Sunday, December 4, 2016

Words on windows...

During the week, Barry and I had the honour of attending the opening of McAuley House - new custom built housing for homeless women in Melbourne.

I had been commissioned to make work for the windows of the Meditation-Reflection room - a sanctuary space where women can sit and reflect, ponder, dream, think...

It is a remarkable piece of architecture this building - so beautiful and light, using bold colours (many chosen by the women who are currently housed in the old accommodation) and the challenge for me was how to create a quiet, calm and serene space with the vibrant colours around and the extraordinary city-streetscape outside the floor to glass windows?

The room is the very top one on the right here.

On my first visit, this is what I had to base everything on...a pano of all the windows, no colours yet. I chose to work with the middle seven.

My brief was to put "words on windows" and so I had to work out the 'what' - which words to use? and the 'how' - which processes and colours and materials to use to create the sense of tranquility I was hoping for?

To gather the 'what' I went down to Melbourne and spent some time with a group of homeless women who were living in the old building.  We spoke a lot about how they wanted to feel when they were in that space - what sorts of things mattered to them in there, and what feeling did they want the room to help create or evoke in them and in others?

So they pelted me with words (figuratively only - they were an enthusiastic and energetic bunch!) and I wrote each word on a card, gave them some stickers and asked them to vote on the most important words.

I was a bit stunned when the word which clearly got the most votes, the words that expressed best how they wanted to feel in that room was 'brave'. I almost wept.

I also gathered some words from one of the Sisters of Mercy (who run McAuley House) and it was wonderful to see how much overlap there was.

I had some of my words.

My other plan was to use the word 'peace' to anchor the space; and I wanted to write the words 'peace' in the 16 languages that were spoken by the women being housed in the past twelve months.

That way, I hoped that many of the women from non-English speaking backgrounds who entered the room, would see the word peace written in their language, and feel welcomed.

You have probably seen my many experiments , here and there along the way on what was for me, a massive piece of work. I learned so much as I went along and had to really back myself and my decisions, and develop a whole heap of new skills and understandings.

Exhilaratingly exhausting could well describe it, especially from such a distance.

So I flew back down for the installation and again learned heaps about applying signage to windows.

At the end of installation day.

On Wednesday we visited the building and the room - and again I teared up as I stood outside. I wasn't alone. I had been told by somebody that as the nuns visited a number of them shed a tear; and words I heard were "beautiful words hanging in the sky" and "they will give great encouragement and comfort to women for years to come".

What an honour to be able to offer these brave women  a sanctuary space; and those who work with and for them as well, a place to be calm, to be quiet and to be peaceful.

The work is called "In Peace and Stillness" and here is the statement:

Within this space for meditation and reflection, the central band of two lines displays words for peace in the 16 languages spoken by women of the service at the time I visited. I hoped to make the words familiar to women of many cultures who will visit and live here.

The floating words come from a workshop I did with some of the women, and reflect how they hoped to feel in this room. They are melded with words of wisdom from one of the Sisters of Mercy.

The words are written in a calligraphic script I designed which is flowing and gentle. The words are sized to fit each window, and to be small. - to not shout or be overwhelming, They requires stillness and time to contemplate and absorb them.

In peace and stillness.

The next post will share more of the magnificent building and the stories of the women.


  1. amazing and deeply moving! Excellent work, Fiona!

    1. Thank you so much, it has been a special project...

  2. fiona, this is a project to be deeply happy about. thank you for showing us how it came together ffom all those delicious hints you gave along the way.

    1. Thanks V - it has Ben an absolute privilege to be involved and to be part of creating a safe haven for these women...

  3. I don't know about you tearing up... they're rolling down my cheeks here! So beautiful Fiona. They picked the right artist for this commission. Words to heal. xx

    1. Ahh Lesley I so is a precious place and I hope I have done it justice. I am working on a second set of works which I hope to finish soon.

  4. brilliant elegant and made with such deep heart

    1. Thank you Mo - such big heart was needed to draw upon and find ways is special.

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you so much - I truly hope it continues to be a space of beauty...


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