If clothes don’t make the man, or in this case the woman, skin and hair colour might be a different story in “Alba,” by Bristol based artist, Jo Bannon, whose multi layered investigation of albinism proves to be something of a genuine delight. A genetic condition which affects pigmentation that colours hair, skin, and eyes, albinism often results in extreme paleness of skin and hair, and a heightened sensitivity to light. In Bannon’s thoughtful and deeply moving mediation on the daily joys and tribulations of growing up with albinism, a sense of ritual looms large in this gentle interrogation of opposites; of blending in and standing out, of God and his absence, of ritual and spontaneity, of family and society. If there’s always a hint of pain percolating underneath, it’s never what defines this beautiful and understated celebration of a woman proud to be different, and of the quiet and remarkable woman who raised her.
Negative, otherworldly associations of albinism kick off Bannon’s “Alba” as she sets about playfully challenging notions of the ghost, or the albino monster, right from the get-go. For a moment, it all seems self seriously ponderous, but as iron and kettle appear it quickly becomes apparent that Bannon’s inviting us to laugh at the idiocy of it all as she scoops up her costume to roll out a large, white carpet. With mitre resting on her white, crisply ironed, altar, Bannon drifts into Joycean territory where daily ritual mirrors Catholic mass. From washing her hair with ritualistic formality to celebrating communion with a cheese and crisp sandwich with the crusts removed, Bannon might recognise the ritual, but she’s never constrained by it. If recordings of her mother, Monica, give a sense of context and of their lived experience, they also serve to link both women in an act of creation and further defiance. The world may be black and white, but you can always have a splash of colour on your nails. And if the world wants her to disappear into her hair, neither Bannon, nor her mother, are prepared to accept that. As her final reveal emerges, with such stunning power and simplicity, it becomes apparent that beauty may indeed be in the eye of the beholder, and might indeed be only skin deep, but once your eyes have been opened, skin will never look more deeply radiant.
“Alba’s” meeting of opposites sees performance art and theatre make welcome bedfellows in this thoughtful, powerful and tender production where the body of the artist supplies the text for performance. It may take a little time to get you where it wants you to go, but once you get there you arrive at a unique and truly moving experience.
“Alba” by Joe Bannon ran at The Project Arts Centre on June 9th and 10th