Laundry/Ecstasy documents a performance in the former laundry room of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC. For eight hours I ironed family linens that have passed through the hands of five generations of women: a meditation on the relationship of domestic and spiritual labor, and a feminist inquiry into ritual, gender, and power.
In the video a patch of sunlight moves across the wall as tolling church bells mark the passage of time. I steamed and pressed inherited bedsheets and hand-embroidered textiles for the length of an average workday, symbolically ‘airing my dirty laundry’ and keeping silent to acknowledge the often-unrecorded history of ‘women’s work’.
Viewers are invited to see but not enter this cloistered space, to witness physical movements and metaphysical labors that point to the interiority of spiritual experience. A paradox of domestic work is that while one’s body is confined to a physical space, one’s mind is free to roam without boundary.
This all-male Catholic monastery is part of a larger Western European system that for centuries has relied on unpaid labor from female communities. By performing on these grounds, I aim to provoke reflection on unspoken expectations and power: which repetitive behaviors lull us into maintaining the status quo; what gender roles support our domestic and economic structures; who benefits from institutions that undervalue female labor and agency?
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Kiki McGrath is a multidisciplinary artist who makes temporary installations in laundry rooms, chapels, galleries, and gardens. Combining found objects and performance to explore the intersection of ritual, gender and domestic labor, she creates experiential spaces for reflection and action. Exhibitions include ‘Women’s Work’ at the Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis, IN, Free Punch & Pie at the American University Museum in Washington, DC, and Roman Abstractions at the US Embassy Sembler Gallery in Rome, Italy. She recently received a fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and has participated in residencies in the US and Italy. She holds an MA in Museum Studies from George Washington University and an MFA in Fine Art from American University in Washington, DC.
© Kiki McGrath