Helena Walsh is a live artist from Co. Kilkenny Ireland. She has been based in London since 2003. Her practice explores the relations between gender, national identity and cultural histories. Drawing on her lived and embodied experience through her work Helena seeks to positively violate the systems, borders and rules that construct gender. Helena works with time, liveness and the materiality of the body, both within constructed installation environments and site-specific spaces. Her practice often deploys durational performance to explore the contingencies of the past that haunt the present so as to challenge the historical conventions that continually police female sexuality.
Helena graduated from Limerick School of Art and Design with a BA in Fine Art in 2001 and completed her Masters in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2004. In 2009 she received a Doctorate Award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to undertake a practice-based PhD in the Department of Drama, Queen Mary University of London, which she completed in 2013. Over the course of her doctoral research, entitled, Live Art and Femininity in Post-Conflict Ireland: Between Negation and Reproduction, Rebellion and Conformity, Helena made a number of durational live art performances that explored Irish cultural histories. For example, in 2010 she performed Invisible Stains based on the labours, losses and political whitewashing experienced by the women detained in Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries. This performance constituted part of the group durational live art event, Right Here, Right Now, that took place in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. She devised a site-responsive durational performance entitled, Containing Crisis, at Strokestown Park House: The National Famine Museum of Ireland in 2011, which interrogated the continual haunting power of the Famine in relation to the Republic of Ireland’s recent economic collapse. In 2012, Helena co-curated and participated in LABOUR; a touring group durational exhibition that bought together eleven female live artists native to or resident within Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Exploring issues of gender and labour in the Irish region, taking into account the relevance of Ireland’s geographic proximity to the UK, LABOUR toured London, Derry/Londonderry and Dublin.
Helena has performed widely in galleries, museums, theatres and non-traditional art spaces, including public sites. Selected events in which her work has been featured include The National Review of Live Art (2002 and 2007), Bodily Functions, The Granary Theatre, Cork (2005). The Zaz Festival, Israel (2007) Art Radionica Lazereti, Croatia (2007), Intimacy Across Visceral and Digital Performance at Goldsmiths University (2007), The Wormhole Salon at the Whitechapel Gallery (2007), Response at Landguard Fort, Felixstowe (2010) and I’m With You at the Hayward Gallery (2012). In 2013 she presented her work at The Atheneum Theatre - Dijon, The Borderline Festival - Norwich, The Watering Hole at Ironmonger Row Baths as part of Islington Exhibits, Daytime Drama, I’m With You at Rivington Place, London and the 54-hour group durational live art event, The Terminal, London. In 2014 she performed at The Dublin Live Art Festival, the launch of Feminist Hysteria and the Cross Cultural Live Art Project, London Helena also performs with Site Space - an open group that make monthly site-responsive performance event in urban contexts.
Helena’s current research practice is focused on the legacies of feminist activism. In 2016, Helena performed a new site-responsive live art work that considers the activism of the women imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin following the 1916 Rising in relation to contemporary tensions between nationalism and feminism. This was featured in 'Future Histories' at Kilmainham Gaol in 2016 as part of the Arts Council of Ireland's 2016 programme. This research also includes an exploration of the feminist activism of London-Irish women. Relevant to this, Helena is a founder member of the direct-action feminist performance group Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. (Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion). Since its formation in December 2013, this intergenerational collective has undertaken a number of public interventions, which challenge the severe restrictions on access to abortion in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.