Workhouse exhibition strikes a balance

NMAC11-2087-3'Maggy Milner art installations at Southwell Workhouse.'Maggy Milner with her 'More' exhibit.
NMAC11-2087-3'Maggy Milner art installations at Southwell Workhouse.'Maggy Milner with her 'More' exhibit.

A NEW contemporary art exhibition by Southwell artist and photographer Maggy Milner explores the complex history of The Workhouse.

Maggy wants to expand the experience of visitors to The Workhouse, teaching them about the history of the 19th Century building and also conveying the delicate balance between the downward spiral of the ‘poverty trap’ and the problems with state intervention.

She has placed the contemporary pieces of art work around different areas of The Workhouse so they can be explored by people as they wander around the National Trust site.

Maggy says she was inspired by the austere and eerie atmosphere and also the haunting light which pierces through The Workhouse.

The exhibition, entitled A Delicate Balance, was commissioned by the National Trust, and after being launched earlier this month will run until 4th September.

Speaking this week, Maggy said the reaction had so far been positive.

“It is a bit different and gives people another slant on The Workhouse and its complex history,” she said.

“There are six different installations and all the people I have spoken to about them so far have said they are really interesting.

“But it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea because it is contemporary art.

“I hope people will stop and look and possibly come up with their own ideas.”

The six art installations can be discovered in different spaces around The Workhouse and draw on the social history of the Workhouse systems and parallels that exist in today’s societies.

To convey the arduous stone breaking and oakum picking undertaken by Workhouse inmates in the 19th Century, visitors can find plaster casts of men’s, women’s and children’s hands, laid on piles of broken hardstone in the exercise yard.

Regular volunteers from The Workhouse helped out with this exhibit by working alongside Maggy in her studio.

They cast plaster hands and modelled delicate translucent papier-mâchè bowls.

Thirty-five of these bowls will be set in regimented rows on a dormitory floor, and entitled ‘More’, aim to portray 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.”

The Workhouse was built in 1824 by the Revd John Becher as a last resort for the poor and needy in the area and for more than 150 years housed the local poor.

Revd Becher’s strict regime of demeaning drudgery became a blueprint at similar workhouses across the country.

The Workhouse at Southwell today remains the least altered workhouse structure in existence in the country.

A Delicate Balance can be viewed at Southwell Workhouse until 4th September.

For more information about The Workhouse contact 01636 817260.