As part of the 2016 Liverpool Biennial, artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones presented a live video broadcast of an event The Truncheon and the Speculum which took place at News from Nowhere, a radical community bookshop in Liverpool.
The broadcast explored historic state violence enacted through gynaecological means. It featured material culture historian Dr. Lisa Godson and self-identified “cyborg witch” Klau Kinky of Catalan collective GynePunk, and identified the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s as a key moment in the legislation of state violence against women in Ireland and the UK.
The artists, through this broadcast, identified the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s as a key moment in the legislation of state violence against women in Ireland and the UK. In the interest of keeping the male soldiers of the Empire free from venereal disease, this set of laws permitted the forced gynaecological examination of women in public, believed to be prostitutes. A branch of police constables were issued instruments for the task, a practice described as ‘steel rape’ by Liverpool-based repeal activist Josephine Butler.
With this event, the artists and their guests proposed a supplanting of the role of the state-sanctioned broadcast into domestic spaces. The online and ‘studio’ audiences were invited to discuss and challenge the contemporary terrestrial illegalities of reproductive rights for women via the hashtags #pparchive and #telefeminism.
Image: Sims speculum, developed by Dr. J. Marion Sims through experimentation without anaesthetic on slave women in Alabama in the late nineteenth century. Still in use today and discussed by Lisa Godson and Klau Kinky in The Truncheon and the Speculum workshop, Liverpool (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor