In the Shadow of the State

Sarah Browne / Jesse Jones

Derry, Liverpool, London, and Dublin
12 March 2016 - 20 November 2016

In the Shadow of the State is a collaboration between Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones exploring statehood from the perspective of the female body. Born of extensive research and collaborative work with experts from medicine, law, material culture and music, the final project comprises a series of participatory live events in historically resonant spaces in Ireland and the UK.

An unassuming residential home, a historic hospital, a courtroom: using performance and sound the artists explore the ways in which the state speaks to us through its language, architecture and institutions and asks how we might answer back. Bringing to bear objects of cultural significance, activated through highly improvised and sonically driven performance, the performances seek to grasp the latent potential for change embedded in our history.  

The project is collaborative in spirit, informed by experts from the legal academic sphere. These include academic Máiréad Enright, specialist in human rights, reproductive justice and contract law, the Northern/Irish Feminist Judging Project, midwife and litigant Philomena Canning, as well as a diverse range of activists. For the sonic elements and composition the artists are working with Alma Kelliher, a composer and sound designer based in Dublin.

Image: Performer Yinka Esi Graves during The Touching Contract dress rehearsal at Toynbee Studios, London (2016). Photograph: Miriam O’Connor

Of Milk and Marble

Performance, Derry
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Of Milk and Marble

This performance considered the ‘home’ as the first, gendered, architecture of the state. In the Republic of Ireland, women’s place within the home remains enshrined in constitutional law (1937); in the North, homes were frequently raided during the Troubles by the British army, permitted by the Special Powers Act (1922). The performance considered these double roles of the private domestic space, as a space of potential invasion but also holding the potential for secrecy and solidarity between women around the kitchen table. The performance was staged in a home that was subject to repeated raids by state forces.

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Image: Performer Louise Matthews during Of Milk and Marble, Derry (2016). Photograph: Miriam O’Connor

The Truncheon and the Speculum

An event broadcasted live from the Liverpool Biennial
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The Truncheon and the Speculum

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.

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Available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones: The Touching Contract (2016)

13 minutes 5 seconds
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Video: Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones: The Touching Contract

This film features artists Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones discussing the process of making and researching In the Shadow of the State, including footage from a dress rehearsal. Details of the actions and activities that took place during the actual live event were not recorded or shared with anybody who was not part of those performances.

Directed by Kate McDonough and edited by Kuba Nowak.

This video is available to watch on Vimeo and YouTube.

The Touching Contract

Performance, Dublin, September 2016
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The Touching Contract, Dublin

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. 

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Image: Sarah Browne (second from the right) and performers during rehersals for The Touching Contract at the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor

The Touching Contract

Performance, London, November 2016
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The Touching Contract, London

The Touching Contract 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 womens' 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.

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Image: Performer Grace Courtney during the dress rehearsal for The Touching Contract in The Court Room at Toynbee Studios, 10 November (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor

Talk: Tina Kinsella, Querying the State - Activism to Affectivism in The Touching Contract

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Talk: Tina Kinsella, Querying the State – Activism to Affectivism in The Touching Contract

Marking the end of The Touching Contract, Dr Tina Kinsella gave an overview of the project’s three participatory performances and a historical context to the institutions, laws and practices of the State that have impacted on the female body and informed the work. The talk covers recent histories including the Magdalene Laundries, Symphysiotomy and reproductive rights, and the semantics of how they have been brought to light by Browne and Jones.

You can listen to the talk on Soundcloud

Image: Detail from The Touching Contract, September (2016) part of In the Shadow of the State. Photograph: Miriam O'Connor


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The Touching Contract is not only disconcerting and discomforting in its exploration of our relationship with the state, it is also a reminder of our growing isolation from one another. – Hettie Judah, The Guardian

Selected Press

Finding oneself in a physically compliant state with strangers is a reminder that, while we inhabitants of megacities are increasingly inured to the intrusions of physical contact, we have also become desensitised to its nuances. Cut off from extended families, often out of direct contact with the very old or very young, we don’t automatically respond with nurturing intent to bodies requiring support: we flinch from the offer of comfort and shift away from displays of emotion. The Touching Contract is not only disconcerting and discomforting in its exploration of our relationship with the state, it is also a reminder of our growing isolation from one another. – Hettie Judah, The Guardian, 17 November 2016

The artists view this legacy as history of violence against women and, given the horrors endured by survivors of Symphysiotomy and those who suffered incarceration at the hands of the church (in the Magdalene Laundries for example), it is difficult to argue otherwise. – Anne Mulle, The Visual Artists Ireland, 4 November 2016

Audiences arriving at the Rotunda for The Touching Contract will indeed be touched, artistically, emotionally and physically. But only if they choose to be. –Anthea McTeirnan, The Irish Times, 12 September 2016

Production Credits

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Production Credits


Producer – Marina Doritis
Composer – Alma Kelliher
Legal collaborator – Máiréad Enright
Graphic designer – Oonagh Young
Performers – Grace Courtney, Odilia Egyiawan, Yinka Esi Graves, Noemi Gunea, Bernadette Iglich, Deirdre Murphy and Rahel Vonmoos.
Mediators – Sarah Browne, Marina Doritis, Ruth Fletcher, Lisa Godson, Marie-Andree Jacob, Jesse Jones, Linda Malcuhy, Lynne McCarthy, Sara Ramshaw, Elaine Reynolds and Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh 
Costumes – Elaine Reynolds
Stage Manager / Sound technician – Kirsty Chestnutt

Click to read credits for Derry, Liverpool and Dublin and Performer Biographies.

Image: Performers and participants during rehearsal for The Touching Contract, in The Court Room at Toynbee Studios, London, 18 November (2016). Photograph: Miriam O'Connor

About Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones

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Sarah Browne

Sarah Browne is a Dublin-based Irish artist. Her research-based practice investigates the materiality of knowledge, attending to the intersection of invisible structures of power with bodily experience. This sculptural practice includes writing, publishing, performance and public projects, encountered both within and outside gallery environments, as well as extensive collaboration. 

In 2009, Browne co-represented Ireland at the 53rd Venice Biennale with Gareth Kennedy and Kennedy Browne. Solo exhibitions include Hand to Mouth at CCA Derry-Londonderry and Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, and The Invisible Limb, basis, Frankfurt (both 2014). Selected group exhibitions include From a Poem to a Sunset, Daimler Contemporary, Berlin; The Pattern Exchange, Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin (both 2015); The Peacock, Grazer Kunstverein and One Foot in the Real World, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (both 2013).

Browne currently lectures in the Department of Sculpture and Expanded Practice at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin.


Jesse Jones

Jesse Jones is a Dublin-based Irish artist. Her practice crosses the media of film, performance, and installation. Often working through collaborative structures, she explores how historical instances of communal culture may hold resonance in our current social and political experiences. Her project and exhibition NO MORE FUN AND GAMES at Dublin City Municipal Gallery, the Hugh Lane, established a “parasite” institutional structure within the museum space. This work explored how the politics of exclusion operates in relation to the role of women in the history and production of the artistic canon.  She is interested in how political movements and ideas might be expanded to institutional performative gestures. Jones questions how we may look, not only through the lens of vast historical movements but also through the incremental shifts in how we inhabit our everyday lives and experiences.

Previous exhibitions include the Istanbul Biennale 2009 as well as solo exhibitions at Artsonje Centre Seoul and RedCat Los Angeles. Jones will represent Ireland’s pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale 2017.

Images: Portrait of Jesse Jones (left) and Sarah Browne (right) during fieldwork on the Blasket Islands (2014) Photograph: Miriam O'Connor; portrait of Sarah Browne (above) and Jesse Jones (2016). Photograph: Enda Rowan


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Who made this possible?


In the Shadow of the State is a co-commission between Artangel and Create. In the Shadow of the State is supported by ART: 2016 the Arts Council’s programme as part of Ireland 2016. The Truncheon and the Speculum was 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. Helen’s). Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels, Guardian Angels, and The Company of Angels.