by Léann Herlihy
Setting foot in the space, the soles of the audience are met by a plush red carpet — rich and vibrant in colour. A gold filigree frame hangs on the wall, its image concealed by my stance, an abnormally tall pram stands beside me. Image, body, object: a triptych.
Standing facing the audience, my red leather shoes pivot to the floor; a long skirt drapes over my navel, straight down to my ankles; dressing me from finger tip to shoulder blade, stark white leather; my breasts lay bare.
My right fist clenched, my eyes reach out to the gaze of an audience member. Once met, I stiffly poise my palms outwards, the crackling sound of cold leather reverberates. Releasing grip, milk suddenly begins to drip from the inner lining of my right glove. A repetitive fast paced rhythm of drips drum down on the floor, eventually losing momentum, falling to silence. Accumulating beneath me, a puddle of milk – white on red.
The room’s atmosphere falls into awkwardness: the viewers seem bounded to a sense of shame — watching a half nude woman stand before them, a maternal liquid dripping from her, gathering on the floor, resembling the act of a “water breaking”. Rather than mirroring the audience’s shame, I stand dismissively — a sense of pride.
From my skirt, I remove a wrapped small brick. Peeling back the foil I reveal a block of lard. Resisting the impractical restraints of the leather gloves, I lift my hands towards my head, one of which has a firm grip on the lard. Slowly, but rhythmically, I comb back the hair from my face. Now, a scalp bereft of hair, all femininity has become muddled.
My right hand becomes a white leathered fist once again. Lifting it, I beat my bare left breast in one smooth movement — a patriotic gesture. Leaving my hand there, I wait until my line of gaze is met by an audience member. Once the connection is met, my hand is released down to my side. My eyes direct towards the viewer beside the first, perform the same swift movement, and continue on, until, finally, I have met the gaze of all audience members. Eventually, the rhythm of a beating chest ceases, leaving a raw red breast.
I reach under my skirt and retrieve a plastic bag full of milk. Raising the bag to the red breast, I apply pressure. I outstretch my free arm to the pram’s handle — our first interaction. Soothing my breast, I simultaneously begin to rock the pram gently, back and forth in a swaddling motion.
Dropping the excess milk to the floor, I grip the pram with both hands and manoeuvre it to face the audience, impairing my own line of vision. Composing myself, I plough my way through the audience; people separating like the red sea.
Automatically the crowd are categorised into two groups: the ones that remain fixated to the remainder of my previous presence, two negative footprints in a puddle of milk; and those who follow like a herd of sheep, looking with an inquisition, at what could possibly be in this pram — nothing; empty.
Léann Herlihy performed a Glove is a Gift, a performance which addresses the position of the female body as the focus of repressed histories and political desires under the regulation of the nation State. Performed on February 02 2017, at the exhibition Ban an Tí. Photographs courtesy of Amber Baruch.