Helena Walsh

Live Art and Video Performance


The Wrens, 'I'm with you: Daytime Drama', Rivington Place, photo by Christa Holka

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The Wrens explores women’s often-overlooked labours and the historical legacies that inform cultural constructions of femininity in the present.

‘The Wrens’ were a sub-cultural community of Irish sex workers who lived in the furze bushes outside a British military base established at The Curragh, Co. Kildare in 1855. Owing to reports in the Pall Mall Gazette (1867), alongside an account wrote by Charles Dickens, rich visual descriptions of the lives of these women exist. Numbering between sixty and one hundred members variously, from the 1850s into the early twentieth century “The Wrens’ inhabited dwellings in the bushes, termed ‘nests,’ where they cooked, washed, slept and entertained clients. As Irish sex workers servicing the British military while Ireland remained under British colonial rule, ‘The Wrens’ were one of the most vilified groups of Irish women and suffered much violence. However, ‘The Wrens’ also maintained an inclusive community, in which labour was shared and their meagre resources pooled. Equally, as noted by historian Maria Luddy, they also exercised forms of rebellion that ‘constantly violated the boundaries set for them.’ 1

The images shown here are from a durational performance of The Wrens, as part of Daytime Drama, I’m With You, Rivington Place, London 2013 - a day-long affair structured around the themes of daytime television (soap operas/telenovelas), waiting for "something" to happen, and domestic space.
I’m With you are Johanna Linsley, Christa Holka and Justin Hunt.

1. Maria Luddy, Prostitution and Irish Society: 1800-1940 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 74.


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