Dublin Fringe Festival 2017 preview: My name is Grace Dyas and I am one of the authors of NOT AT HOME, a durational art campaign on the subject of Ireland’s abortion laws, that will run at NCAD Gallery from the 14-17th September as part of Dublin Fringe Festival 2017.
I have been a theatre-maker for over a decade with THEATREclub, a company I co-founded. This project however, is a co-authored piece with my best friend Emma Fraser, with whom I’ve been working on creative projects since 2009. Since about 2013, we have been having serious conversations about the reality of Ireland's abortion laws and the consequences for women of having to travel to access safe abortion services. We knew that Irish women feel isolated when they come home. We knew that they get very little information before they travel. We also knew we had an important contribution to make, when the time was right.
The way I see it, the problem with our current debate is that it excludes the voices of the women who have actually had to travel. As a result, we’re not sure Ireland has had the opportunity to learn enough about what this experience is actually like. We don’t hear from them; the women for whom this law is not an abstraction, but a lived reality.
In April 2016, we launched NOT AT HOME online and began inviting women to share their experience of travelling to access abortion services in another country, anonymously or otherwise.
We were overwhelmed by the response; the tears, the relief, the joy, the sadness. But most of all, it was the tiny, earth-shattering details. Like one woman who had a cup of tea in an airport in Leeds which meant she couldn’t get an anesthetic and would have to be fully conscious for the procedure. Or another woman who bled on a bathmat in a B&B in Manchester and spent hours trying to clean the stain because she was embarrassed. Or another woman who asked us to "picture the indignity of having your blood-soaked clothes searched through by airport security".
We don’t hear from them; the women for whom this law is not an abstraction, but a lived reality.
In June 2017, we travelled to BPAS Merseyside, to try to recreate — at least physically — the journey that these women have taken. We were shown around the clinic and we heard about the care the women receive there. We heard from taxi drivers that some mornings, five taxis, all carrying Irish women, will leave the rank at the same time, all going to the clinic. All I could think of was their compassion, the ordinary, human compassion, set against the backdrop of Ireland’s apathy.
Last week, we met in NCAD to begin development work on the project, Emma and I were joined by Frank Sweeney, sound designer, Cliona Ní Laoi, video designer, Barry O’Connor our performance director, and Ben Fraser who is working on communications.
We believe that as artists, we can occupy a space that others can’t. We believe we can provide a different kind of information, a different style of communication, one based not just on facts or figures, wrong or right, but on real, lived experiences, on empathy, love, compassion and solidarity.
We spent the week reading these women’s stories together. We tried to read them as our direction, what does this story need from me? How can I best make visible this woman’s individual experience, while conveying too the wider reality of these laws? We talked about scale. We talked about multiples. For every story we read, it’s not just that one woman’s story. You can multiply some details by 170,214 — the amount of women who have travelled to access safe abortion since 1980. It’s not one plane ticket, it’s 170,214 plane tickets. 170,214+ decisions about tea and anesthetics, 170,214+ journeys made away from home..
However, we know we don’t want to make something that’s about abortion. That’s none of our business. And it’s not about the complexities of the decision either. Each woman’s story is different in that regard. That’s none of our business either. The thing they all have in common is that they have to travel, and that’s what we’re asking of ourselves and of our audience: not "Can she have an abortion?" but "Should she have to travel to do so?".
We believe that as artists, we can occupy a space that others can’t. We believe we can provide a different kind of information, a different style of communication, one based not just on facts or figures, wrong or right, but on real, lived experiences, on empathy, love, compassion and solidarity. We want to be in service to the women who have wrote to us and we want to be in service to you. We want to create the space for you to sit and listen to their stories, and decide for yourself how you feel about women having to take this journey. We are not here to preach to the converted, and we’re not here to convert you. It’s not about politics, or sides, or tactics. This is about people. Human beings, their stories, their lives. Please come and see. We’re working hard to show you.
NOT AT HOME runs from September 14 -17 at the National College of Art and Design Gallery, Dublin - for further info on NOT AT HOME, go to the Dublin Fringe Festival website.