Limerick, Ireland
Mairéad McClean, bell(a)exchange, 2007, multiple video installation

Mairéad McClean

b. 1966, Ireland

bell(a)exchange investigates where family history and communication technologies collide, where the private becomes public and the public private. The work explores the artist’s journey to uncover her maternal grandmother and grand-aunt, Teresa and Ellie O’Connor’s labour history as Bell Telephone operators in Montreal, Canada, in the early 1900s.

In a stack of opened cabinet drawers, film footage from the archives of the Bell Telephone Company shows new recruits learning to become operators. This is twinned with letters written home by the young Irish sisters. In another, an elderly Canadian lady struggles to identify and explain who the people are in the crumbling photograph album that she peruses. Other film loops contain image sequences filmed by McClean on her trip across the north Atlantic to Canada by ship in the summer of 2006.

In the end, biography and autobiography collide, as the artist, in a self-reflexive mode, explains each element of the installation as presented at e v+ a in one of the films. McClean relates the stories behind each piece and her experience of making the whole work. Here she offers the audience the chance to piece the different parts of the puzzle back together in the form of a linear narrative.

(Text: too early for vacation catalogue, 2008)

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