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 Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones in collaboration with legal academic Máiréad Enright
This is an Artistic Performance. The Performance will be 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 maybe 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.
Image: Léann Herlihy during rehearsals for The Touching Contract, the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor
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.
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 2016, the Republic of Ireland's Constitution designated a womans’ rights when pregnant, as equal to those of the ‘unborn’. In effect this produced a constitutional ban on abortion and impacted 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. Since the project, abortion law in the Republic of Ireland followed a constitutional amendment approved by a referendum in May 2018.
Image: Archive of State and Non-State Contracting Practices Affecting the Rights of Women in Ireland, compiled by Máiréad Enright for The Touching Contract, Dublin (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor