while she fashions THE LOST GARDEN – “a site-specific installation and performance at The Woodlands exploring impermanence and the fragile nature of memory.” Drawing on the language of Victorian handcrafts like jewelry made from human hair and wax flowers under domes, we see how Martha brings it all together, gathering performance, installation, history and handcrafts into her latest work, worthy of its own glass dome to keep and contain these disparate elements together.

Web Extra: The Lost Garden – edited by Alex Hutflus

Come along and follow artist Martha McDonald on an intimate journey through an enduring Victorian landscape, the Woodlands Cemetery.

Martha McDonald in THE LOST GARDEN at The Woodlands, Philadelphia, PA – Selected photos by Ryan Collerd

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