Features Essays Published 12 March 2012

Producing Potentials for Empowerment

LABOUR is a touring exhibition of Live Art, featuring eleven leading female artists who are resident within, or native to, Northern and Southern Ireland. LABOUR interrogates the gendered representational frameworks prevalent within an Irish cultural context, that produce, limit and devalue, various forms of female labour. In each durational exhibition participating artists will perform simultaneously for eight consecutive hours, reflecting the duration of an average working day. Set within the shadows of Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries, LABOUR explores current shifts in the political and economic climate within an Irish cultural context.
Helena Walsh and Benjamin Sebastian

Benjamin Sebastian – Through a meeting of minds and hearts, at a timely conjunction of various individuals’ research and practices, the curators (Amanda Coogan, Helena Walsh and Chrissie Cadman) and myself (producer) were able to devise and implement a touring exhibition offering unprecedented exposure to some of the most dynamic and thought provoking live work, being made by women, coming out of an Irish cultural context, the inaugural launch of which took place at ]performance s p a c e [

 ]performance s p a c e [ does exactly what it says on the tin. We continuously strive to maintain s p a c e where things can be performed: gender, politics, art, emotions, critique and life. We are sensitive and not censored. ]performance s p a c e [ acts as a point of synthesis and exchange, inviting, encouraging and nurturing those visual performance practices that may often find themselves outside-of, left-out-of or in-between other mediums, formats, dialogues and visual arts institutions. We are a s p a c e where those who (may or may not) find it difficult to have their work programmed, due to issues of duration, size, status, action(s) or politics, may take the time and space to create and explore their artistic endeavours. We do not ask permission. We are a space for process, a place for difficult, unresolved and evolving work.

LABOUR: Áine Phillips

LABOUR did not shy away from the traumas embedded within an Irish cultural context. Nor did it neglect the weight of oppression experienced by women historically. Those who trudged through the snow in London to experience LABOUR at ]performance s p a c e[ were not greeted with warmth. They were confronted with shivering, soaked, stained and soiled bodies. They encountered bodies engaged in restrained and regimented actions, as if endlessly caught in a repetitious grind.

Amidst the harshness of this grating atmosphere, however, there also emerged moments of lightness. The peaks and troughs in the communal energy during the eight-hour duration sparked occasions of loud connectivity, yet at other times, instances of collective silence. Within both the rising momentum of rhythmical rallying calls and the sharp falls into silent stillness, the potentials for developing communal strength and dialogue across the successive live exhibitions were ignited. It is through this capacity for activating multiple and new forms of expression and resistance, alongside the production of empowered discourses from and between live female bodies that LABOUR gains its performative power.

BS – I feel it is important for our audiences to acknowledge the origins and initial conceptualising of LABOUR. After reviewing the force of practices presented at Right Here, Right Now: Kilmainham Gaol, Dubli , I felt compelled to engage the practices, politics and emotions being emitted from this cultural setting. Through meeting Helena Walsh at various performance platforms – and again at ]performance s p a c e [ for an enactment of the installation by Alastair MacLennan (B E Y O N D N E C E S S I T Y) – I was directed towards Brutal Silences: Live Art and Irish Culture, (A Study Room guide commissioned by the Live Art Development Agency, co-authored by Ann Maria Healy and Helena Walsh) and experienced an instant affinity not only with the melancholic mood  represented through documented photographs and film, yet also with a sadness and frustration at the apparent and profound occupation of women’s bodies, time and space within many positions of an Irish historical context.




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