DaDaFest: Alba by Jo Bannon
Bluecoat, 19th November 2016
Words, Jessica Greenall
A minimal set becomes the site of numerous ethereal images in Jo Bannon’s visual poem, Alba.
Bannon provides her audience with snippets of her own history and a portrayal of how it has formed her identity. We hear her Mother’s pre-recorded voice tell tender stories of Bannon’s childhood; the miracle baby who was born in Coventry on the same day the Pope came to visit for the first time.
To Bannon’s Irish Catholic family, her Albinism and the papal visit are entwined, and become the blessing in the story of her birth. Her performance shows the imprint of this identity upon the artist.
In the performance space at Bluecoat, devoid of light, Bannon begins underneath a white sheet. Whilst the light gradually brightens to a dim glow, she slowly and solemnly rises to the sound of eerie choral music. Like a child hiding and pretending to be a ghost, a barefoot Bannon blindly walks around the dimly lit, black space with her arms outstretched from under the sheet. Each careful footstep makes a determined and humorous slap against the floor. She organises her set in this manner, rolling out a large white cover over the black floor and setting up her props. Finally, we see Bannon’s face peep out from behind the folding table she carries towards us. A golden spotlight highlights her pale face as performer and audience share a curious peek at each other.
The black room now decorated white, Bannon reveals herself as the final decoration that completes the set and brings it to life. The features of her Albinism are her artistic device. Her white hair shimmers and glistens as she begins to playfully move around the space, creating images that are both domestic and religious. Bannon shakes off her ghostly sheet and brushes away the dust, coughing and sneezing as a cloud surrounds her under white light. The sheet is laid over the table and ironed in ritual-like movements, as if purging it of its creases and dirt. Steam shoots from the iron like incense, further purifying the initially dark space. The hushed anticipation of this moment is heightened by pre-recorded inaudible whispering and gentle laughter.
The intimate space further allows the performance to feel like a private ceremony. The table serves as a kitchen counter and an altar, upon which Bannon is baptised and a crisp butty is made. She dips and swirls her white hair in a bowl of boiling water poured from the steaming kettle. Water drops fly into the air as Bannon flicks her limp hair back and forth, before resurrecting it to its former, silken glory using a hairdryer. Her hair shines and dances into a halo-like shape. The coy character beneath the sheet transforms into an ethereal spirit in her own sacred space.
By enabling domesticity to mix with religious purity, Bannon creates something truly beautiful and thoughtful. She allows her audience to see magic in the mundane, and her condition not as a genetic disorder, but as a sublime gift.