to be nowhere


to be nowhere (2022)  
performance [90 minutes]
Photograph by Niamh Barry

the centre becomes the new margin (2023)

Textual documentation of to be nowhere (2022) commissioned by Visual Artists Ireland

My earliest recollections of self-identification stem not from my relationality to trans* but rather from a sense of (dis)place(ment); an inability to relate to the fixity inherent in most dominant ontologies of place. It is no surprise, then, that I find a certain amount of solace being in flux.

Antithetical to an intent of obtaining stability, I only seek out my horoscope when I wish to be unfixed. Although I go to the effort of scrolling to the twelfth and final astrological sign at the end of the page, I usually disregard the prologue as insufficient criteria to classify my existence. I am not what you say I am. Still, I am ever the romantic about the ways we move within restraint. And thus, on the day of writing this, I began my morning by reading my horoscope written by Zohra Shakti under the pseudonym Woodstock Witch:

There is nothing to do and nowhere to go.

In September 2020, I electronically submitted my Master’s Thesis in Gender Studies with the regretfully over-confident title, Quare Rural Studies: A Queer’s Handbook on Navigating the Irish Rural Landscape. Nestled within this collection of subjective modalities, was a chapter under the moniker the middle of nowhere; a string of autoethnographic vignettes reclaiming dominant spatial ontologies of ‘nowhere’—fields, bogs and natural landscapes—as sites of sexual expression for queer rural inhabitants. After submitting, I flirted with the idea of being the middle of nowhere, as in, I am nowhere. A month later, I ordered a personalised t-shirt with the words ‘the middle of nowhere’ printed on it in black lowercase Helvetica font. Today, this once-crisp-white T-shirt is now a sweat-stained article: a subjective tremor which I read, wrote, made, unmade, taught, slept and fucked in.

Between the evening hours of seven to eight-thirty on November 9th 2022, I lay on a sanitised, leather bed with a blinding white spotlight glaring down at me from above. Two enclosed circles of witnesses sat around the radial light. Inside the circle: German; outside the circle: Matt.

to be nowhere (2022)
[floor plan]
For those of you who also chase euphoric hormones produced by the action of self-determination, then humour this image description as a mechanism of corporeal authorship:

Léann, a white person with a dark brown mullet, lays horizontally on their back. Their chest is bare except for blue strips of trans* tape which flatten down their fleshy pecs. They wear a pair of pristine white sports socks and red tracksuit pants with blue stripes. Hunched over their torso is German, a man beautifully decorated with tattoos. German carefully presses his tattoo gun into Léann’s skin.

And then, Matt’s voice appeared before his body:

“Bodies remain troubled”1
I’m not sure if this tableau of medical transition was intentional or not. Examine. Slice. Grow. However, as someone who came to trans* through a desire to encounter the world politically, intellectually, discursively, and relationally different rather than corporeally different, I have never felt more of my body than the moment that Matt unrhythmically recited the lyrics from Cripple and the Starfish whilst German’s tattoo gun tore through my flesh:

Watch! I'll even cut off my finger It will grow back like a Starfish! It will grow back like a Starfish! It will grow back like a Starfish!2

Eva Hayward’s text Lessons from a Starfish is a kind of transexual recital of Antony and the Johnson’s song Cripple and the Starfish. Through this phenomenological retelling, Hayward highlights how transsexuals and starfish challenge disembodied metaphors. In proposing alternative ways in which trans* people are metonymically stitched to carnal substrates, Hayward proposes the cut as possibility.3 Ultimately leading Hayward to offer the words:

I am not trapped in my body; I am of my body.4

German tenderly wipes off the mixture of blood and ink from my torso with a sanitised Bounty Quilted Napkin. He smiles and tells me:

“All done”

to be nowhere (2022)
[tattoo stencil] 
For the first time, I sit up and witness the audience receive Matt’s words, as he weaves our private narratives of love into a public T4T5 accolade. Taking cover in grammatical cul-de-sacs, we relax into an orgy of specificity; a way to hold others and ourselves lovingly in language. For words do not merely describe, as if that was all they could do; words inaugurate worlds.

And thus, the giving of oneself in language to another is a way to emerge into a different subjectivity. The giving of myself to the four words tattooed across my body enacts a regeneration of my bodily boundaries – leaky boundaries that expand, dilute and shift to accommodate the evolving environment that I am situated within as well as my desires at hand. Rather than being located in the bullseye, I am decentred as I navigate encroaching peripheries. On the run from a dominant society, I am unfixed, ephemeral and fleeting. The centre becomes the new margin.6

* I use ‘trans*’ rather than ‘trans’ to emphasise the unfixed category of transgender and to refuse the conventional work of easy classification that such terminology usually performs.

1 Kennedy, M., 2022. Nowhere; Mediations on Living Otherwise. Dublin.
2 Antony and the Johnsons, 2000. ‘Cripple and the Starfish’, Antony and the Johnsons [CD]. United Kingdom: Durto.
3 Hayward, E., 2008. Lessons From a Starfish. In: N. Giffney and M.J. Hird, eds. Queering the Non/ Human. Aldershot: Ashgate. p.255.
4 ibid. p. 259. [emphasis added]
5 Originating in response to Craigslist personals, the term ‘T4T’ has come to describe not only circuits of desire and attraction but also practices of trans* solidarity and mutual aid.
6 Herlihy, L., 2022. a cartography of the middle of nowhere. Dublin: Project Arts Centre.

to be nowhere was a live performance by Léann Herlihy, Matt Kennedy and German Ferreiroa which took place at Project Arts Centre in November 2022. Stemming from a t-shirt which Herlihy wore whilst culminating the majority of research for the middle of nowhere, Kennedy responded to this with a series of three verses focusing in part on process of becoming and resonating with Eva Hayward’s axiom: ‘I am of my body’ while also looking to Henry David Thoreau, Queerness, Transcendentalism, theories of the Wild, abolition and transitional spaces.

The documentation of to be nowhere is exhibited as a large vinyl window at 40th EVA International (2023) accompanied by a large vinyl image description; released in a printed postcard edition with SMUT Press (2023); erected as a billboard in a rural area at the peripheries of London during Camp Trans (2024).

to be nowhere (2022) is part of Herlihy’s larger transdisciplinary project the middle of nowhere (2022) at Project Arts Centre, Dublin.

the middle of nowhere was commissioned by Project Arts Centre and kindly supported by the Arts Council of Ireland’s Visual Arts Bursary and Carlow Arts Festival’s Wedge Fund.

Performance by Léann Herlihy
Text written and recited by Matt Kennedy
Tattoo by German Ferreiroa