Notorious, Barbican Centre

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by guest critic Nastazja Somers

It wasn’t by accident that I ended up seeing The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s new work The Notorious at The Barbican Centre. Give me feminism, plenty of liquids and general messiness on stage and I’m there, screaming my head off, like when Lucy McCormick performed her Triple Threat two years ago at Edinburgh Fringe.

Although I have never seen Holsten live, I was aware of her work and curious about seeing her in action. Originally from the USA, the performance artist uses a mixture of dance, movement, text and multimedia to challenge our perceptions of female sexuality, femininity and gender. So far so good, right? Yet The Notorious proves to be an extremely deflating experience and a regurgitation of Barri Holsten’s previous work, rather than something new and challenging.

First things first, if you are squirmy about bodily fluids, or not mad about female performance artists inserting various things into their vaginas, or interested in context rather than concept, this is not for you. The Notorious sets up to destroy our preconceptions about the portrayal of women through time. The gothic-style set design evokes a disturbing, horror-like mood – the first image involves the three performers as  witches, or their corpses, hanging in the air. This beginning of the piece is as good as it gets.

As the evening progresses, I realise that Holstein’s formula not only alienates audiences but also falls into that self-indulgent territory of repetition that doesn’t really serve a purpose. Of course, I get it. Boredom can be a fantastic objective, especially in terms of female work, as seeing female sexuality makes us question our own subjugation. Nevertheless, seeing Holstein insert coins into her vagina, over and over, whilst suspended in the air, swinging to Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ is just not that thought provoking as I think the artist intends it to be.

There is a lot that you can find in Lauren Barri Holstein’s The Notorious. There is silence, repetition, shocking content (although it really isn’t that shocking), dead octopus, body fluids, boredom and plenty of dancing. The New York-born artist creates some stunning imagery at times, but overall this piece of work ends up being something the audiences will hate or love.

Or, like in my case, they will not be able to make up their mind about it. They will wonder when exactly inserting gummy objects into your vagina and then consuming them with gusto, became the way of self-expression for female artists. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not policing people’s artistic choices but they become rather dull when they focus on excess over substance.

The Notorious runs through 11 November.

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