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But She is the Monument

30 May, 2017 - 10 June, 2017

She animates the Monument – St Elizabeth of Hungary, Widow

Wendy Muir

30 May-10 June 2017

Tuesday – Friday 11am to 5pm,
Saturday 12pm to 4pm
admission: Free

…small and discreet – as if viewed through the windowed opening of a monstrance.

She animates the Monument – St Elizabeth of Hungary, Widow

She animates the Monument – St Elizabeth of Hungary, Widow

She animates the Monument – St Elizabeth of Hungary, Widow

But She is the Monument is an exhibition that plays with the concept of the Monument through a contemporary reimagining of twelve saints, selected from the 18th century colour plates of Alban Butler’s Lives of Fathers, Martyrs and other Saints.

The chance acquisition of Butler’s four-volume tome by Adelaide-based artist Wendy Muir provided the impetus for this study and subsequent exhibition. Examining the lives of 1,486 saints, Muir chose twelve female saints from Butler’s text to explore in But She is the Monument.

The resulting digital prints explore themes of religion, mathematics and the zodiac. The interrelation of these themes emerged during research for the exhibition, revealing many associations between the mystic, numerical code, and Catholic saints.

Muir brings But She is the Monument to Melbourne after exhibiting the series of work at The Other Art Fair in Sydney.

At illa hic est titulus

But She is the Monument

Deus testis est

The Monument is God

The chance acquisition of Alban Butler’s 4 volume Lives of Fathers, Martyrs and other Saints [Virtue and Co Ld 1928 edition] provided the impetus for this Negotiated Study 1. The Rev. Alban Butler published Lives of the Saints in 1756, containing in 4 volumes 1,486 saints, the result of thirty years study. It is a notable compendium to the 16th Century Acta Sanctorum, being the 68 folio volumes of critical hagiography examining the lives of Christian saints.

The preface to this edition of Butler, written by Rev. J H McShane of the Collegio Beda, Rome, expresses a concept taken up by contemporary religious author Kenneth L. Woodward in his book How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn’t, And Why, that the Church tells the story, but the author [God] is the Source of the grace by which saints live. Thus, a saint is someone whose story God tells.

This, in essence, was Alban Butler’s mission.

But whose story, from Butler’s treatise should I tell?

The language of Butler’s prose is florid – ornate and ornamental – most intensely expressed when he conveys the life stories of female saints. I was drawn principally to the account of the lives of these women, and most particularly to the peculiarity of the moniker V. and M. [Virgin and Martyr].

The provenance of the exquisitely realised colour plates [in the edition I possess] that illustrate a selection of the saints is uncredited and unknown. What is known is that since the Middle Ages, images rendered of female saints, most especially Virgin Martyrs should convey them as youthful, eternal, beautiful and unblemished. This desire to express youth, piety and beauty as one and the same, reaches back to the pagan rites of sacrifice associated with Vestal Virgins.

Butler’s account of St Syncletica V. provided the impetus for an association of an object/image with that of the saint:

…having soon distributed her fortune among the poor, [she] retired with her [blind] sister into a lonesome monument

The idea of a monument suggested a review of the Catholic Monstrance – the elaborate vessel that both contains and displays the Eucharist. In the same manner, the Catholic Reliquary is a form of Monstrance. I wanted my saints, however, to reside in a more austere, pared back or “hewn” even, monument. Stone suggested itself as a means of visual expression. The Barossa International Sculpture Park, which houses public works in stone from two international symposiums in 1988 and 2008, provided the opportunity to explore the possibility of “monument”, or monstrance in relation to selected images of female saints from Butler’s volumes. *

I nominated 12 female saints, covering V.M., V., Blessed, Patroness, Penitent, Abbess, Foundress, Religious, Queen, Noblewoman, Widow. The number 12 is of seminal importance in Christianity. I selected the significance of the 12 Apostles [Saints], the 12 Tribes of Israel [Sainthood] and 12 as the perfect governmental foundation [stone] of Christianity as associations. Research, reading and experimentation lead to the association of a saint, to a monument and finally, to an explanatory phrase [as above]. The monstrance came into play again: to show; to display in relation to the small aperture in the monstrance used to show / display the Eucharist.  I wanted my images to remain small and discreet – as if viewed through the windowed opening of a monstrance.

The number 12 also references the zodiac in relation to the often-complex graphics associated with zodiac star charts. I wanted graphic codes that could allude to or suggest mystic associations – again, research revealed many associations between the mystic and Catholic saints.

Numbers as a coded system seemed important to me after reading Butler’s volumes. Saints’ birth and death dates; feast day dates, references to significant years in the life of a saint; references to passages from the Bible; and both Latin phraseology and numerals, all figured prominently in accounts. I toyed with creating a coded system using Latin numerals, but felt the need to contemporise the use of numbers in each artwork as a foil to the historical weight of the images. The code, in each image, leads systematically to a revelation by Butler, of some aspect of the saint’s life [or self-willed deprivation, or martyrdom, or sweet release from same].

Finally in the determination of title, I looked to the etymology of the word codex. Its late 16th Century root denotes a collection of statues: At illa hic est titulus…

But She is the Monument

Wendy Muir has a Master of Visual Art and Design with High Distinction from the University of South Australia, and has exhibited extensively throughout Australia. Muir won the Pro Vice Chancellor’s Acquisition Prize at the University of South Australia in 2015. She is represented in public collections worldwide, including Brooklyn Art Museum (USA) and the University of South Australia (AUS).


30 May, 2017
10 June, 2017
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fortyfivedownstairs gallery
45 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia
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