Meaker says of the project, "I have spent the last two years exploring and, in many ways, absorbing the now-vacant building, which was once called Saint Joseph’s Providence Orphan Asylum and Hospital." The orphanage was previously home to her grandfather and great-uncle, two destitute family members that though she never met, she "remembers vague stories of mysterious and sometimes malevolent robed nuns."
One of the first social institutions in Vermont, Saint Joseph’s opened in 1884 and was overseen by the Sisters of Providence. At one time, it housed as many as 200 children. The photographs Meaker has taken within the hollowed-out, once-hallowed space have gone through several incarnations and discoveries, "each presenting a different shade of inquiry regarding my personal history and revealing a larger context: the nature of an isolated/insulated life within religious communities of women. It grew clear that the women who oversaw the orphanage and its occupants were confined to the space as steadfastly as the helpless orphans had been, bound by solemn vows."
In researching the history of the orphan asylum, Meaker found one portrait of a woman presumed to have been a member of the Sisters of Providence. "Sister Jane Doe was sitting at a desk in what was once the designated sewing room; the desk sits there now covered in dust. Rather than an archetype of spirituality, she seems to represent a persistent image of woman as other, abject, and inert. I culled several other portraits of anonymous nuns, many who worked for other Catholic institutions in Burlington, Vermont, and brought them into the abandoned orphanage. Projecting these images within various rooms on the second floor, where documentation states the sisters resided, I was able to rearticulate those images I had created in my mind many years before, now through a wiser aperture of memory," says Meaker.
An otherness emerged within each portrait, a sense that seemed to highlight the sisters’ holiness and their monstrous nature. They were robed in rigid black and white. "Time had dulled them into a safe anonymity. What had begun as an attempt at knowing Arthur and Gilbert had expanded into a desire to illuminate the sisters' dark authority. Arthur and Gilbert, a little more haunted now, were bound here by tragic necessity, the sisters by reverent choice," she says.
Also on display during the pop-up exhibition will be works from Meaker's Monstrous Feminine and Animism series. The photographs that comprise the series Monstrous Feminine explore psychoanalytic discourse related to the woman-as-monster / woman-as-victim archetypes as historically depicted in the horror genre of cinema.Meaker, 31 years old, is a full-time Burlington College student and works full-time running the business and studio of world-renowned artist Richard Erdman. She is anticipating graduating in December of this year with a bachelor of arts in art history.