Helena Walsh

Live Art and Video Performance


Photographer: Something Human / Push

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The Terminal was a three-day durational live art project created by Something Human for PUSH 2013.With reference to Marc Augé’s notion of ‘non-spaces’, and the holding areas at border crossings around the world, the project examines spaces of constraints, limbo and in-betweenness, and their impact on the processes of art-making. Along with a curated programme of talks, panel discussions and moving image works, The Terminal offers an inquiry into ‘live’ performance, contemporary notions of non-spaces, and the intersection between the public and the private.

From Friday 25th to Sunday 27th October 2013, The Terminal unfolded between and within a three-storey warehouse in Bermondsey, a hostel in London Bridge, and their immediate surrounds where ten international artists from different backgrounds, lived and made performance together, under constant surveillance and restrictive conditions. On checking into The Terminal each artist handed over their identity papers and all communication devices for the duration of the event. Once checked in, artists were not allowed to exit The Terminal or any of its spaces until after check-out on Sunday 27th October. Each artist was permitted a bag weighing no more than 10kg. Live camera feeds transmitted from the Terminal were made accessible via a live streaming site 24 hours a day from check-in to check-out.

In my performance, The Red Case, I used the durational format and emphasis on transient ‘non-space’ to respond to the often-secret journeys made by thousands of women from Ireland who travel annually to the United Kingdom for abortions. This performance sought to offer a retort to the draconian patriarchal ideologies that deny women bodily integrity and subvert the shaming and silencing of women from Ireland who have abortions.

During the three-day performance I undertook a series of actions. On the first day, moving slowly I marked my movements in the space so as to mark the journeys made by between 4000 and 5000 women from the Republic of Ireland annually to access abortion services, while demonstrating the slow progression of women's rights. I drew a large X on the ground with chalk. I layered little flags stuck in Catholic altar bread, which said ‘Exiling Women’s Rights,' on top of this X.’ On placing one of my red suitcase beside this X, I made a visual reference to The X Case – a case in 1992 when the Irish state placed a ban on a 14-year old rape victim, pregnant as a result of her rape and suicidal as a result of her pregnancy, from leaving the country to have an abortion. Following appeal The Supreme Court subsequently ruled that abortion should be permissible in cases where there was a risk to the life of the mother, including suicide. Yet, it was only in 2013, 21 years later, that the Irish state legislated on the Supreme Court Ruling in the X Case, as part of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. However, this bill also legislated for the implementation of a 14-year prison sentence for any woman found to have had an abortion illegally in Ireland. This holds severe consequences for women unable to travel abroad for abortion using pro-abortive medication.

On the second day I sat in the large red suitcase, the inside of this case was layered with information, statistics and news reports on Ireland’s abortion laws, alongside numerous testimonies from women who had made the journey from Ireland to the UK for abortion. At times I shredded the Irish Tricolour flag with a knitting needle between my legs. At other times I crumbled Catholic Holy Communion on the floor around the case, which I pulled from a pouch sewn into my red dress. With the frayed threads of the flag and the crumbled altar bread I made a kind of cobweb with the symbols of Church and state. On the final day, I lay on top of the case, which was covered in the remains of the shredded Tricolour flag, and placed in the midst of a circle of knitting needles across which the frayed threads of the flag and the crumbled pieces of altar bread were laced. With my legs held open I menstruated on the Tricolour flag.

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