Léann Herlihy

Léann Herlihy is a performance artist based in Ireland. Herlihy’s practice probes both invisible and discarded power structures which have been occluded by history, clouded by rhetoric and generally subjected to sustained erasure. Recently, Herlihy has departed from directly addressing ancestry accounts of State repression and resistance, rather pulling from personal experiences in a bid to expose a society overladen with patriarchal hegemonic masculinity.

The accompanying text is an auto-ethnographic account by the artist, in a bid to bring resolution to their most recent body of work, VROOM (2019) and STUNTMAN (2020).


I was 19 years old when I had my first car accident. It was late on a desolate road; I swerved and became buried in foliage. The nose of the car tipped downwards with my weighted body and gaze baring the car’s same angle. Shifting into reverse, I revved profusely but the car remained static. I sat in solitude, patiently waiting to be engulfed by the toxic fumes which seeped through the mechanical fissures. The muted diffusion illuminated by the headlights.


There are some relationships which cannot be verbally expressed. An object unveils and an attraction unfolds. Desire is indispensable and reason becomes insignificant. Such relationships cannot be sought out, rather they only arise when there is a lack of intention. When I was 19, I did not seek out a thrill; I did not intend to crash; I did not anticipate an indescribable relationship to manifest.

It took me seven years to explore this personal relationship in my public practice, subsequently leading to an array of unanswered questions: Why do I need to explore this? Why now? Who am I doing this for?



VROOM (2019); Assembly #2, Simiane-la-Rotonde, France, 2019

A retired postal van was the motor vehicle I lost my virginity to. Removing my clothes, I straddled the bonnet while lodging a thick branch of thorns along the periphery of my inner thighs. The next day, I turned the engine on and revved it for as long as it would allow me. The third day, I wanted to rev it, but I wanted to watch it. I sat in the car, pressed down the clutch, ignited the engine and throttled the accelerator. Taking two large rocks, I replaced the pressure enforced by my feet with solid rubble. Stepping out of the van, the ghost engine roared; my body reverberated. I did this again, but rather than watching, I straddled the bonnet; the vibrations shook my body; the blazing engine burnt my bare skin.

Throughout these experiments, another person was likewise working with the van — Jasper Llewellyn. The intentions behind our actions remained unknown to one another, but a common thread was inevitable; drive it. I drove; Jasper drove; Jasper revved; I revved. Working as a trio — Jasper, the van and I— we became acutely aware that one body would always be in control of the others, even if unintentionally. Power could never be simultaneously shared.



STUNTMAN (2020); ]performance s p a c e [, Folkestone, London, 2020

A motorbike differs greatly from a car. It carries a sole individual, disregards all forms of protection and must be straddled to ride. The greatest chunk of my time with the motorbike was spent straddling it; pressing my thighs down with as much force as they would allow; my inner legs speckled with bruising. Even in its most banal description, the phallic undertones cannot be overlooked.

Enclosed within four walls, I would straddle the motorbike as it faced a dead-end ramp. Without turning the key in the ignition, the narrative was clear; if I drive, I crash. Once the engine was running, a deeper understanding of the motorbikes masculine undertones became present; the sweet purr; the rattling roar; the engine cuts; the spectre remains. Fatal fumes refuse to disperse, sight becomes hazed and bodies form a homogenous whole. Toxic masculinity penetrates.

Both before and after this action, I was faced with a haunting conundrum: why did I want to emulate toxic masculinity? It was not until recently when a friend gifted me with a text by Del LaGrace Volcano that I felt some form of clarity, even if only fleetingly.

The feeling of comfort and relief I experienced when being perceived as male came as quite a shock to me because I was raised to believe in the power and glory of womanhood. There are some who accuse me of betraying “womanity” by inhabiting what looks and sounds like a male body. BOLLOCKS to that I say! I’m a Gender Terrorist, a walking, talking bomb in The Boys Club. Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

(Del LaGrace Volcano)

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Herlihy has exhibited internationally, in Ireland, the UK, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Iceland, Norway, Thailand and the US. STUNTMAN, a performance realised in collaboration with Steakhouse Live and ]performance s p a c e [, will be developed into a three-hour durational piece for Slow Sunday in Tonybee Studios on Sunday 1 March. Some of these works and images were realised in collaboration with Jasper Llewellyn.

Categories: Featured Artist

Date Posted: 24 February 2020