The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder

by Léann Herlihy

What was my purpose?
To sit; to swaddle; to remain silent.
The elephant in the room – a woman
cradling a pail of milk to her womb.
Which one will fall to the foot of the cross,
the fifty litres of milk or sixty kilos
of woman?

I fall to the ground – a stigma;
it falls to the ground – a crime;
we both fall to the ground – a tragedy.

Assistance arrives;
two midwives from the crowd.
Their knees bend,
my legs spread.
A growing discomfort;
a ripening malaise;
out comes the fruits of my labour.

The deed is done, the doers undone.[1]
I stare around for reassurance, which is
neither met nor denied, but rather, uncertified.

– An extract from the artists notebook following the performance, The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder.

The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder, photo. Marcus Cassidy

The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder addresses the position of the female body as a focal point of repressed histories and political desires in Ireland. The performance stemmed from the group exhibition, SANDMAN, held in the Complex, Dublin (27 July to 1 August, 2017), in accordance with STREAM. The show’s undertone was influenced by Verse 32 from the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament:

“They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshipped it and sacrificed it […]”

I – a young Irish woman – sat, swaddling a glass pail of milk; an undeniable burden protruding from my stomach. My objective was to abstain from assistance; to carry this load in solitude, a task which became insurmountable.

The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder, audience members; Jill Abbot and Ciara O' Brien, photo. Marcus Cassidy

An hour passed, when two female audience members came to my aid. Removing a refuse bag from my pocket, they held it between my legs, while I pulled the plug from the vessel’s nether side. Out chugged the contents, relieving me from my seated position; a weight lifted.

A glass pail with no capacity, I loosen the umbilical chord of what tethered me to the vessel. I now stand fully exposed – yet, free. Taking the bag of milk, I drag it in circles, building momentum as the contents slowly begins to leak out. Suddenly, I stop – am I the person left to carry this weight around?

I reach out to three men, to help lift this encumbrance over the mouth of the glass pail. With difficulty, they grasp the delicate plastic between their fingers, while I caress it’s underbelly; we share responsibility. I see the struggle in their arms, the discomfort on their faces – I withdraw my hand from the growth and thrust it forward with force, breaking the bulge’s seal. The contents drains into its former place; waiting for the cycle to commence again.

The sacrificed calf feeds from the swollen udder, photo. Marcus Cassidy.

[1] “The deed is done, the doers undone” alludes to the story of Macbeth; that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plotted and committed murders “the deed is done”, and subsequently became mentally tormented by their evil deeds “the doers undone”.

Photographs by Marcus Cassidy

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