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Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones, The Touching Contract, performance, 2016. Staged performance documentation by Miriam O' Connor at the Pillar Rooms, Dublin, 2016

The Touching Contract proposes new ways of understanding the political gesture of touch through an immersive performance work. The work exists in two acts: the administration of a contract, followed by participation in the performance, which features an ensemble of women performers. The contract forms the basis of how audience members choose to participate in the performance, and was developed in discussion with an invited group of women in the city. This group explored with the artists and the performers how women encounter the touch of the law every day, with and without consent.

Below is an extract from The Touching Contract, written by the artists in collaboration with Máiréad Enright and the group of women invited to the drafting workshop prior to the performance:

This is an Artistic Performance. The Performance will begin with the sound of a triangle. You will be Touched by one or more female Performers, nominated by the Artists. That Touch will be improvised, direct and non-forceful. Performers will exercise their Discretion in deciding how to Touch you. However, the Touch(es) Administered may be experienced as having one or more of the following qualities…

Significant, unavoidable or frequently occurring risks identified in the contract included, sensations of embarrassment (e.g. blushing, sweating, shaking); sensations of awkwardness, self-consciousness, nervousness, anxiety (e.g. giggling, digestive discomfort); feelings of bewilderment or boredom;interpretive difficulties; heightened arousal; sense of social difference highlighted through interpretation of performance (gender, age, class, sexuality, ethnicity); sense of anticlimax. Uncommon, but more serious risks included, outbursts of emotion (tears, rage, confusion, laughter); panic attacks; sense of accomplishment or empowerment; sense of powerlessness / impotence; onset of spontaneous civil disobedience; risk of radicalisation; hypersensitivity to the future touch of the State.

Staged performance documentation by Miriam O' Connor at the Pillar Rooms, Dublin, 2016. Performer: Mary Duffin

An archive of research used by Máiréad Enright in structuring the form was available to view by the participants before entering the room of the performance, and again when they left. This included historic adoption consent forms (redacted), documentation from state redress schemes for institutional abuse, as well as the medical consent form that provided the main reference for the contract in Dublin. Objects brought to the legal workshops in the different cities of the project were also available to be viewed and discussed. Legal mediators were present to answer questions and provide further information on the detail of the contract. 

Staged performance documentation by Miriam O' Connor at the Pillar Rooms, Dublin, 2016. Performer: Deirdre Murphy

In Dublin, the performance was staged in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital, the first lying-in hospital in Ireland and the UK. In the Republic of Ireland in 2016, the Constitution designated a woman’s rights when pregnant, as equal to those of the ‘unborn’. In effect this produced a constitutional ban on abortion and impacts issues of consent and body autonomy throughout pregnancy and childbirth. The performance took place over the last weekend of September 2016, coinciding with the annual March for Choice, organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign and featuring a wide representation of advocacy and activist groups, including the Association for the Improvement of the Maternity Services, Doctors for Choice and Lawyers for Choice.

Read a review by Anne Mullee in The Visual Artists News Sheet here.

Attached documents

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Materials available to participants before signing the contract (including objects from legal drafting sessions). Photos: Miriam O' Connor

Producer: Caroline Williams. Composer: Alma Kelliher. Legal drafting: Máiréad Enright. Graphic designer: Oonagh Young. Performers: Noelle Brown, Mary Duffin, Léann Herlihy, Sinéad Keogh, Deirdre Murphy, Rebecca Reilly, Noni Stapleton. Mediators: Emma Balfe, Claire Brophy, Sarah Browne, Kate Butler, Philomena Canning, Bronwyn Gaffney, Jesse Jones, Sara O’Rourke. Sound technician: Sinéad Diskin. Production coordinator: Kerrie O'Brien. Special thanks to Caroline Campbell.

The Touching Contract is part of the project In the Shadow of the State by Sarah Browne & Jesse Jones co-commissioned by Artangel and Create. Supported by ART: 2016, the Arts Council's programme as part of Ireland 2016, the centenary of the Easter Rising in the Republic of Ireland, Dublin City Council and Heart of Glass (St. Helens).