Trojan Horse | 16.05.2019

Performance still and selected work. Full performance time one hour, thirty minutes.

Three non-related historical accounts become the point of departure for the exhibition: the Trojan War, the evolution of the equestrian technique ‘side saddle’, and the contemporary gymnastic object, the pommel horse. This maneuver through the past is essential to reimagine the emancipatory potentialities for contemporary society. By surfacing political potentialities which lay dormant, society begins to inhabit the present as a space from which politics for the future can be imagined and invented.

In Herlihy’s work, the body is central as both a site of political imposition as well as a field from which the political emerges. Refusing the careless instrumentalisation of specific theory or ideology, her work probes both invisible and discarded power structures which have been occluded by history, clouded by rhetoric, and generally subjected to sustained erasure under the logic of late capitalism. Often reflecting on ancestral accounts of State-sponsored repression, Herlihy believes that these historical moments of collective resistance may hold resonance in our current social and political experiences.

Punktem wyjścia stały się dla niej trzy niezwiązane ze sobą momenty w historii: wojna trojańska, ewolucja techniki jeździeckiej zwanej ,,siodłem bocznym’’ oraz koń z łękami, współczesny obiekt do uprawiania gimnastyki. Manewr odwoływania się do przeszłości jest tu kluczowy, aby móc dostrzec emancypacyjny potencjał współczesnego społeczeństwa. Odkrywając swój uśpiony potencjał polityczny, jest ono w stanie traktować teraźniejszość jako przestrzeń, z której może wyobrażać sobie i tworzyć politykę przyszłości.

W pracach Herlihy ciało jest przedstawione zarówno jako ustanowione przez politykę, jak i miejsce z którego ona pochodzi. Artystka w swoich pracach odrzuca niedbałe i instrumentalne użycie konkretnych teorii czy ideologii na rzecz badania niewidzialnych i odrzuconych struktur władzy, które nie są wyraźnie widoczne przez nabudowane przez historię niejasności, poddawanie ich przez lata licznym zabiegom retorycznym czy ich ogólnego wymazywania przez logikę późnego kapitalizmu. Zastanawiając się często nad bagażem naszych przodków, którzy doświadczyli represji ze strony państwa, Herlihy uważa, że historyczne momenty zbiorowego oporu mogą wciąż oddziaływać na obecne doświadczenia społeczne i polityczne.

Accompanying text (which is also available as a printable pdf leaflet, A3 format)


The Trojan Horse is a Grecian story referencing the subterfuge that the Greeks deployed to enter the independent city of Troy in a victorious attempt to win the war. In its many versions and iterations, a canonical idea remains constant:
After a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greek army constructed a monumental wooden horse. Covertly impregnating the horse with a select force of Grecian soldiers, they offered it as a gift to the city of Troy. Accepting this symbol of peace, the Trojans pulled it inside the city walls, rejoicing in their victory. Under the cover of night, the Grecian soldiers fled the horse's stomach and opened the city gates to the awaiting Greek army. Unforeseen to the Trojans, the city of Troy was conquered.

A detail which is purposely absent from this synopsis is the involvement of Helen of Troy. Formerly married to King Menelaus of Sparta, Helen was abducted by Prince Paris of Troy and resided in the city of Troy for the succeeding decade. Shortly after her absence was discovered, Menelaus and the Achaean army set out to reclaim her, ultimately resulting in the Trojan War.

Throughout history women have slipped through the cracks of recognition, with Helen of Troy being a rare exception to this case. Unlike her other female counter -parts, Helen has been profusely documented, becoming one of the most written about female figures in history. Unfortunately, the only portrayal of Helen is as a passive mirror for male desires, her name tarnished with paraphilia - "Helen the beauty who sparked the Trojan War", "Helen the face that launched a thousand ships", "Helen the whore”.

Due to the significant lack of resources in the archives of female history, there is an urgency to make use of each material given while simultaneously questioning its purpose in a patriarchal system. Evidently, the compelling need for Helen's presence in this historical story is to stand as the perpetrator of war and sexual object for rulers.

Geographically, the city of Troy was an independent sovereign surrounded by Greek territory - this fact in itself is enough reason for an ancient era to go to war. The desperation to use Helen as a scapegoat for what was already a foreboding battle sheds light on the ancient historians' priority: women are traitors.


The equestrian terminology of riding aside refers to the seated position of a female rider and involves placing both legs on the same side of the horse. The earliest depictions of females riding aside can be seen on Greek vases and sculptures.

During voyages and daily errands, male riders rode graciously with one leg on either side of their horse, while the female was forced to sit awkwardly aside. The basis for such an unpractical act can be attributed to the patriarchal belief that if a female straddled a horse, she was thought to have lost her virginity - a whore.

To ride aside slows down the rider significantly due to the inability to control the reins of the horse while simultaneously balancing. This often resulted in the horse being led by a male, with the female acting only as a passenger to the ride. By physically taking away the reins of both individual equestrian control and personal power, women's destinies became restricted.

During the 16th century, the sidesaddle was designed to enable the rider both to stay on and to control her own horse at slow speeds. This equestrian device soon climbed the rungs of recognition as patriarchs promoted the sidesaddle as one of the first apparatuses tailored specifically towards the needs of women. By voicing this, the patriarchy defined their own needs for women: objects who can produce offspring while simultaneously remaining virgins, all the while remaining under the reign of men.

In the late 1700's a critical juncture in the history of the sidesaddle took place. Catherine the Great of Russia commissioned a portrait depicting herself straddling a horse while wearing a male officer's uniform. In doing so, women began to see the act of straddling as an instrument of power that the male-dominated hierarchy previously used against them. A saddle between the legs of a woman posed as a challenge to authorities, who had until then succeeded in claiming exclusive rights to this gesture.

However, it took until the 1950's for the daily use of the sidesaddle to reduce in significance, with one of the last royal ceremonies to officiate a woman riding aside being held in 1953, during the inauguration of Queen Elizabeth II.


Up until the late 19th century women were banned from any involvement in sports, with married women subsequently being prohibited from acting as a spectator. Nearing the end of the 1800’s, women’s sports were slowly introduced as an activity rather than a competition, focusing on correct posture, facial and bodily beauty, and health.

The 20th century began with much the same conviction as its former— women’s involvement in sport was rare and radical. However, this stance was rocked in 1928 when the first female gymnastic competition was added to the Summer Olympic program: the beam and floor exercise. Unlike the male competitors, women were only allowed to compete as teams, as the sporting authorities were unable to recognize a woman as an individual.

Over time, the list of female gymnastic events have slowly grown, now including the beam, floor exercise, uneven bars and vault in both individual and team categories. Male gymnasts have two additional events, the pommel horse and still rings.

The original pommel horse was a concept pioneered by the Greeks during a time of urgency for soldiers to ride on horseback during combat. The construction was used to teach troops how to correctly mount and dismount a horse at ease.

The pommel horse fulfilled this purpose up until the year that modern gymnastics was founded in 1811. During this time, the original apparatus was reduced in height and fitted with a pair of curved handgrips in order to function as a vaulting horse. The exercises performed on the instrument were inspired by the physical mounting and straddling of a horse, with the athlete repeatedly swinging their legs over the horses body.

Unlike the still rings, the pommel horse does not require strength, but rather is dependent on the skill and technique of the gymnast. The prohibition of women from competing in this event does not question the already over-used concept of genetics, but rather reinforces the bygone view towards a female’s competence at grasping technical skills. Or, perhaps there is still a bizarre underlining fear towards a woman straddling a robust body.

Texts by Léann Herlihy

Stroboskop Art Space | ul. Siewierska 6, 02-360 Warszawa |