The Touching Contract is a participatory performance that proposes a heightened sensitivity to the touch of the state. In London, the performance was staged in the historic Court Room at Toynbee Studios, located in the complex of Toynbee Hall, a settlement house founded to end poverty in the East End in the late 1800s. The performance found new resonances in London as women's experiences of childhood, maternity and austerity encounter the gaze of a post-Brexit state, that is newly conscious of its borders.
The contract that underpins the performance of the work, and gives it its title, is a document that outlines the terms required of participants. Each time the work is performed, the form and terms of the contract are developed in discussion with an invited group of women in the city, in a workshop led by the artists and legal collaborator Máiréad Enright. As such, the performance is site-responsive not only in relation to the architecture but also to the legal territory it is performed within.
Below is an extract from The Touching Contract, written by the artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones in collaboration with activist and legal academic Máiréad Enright:
I’ll do everything I can to be available to the Touch of the Performers and will receive help from the Artists to support me in this. The Touch administered will be:
- improvised, direct and non-forceful
- applied at the Performer's’ discretion using their Body, an Object or Instrument
- delivered by one or more Performers or by another Participant or Participants at their instruction
- I understand that I may experience the Touch administered as having one or more of the qualities…
In London, the contract was based on a Claimant Commitment form. An archive of the research used by Máiréad Enright in structuring the contract was available to view by the participants before entering the room of the performance, and again when they left. This reflected on dynamics of benevolence and violence in both private and state contracts, highlighting situations of limited rights but increased vulnerability. Signed contracts were exchanged for vouchers which entitled participants access to the performance. These vouchers required participants to disclose the nature of their crisis: Common nightwalking; Wilful refusal to maintain a family; Child destruction; Failure to submit to a test or examination; Criminal conversation; Conspiracy; Conjuration; Other; None. Objects brought to the legal workshops in the different cities of the project were also available to be viewed and discussed, as access points to how women had described the ‘touch of the law’ across these territories.