Festival Hub @ The Edge, 79–81 Cheapside, Birmingham B12 0QH

  • Exposure
    Artist : Jo Bannon
    Title : Exposure
    Date(s) : 4-5 October 2014
    Website : http://wearefierce.org/
    Credit : Manuel Vason

Jo Bannon: Exposure

Festival Hub @ The Edge

4-5 October 2014

Review by Roma Piotrowska

Jo Bannon receives people taking part in her one-to-one performance, every twelve minutes. I am welcomed by an assistant who takes me to a dark room. I see a figure sitting in the middle of the space, behind a desk. The woman has a fair complexion, fair hair and wears white clothes. She holds a small torch, helping me to find my way through the dark. I’m not sure what to say, so I utter only a weak ‘hello.’ She responds with reassuring greeting and points at the chair in front of her, on the other side of the desk. We sit in silence and I start feeling a little uncomfortable.

The woman switches the torch off, so the room goes completely dark. I do not know what to expect. It feel anxious, I know that for the next ten minutes I am at the mercy of the artist. It will be long a ten minutes, I think. I do not want to be forced to do something I would not feel comfortable with. Fortunately, after a short while the torch lights up. The performance is called Exposure and indeed the woman is exposed by the light of the torch which she controls. She gets to decide what is revealed to me and most of the performance takes place in the dark. The woman - now I can get a better look – has albinism. I knew this before, so to some extent I prepared myself for this encounter. I try very hard not to stare at her. Our eyes meet. I smile nervously. Reciprocating my smile, she gives me a pair of headphones.

I hear her velvety voice. Bannon switches off the torch again and this time I feel relieved that I can take a break from looking, from that awkward feeling of uncertainty where to look. I can relax and listen to what she has to say. The recording allows us to keep distance, which is so needed to be able to keep the orchestrated, somewhat solemn atmosphere of the performance. She remains an artist, and I am the receiver. She immediately opens up to me, tells me about her experiences of having albinism, about the ways she sees and how she is seen by others. The artist points her torch directly at her eyes. It allows me to get away with looking straight into her eyes, without embarrassment. Looking at the designated point of her body comes much easier and she probably cannot see me. Her iris takes unusual blue - red shades. After a moment, Bannon presents a picture of her retina and explains that her eyes appear red because nothing covers the vessels of the eye. I can practically look inside her. I take another moment of rest from looking in total darkness and she shows me a family photograph from her childhood. The artist as a little girl is standing between her mother and sister, not resembling either of them. Bannon notes that the picture looks more like an anthropological documentation than a family picture. The light goes off again.

She tells me of other aspects related to the way she sees the world and how others see her. In this intimate and very poetic performance Bannon not only invites us to reflect on how we look at others, but also how others look at us. John Berger wrote in the Ways of Seeing that we only look at things we choose to look at, and the artist tells me she chooses to look away. She shies away from unwanted attention. Sometimes it is easier not to look than look. I experienced that feeling many times during the duration of Exposure. The torch lights up again and this time Bannon evenly distributes the light across her face and shoulders. ‘... She turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision - a sight.’ She looks straight into my eyes. I do not know where to look. I am aware that I can not only see but also am seen and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I would like to escape, so I stare at her blouse instead. Forced to look I would rather look away. It takes a little while and I understand that the performance came to an end. Slightly dazed I am leaving the room and step outside, blinded by the sunlight. The artist has created a carefully considered performance, during which she let me learn her story. She left me with a whole list of questions related to how I look and react to people and vice versa. This truly unique experience will leave each participant with a different emotional response. Its result is a series of highly personal, individual discoveries about the self and about looking.

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