I’m a big fan of performance art. Truth be told much of it is dull, some of it is interesting and a few performances are inspirational. The main thing is that it is never predictable. It usually involves a degree of exceptional self exposure by the artist/performer – either physically or emotionally. It requires an open mind to enjoy it and it pays to be non-judgemental. Nudity has become an important part of performance art with a lot of artists using the human body to make a statement or using it as a canvas for their performance.
Esther and I went to see the “Famous Lauren Barri Holstein” performance at the Barbican Silk St Theatre on 4th April.
As life models we were intrigued by the prospect of her physical performance.
The fact that she uses the word “Famous” in her title perhaps tells you something about Lauren’s persona. Shy and retiring, no. Enjoys attention, yes.
I’d seen some of her work on Vimeo and thought it was going to be exciting and worth watching so there we were…
The performance consisted of four or five set pieces, rather like a cabaret with song and dance a key element.
The style of her performance is dead pan but also crazy. Standing in her underwear with a knife held at her crotch slicing small balloons with red paint exploding from them, hanging upside down from the ceiling while singing, fairy tales with orgies, wandering around the stage dressed as a naked deer, and inserting dildos into her vagina. Ballads and dance music performed naked in a trapeze – it was all there. Near the end she was joined by a group of twenty or so dancers, in various states of undress for a group dance culminating in a vast number of toilet rolls being thrown onto the stage while Lauren was dragged sideways across the stage – you have to see it for it to make sense ! The whole performance was a feast for the eyes. The packed house clearly enjoyed it.
The message seemed to be part self-expression – “I am a woman and proud of my body” while also exploring the surreal and crazy elements of human life. It was enjoyable to see a woman explore her creativity so indulgently and clearly having no inhibitions….
As a life model it made me think that our passive role is rather tame and how nice it would be to be involved in performance where nudity is integral to the performance, not gratuitous but striking nonetheless. The unpredictable nature of the performance was also refreshing – compared to the formula of the life drawing class – five short poses and then a long pose etc. Imagine a female life model posing with a dildo … or a male with an erection…. That would be a change … may not be on the cards but it is good to see radical performance art alive and well on the London stage.
I liked the way she was simultaneously sending up porn, reclaiming a porn aesthetic, funny, thought provoking, very confident physically and performatively, and sexy. She was also kind of ground breaking for the context of her piece in a mainstream establishment. Beautiful and moving, the cheesy power ballads (Leona Lewis’ Happy was one) worked in this show.
Her vagina was explicit, and she controlled what went in and came out of it, in this case fake blood, dildos, plus she urinated on the stage and on a fellow performer (apparently one of her set pieces I gleaned from her interview on Woman’s Hour). The show was messy though well tidied up as it went along, by all her helpers. That was one of the points, that real life is blood, piss, cum etc; it’s time to give up being so precious perhaps. This show made us so aware how we all hold back so much of the time from expressing our truest selves, because of fear and society. Blessedly Lauren does not hold back and this makes for outstanding and truly inspiring theatre. We see her having so much fun whilst working really hard (pushed to her physical limits) with friends (my assumption of her fellow performers) close to her. She is having her cake and eating it.
Naturally there is a strong feminist element to this show and Lauren’s work in general. In the blurb it states that she has been doing ‘vagina based work since 2009’. One of the skits involved a bikini clad babe practising dying theatrically. She was instructed to do it in various styles; like Rhianna with her violent ex, in the zoo, sexier and more exaggerated. Each time the death throes became more like sexually explicit movements and thrusts.
When spurting fake blood from her vagina, Lauren aimed in the mouth of the same bikini’d woman who was on the floor, then kissed it off her. Throughout such sequences Lauren peppers them with ad hoc deadpan remarks like, “Oh no we ran out of ballons” to break the mood, followed by ordering about her minions, kind of sending up the diva mentality and showing female power in quite a bitchy way. She made us laugh as she rained rude and dismissive remarks on her tribe, but we knew it was in jest.
To balance the more extreme visual antics, she also did a beautiful solo ballet routine, with point work. It took me a while to realise it was the same performer as the Lauren covered in blood, wearing an animal head, dangling from a rope naked and opening her vagina for us!
On the body image front, the troop of dancers for the finale were all shapes and sizes, though generally young. They appeared from nowhere, some nude, others with a pair of pants etc, what a joy to behold.