by Justine McDonnell

An experimental text written in 2019 in response to Sex, live performance by Anne Imhof at Tate Modern, The Tanks, London.

Anne Imhof, Sex, 2019. Live performance at Tate Modern, The Tanks, London.
Photo: Justine McDonnell

don’t make a mistake, uncover the hidden, should go soon, obeyed her orders, forbidden

count the errors, written in silence, echoing lips, exposure, closure, revealed, replace

began to take, rules play, uncover the hidden, say anything, don’t make a mistake, take

a breath, carefully constructed, instructing, leading, boundaries between, takes a chance

structure to follow, must not, stop, forbidden, only she chooses, be silent, just behave, don’t

correct, should go soon, want her out, told you not to, an interference, split experience

hesitate| don’t repeat, her or she, deny her presence, repeating manner


no time left, didn’t stop, she sees you, leaves her, begins again, too late, an impossible choice

could not see her, speak, don’t forget, give nothing away, imagined at the time, she can’t help

her,  breathe, just go, confessional, that is invisible, trapped in, detached from

compared to, in question, strain on silence, can no longer deny| failures

position, remained to find, obsessive commitment, now emptied out, intimacy with, conflict

breathes, unaware, once again, reframing, speak again, never,

fully exposed, endless talking, she listens, precious repetition, see herself, hard to reflect

overlaps occur, reflection fragmented, despite the attention, switch of character, failed to

can’t keep this, don’t make a mistake, an impossible choice, prepare for the next,

sufferings, are performed| stay, tell nothing, suddenly undone, loops


imperfections, paths intersect and slice, can’t break, echoing conversations, what way to turn

is betrayal, pain of vanishing, she forbids, don’t repeat, will never end, told her, breath

against, never tell, failings of her or she, needs to know why, under direction, a speech of

other, desire to come closer, repeated act, speaks silent, also evokes, was never there at all

couldn’t breathe, describe her, she was gone, turned to go

could never tell, chained to a disguise, attempts to control, give nothing away, can’t help her

if only she could, stop, tried so hard to find, never, can’t confess|


powerless to respond, in control, days of decomposing, crushed between, a voice she did not

recognise, never heard, would not stop, can’t confess, lips begging, no response, never

not forgiven, speechless, even to herself, she could not follow, stop

speak again, found herself, an outstretched voice, will not find,

could not bring herself, trying to, speak, not her, in confusion, tongue swallowed

all she can, a mistake, can’t stop, no response, couldn’t pause, piece it together, the past

body ceased, she snapped, flashes, straining to hear, stops, plays again|


never forgiven, nothing she could tell, never out loud, no, can’t confess, begging, the

same wish, what to try, nothing she could tell, play again, pause, unanswered, begging all to

tormented| stop, press play, repeat, make it, stop, finally admit, she, her voice

wish to, had to believe, no screaming, give up, finally, admit, what


would she say, existed, dragged herself in, scenes replaying, out of her control

scattered, hidden underneath, nothing she said, could be undone, hopes, past desires, try to

understand, tried so hard to find, she, already gone, desire to exist, fraction between|  

confines of she, strict censorship, enforced and spoken, grasp the emptiness

doubt portrayed, there is no, only true or false, voice trapped, to reveal, concealed

 come closer, feelings chaotic, no escape, for she to speak, crushed


between, her throat, would not stop, she existed, shattered lips, inch by inch, ruthless

kick, triggering the current, she is herself, no end, remains counting, separated from, traced

path, had her face long ago, speaks another tongue, slid side to side, discarding, throat

surrounded, days of decomposing, errors included, wrapped in she, forced to

a position that tackles, not familiar, folding cheek, acts of play, plucked revenge, small

agonies, separated messages, merge into, still nerves, what exists, blend into, shot from a

come closer, told to hear, breathing inwards, outwards| eventually leak out, voice of the

forced to, tell her something, wanting to, pushed and pulled, she stops moving

screams, climbing, dismantling, she stands alone, begging all to stop

lose all control, internal repetition, a secret, she was a secret, can’t tell, no, stop, press play

start again, to feel this way, her fault, she did not know, a chance, no chance

frequently avoided, blended into, uncertainty, twisting, shifting, a critique

could not lose, stay silent|  reveal, never question, did not know herself, detached


who is watching now, body fixed, stuck completely, against her, silently

voiceless, she screams, breathe out, a weight released, does not want to remember, no won’t

confines her, restricts her, feel her less, still can’t, hatet was inside, reflection

was the request, an impossible choice, can’t spell it out, disappear, that is impossible

told, not to listen| constantly reminded, wants to avoid, external, not her, can only grasp


what will happen next, accepting it, she still can’t, talk to her, watch her, she can’t, to

realise, the face of who, could this be the reason, breathless, not focused, stay, back

alone, intends to survive, fight against, must not be told, whispered phrases, flashing back

what would she do, avoided her when, hurt your chances, has happened, told nothing|

response, lips into question, plays a reminder, what remains to reveal

didn’t see it coming, silenced or spoken for, don’t underline, resisting, don’t repeat, positions


feeling, can not rely, compelled to slip truth, trust in her, something stops

confession, condemned to repeat, was thinking of, don’t let her go

 to face, escape, stay was the message, troubling moments

answered, suddenly undone, blame her, taking over, give her nothing, a need in her to

always there, wanted to run, outside was fragile, far removed, unspeakable, had forgotten,

 can’t help her, can’t speak, can’t stand it, speak in silent, breathe, breathe against

 hidden, never believed, never seen, silently both obey, way’s of control, she speak in silence|

Justine McDonnell (b.1992) is an Irish artist who works across a range of media including forms of performance, sound and video installation and text works. Accentuating the physicality of the voice, her practice employ’s the female voice in disciplined and formal structures to challenge the framework of gendered language. Elements of scripting and staging are used, interweaving autobiographical notations, fictional and historical narratives in the construction of new scripted scores.
Her solo exhibition A composition of she at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2018) was reviewed in the Emerging Artists section of the Visual Artists News sheet, Ireland. McDonnell was selected for The MAC Curatorial Directions Programme, (2017) and is a recipient of Flax Art studios, Graduate Award, the Digital Arts Studios, Home Residency Award and (2018) and The British Council Steward Fellowship Award at the Venice Biennale (2017). She has been selected to exhibit in numerous group and solo exhibitions including We Speak Silent, curated by Clare Gormley, Pssquared, Belfast, (2017), The Lab Gallery, Dublin, (2019) and Cine-Stabilimento Festival, Rome, (2020).