SKINS, by Jennifer Allen
Burton Taylor Theatre, 28 / 11 / 00 - 2 / 12 / 00
The first performance of "controversial dance piece" Skins, by Ruskin student Jennifer Allen, was packed out by a serious crowd at the BT last night. That is, a crowd serious enough not to laugh out loud at any point at the spectacle which unfolded before them: upon entering the theatre space it was immediately evident that this would not be dance of any particularly easy nature. Rather, we were presented with performance art of a cleverly disturbing kind, with imagery of sexual exploitation, mental illness and a warped domesticity overlapping, meshing and repeating to form a chain of nightmarish fantasy. Like watching a psychology documentary on the behaviour of victims of abuse or possessors of severe drug psychoses, this is not comfortable viewing (although Will Self might possibly consider it light entertainment), and Jennifer has to be a remarkable person to perform as she does - totally alone - with only a modified and looped video of herself writhing as a projected backdrop.
Skins is a product of the mind of the same woman whose art was ousted from the exhibition space at the OUP on the inappropriate charges of racism and sexual explicitness (the latter charge being attributed to the presence of the iconic cloth penises which also feature in Skins). Jennifer Allen is probably somebody whom the art world should keep their eye on for future reference: her work has resonances of Gillian Wearing (the bandaged face), Tracey Emin and various others. Taking this and the trends in a lot of contemporary performance art into consideration, it may be said that this particular piece does not address new themes in particularly new ways - but its appearance in Oxford in this context is a very new and most welcome event, and the way in which the audience is provoked and made uneasy (the spotlight even turning upon them so they can sweat and feel exposed for a change) genuinely provides a refreshing change from the standard Oxford student drama fare.
Ultimately, you have to hand it to someone who dares to do what Jennifer Allen will be doing for the next few nights instead of going down the pub at 9.30 - indeed, we must all hand it to a woman who can be so sexy and frightening with sellotape, and dance so violently on top of a cooker without falling off.