University defends performance art ‘vagina video’
It’s been ‘blown out of proportion’
Dedicated students have praised their “fantastic” Drama lecturer after she showed a graphic video to freshers.
Lauren Barri Holstein screened the trailer of her performance Splat!, which features her blowing up a condom and simulating masturbation with a tampon.
But the University and her pupils have since defended the video, saying it has been “blown out of proportion”.
A spokesperson for Queen Mary said: “Drama students at Queen Mary University of London interact with and study a huge range of performance practice, from contemporary performance to adaptations of Jane Austen.
“The work in question was originally shown as part of a significant London performance festival.
“Some of this work is challenging, and it is critical we don’t shy away from that.
“Our staff and student liaison committee provides a forum, through which students can raise concerns about any aspect of their experience at QMUL.
“No complaints have been made with regard to the lecture in question.”
The department is world leading in research rankings, and is renowned for its emphasis on experimental performance.
Several high profile performance artists work and study at Queen Mary, of which Lauren Barri Holstein is one.
Holstein, who performs as The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein, has been teaching the second semester module for three years with no complaints, and is popular among her classes.
Ryan Baker, a first year in her seminar group, said: “What is being overlooked is her actual teaching.
“It’s fantastic. She never shuts our ideas down and has a genuine motive for us to do well in our studies, and that is the key factor being overlooked by this media onslaught.”
Her area of postgraduate study is The Displayed Body and its Agency: Pleasure, Violence and Humiliation in Feminist Contemporary Performance, and Splat! is closely tied with the exploration of these themes.
The piece’s graphic elements play with the notion of the female body as taboo and a source of revulsion, and ultimately seeks to dismantle these perspectives.
Anna Dean, a first year Drama student, said: “Maybe people who have had issues with Lauren’s work haven’t actually thought much about why.
“I think with work like Lauren’s, the more shocking you find it, the more you need to see it.
“Perhaps that’s why people don’t want to look or critically engage, because it’s threatening something they didn’t think could be threatened.“
The use of potentially controversial material is not a practice limited to the teaching staff: students have been known to incorporate nudity and sexual content into projects at various stages of their degrees, and these are usually performed in front of their peers.
A second year Drama student, who preferred to remain anonymous, described Queen Mary’s Drama department as “a safe space in which to show and develop your own performance practice”.
There appears to be a relative consensus the staff’s inclination towards risk-taking feeds the confidence of the students, allowing them to feel comfortable in approaching work from a more experimental angle.
Second year English student George Readshaw agrees, and says he is proud of Queen Mary’s reputation as a home for progressive art forms.
He said: “Reactions to the work people study vary, but to be honest, Lauren Barri Holstein’s is definitely not the most shocking thing I’ve seen.
“Being here is the most fun, eye-opening, uninhibited experience, and I think the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”