MOCA Quilla Constance AKA Jennifer Allen

‘Transcending The Signified’ Private View Performance Review

On Sunday 11th of June at MOCA, The Museum of Contemporary Art London, in Peckham, London, Quilla Constance or ‘QC, aka Jennifer Allen’s: ‘Transcending the Signified’ took place. Consisting of an exhibition of two large scale paintings, a live cello and non-linguistic vocal performance. QC has been described as an exotic militant punkpersona created and deployed by Jennifer Allen to interrogate category driven capitalist networks and locate points of agency within systems of power.’  More info

[..] ‘Allen stages and virally inserts aspects of her artistic practice within pop and social media culture, traversing music venues, forging street protests and entering art galleries in order to emulate, interrupt and critique the operations of these cultural zones. Quilla Constance stages interventions with an interdisciplinary practice of paintings, installations, lectures, photographs, live performances, costumes and music videos.’ Watch here

I question here, how and why the use of words such as ‘exotic militant punk’ have been employed to describe the QC’s persona and through which lens and/or frame is this being viewed. Could it be in reference to the white colonial gaze in terms of the use of the word ‘exotic’ and hence it’s quote on quote marks? Militant, associated with the acts being disruptive and Jennifer Allen being an artist of colour? Punk, because of the recycled and informed aesthetics of QC’s costume from the punk subculture? Is it the artist herself that describes QC this way – intentionally?

Her most current performance was described as an attempt to: ‘explore possibilities for performing and existing beyond learned actions, language, familiar aesthetics, and socio-cultural boundaries.’ Watch here

I myself have seen QC’s previous videos on her site, but had never seen a live performance piece. The audience, being predominantly white, seemed quite mixed in the sense of those that were aware of QC’s work and of those who were new to her practice and were seeing her performance for the first time. Within this performance the role of the audience played an interesting part – we were the collective passive audience, as the performance transpired, this role would shift and be tested; the audience would feel uncomfortable, confused, tense and laugh all in a short space of time.

The performance began with Quilla Constance situating herself in the corner of the room, carefully and meticulously removing a cello from it’s case and taking a seat to then prep and play a deviation from Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor (first movement).

Performing in front of two of her paintings that were fitted into two alcoves, exhibited in a different format to her previous paintings on canvas and within videos as backdrops and/or props leaning against a white wall; the paintings here became part of the architecture within the MOCA wall space. In this performance the role of the painting  seemed to be performed more so as a backdrop and as a performative surface. QC’s sculptural costume, that included Qr codes attached to the costume which was adorned with beads, giant pearls, recycled bright neon materials juxtaposed together like her paintings, made subtile sounds with every movement as she played the cello.

[..] ‘QC questions notions of cultural authenticity, challenges disciplinary boundaries, and in turn, offers a raw and fresh frame through which Allen examines the construction and negotiation of black female identities within contemporary British society and high art.

Through Transcending The Signified QC invites the viewer into a dialogue through which the notion of cultural authenticity and the production of meaning is visibly contested.’  Watch here

After performing a piece on the cello and returning the instrument back into it’s case, QC began the non-linguistic vocal performance section, the same non-linguistic vocals heard in her previous video piece ‘#QC_001’/PUKIJAM, here began a conversational exchange with the audience and with the dogs that were present, to segments of her changing her shoes to different shoes, at times acknowledging that presence of the audience and in others as if we were not present.

During the non-linguistic vocals, there was a sense of her really pushing her vocals and bodily vibrations (from her diaphragm) as an instrument and pushing her body to the limit (press ups while also performing vocalisations); they way she navigated through the space reminded me of the body in the context of a digital rag doll on a screen, the ones that with a click of your mouse you could drag from one edge of the screen to the next, questions on limitations of the body as a vessel, the vocal cords bodily vibrations and sound that are used to create unfamiliar and disruptive interjections with the phrase ‘should we just all go to the pub?’, made the audience both laugh – nervously, still uncertain if they may be singled out and or be forced to participate. The audience was participating. In their awkward side glances, in the movements to remove their own bodies from fear of ‘disrupting the disruptive performance’ itself. The resistant and reluctant member of an audience, that just came to passively watch, not to join in.

I spotted a child in the corner of my eye pressing into his mother’s legs and hiding behind her arms, after each of QC’s perfectly high pitched toned screeches and shrieks disrupted the space. The dogs began to react to these shrieks and the owner left the space, gradually one by one a couple of members of the audience left the space. Here I began to question if the aim was to see how long or how much could the audience withstand the performance.

With just a few props being the changing of high 6 inch heels to a wedge low black heel and a touch screen phone that wasn’t on while she attempted to take a ‘selfie’ – all clear and familiar signifiers that didn’t quite fulfil their signified intention that we are familiar with.

After the numerous grunts, the laughs, the pushing and the sliding of the body on the surface of her paintings and on the floor QC then removed herself from the gallery floor and went to the back; an audience member began to clap thinking that it had meant the end of the performance – to his surprise she returned with a huge screech – the audience laugh, startled. Here, I also sense this pressing awkward need from the audience of perhaps just wanting it to come to an end, at some point, as they couldn’t gauge how long the performance would go on for, as there would be long periods of silence where QC would just stare at the audience and watch them watch her.

The performance ended with a member of the audience suggesting out-loud the repeated phrase of ‘no really, let’s all just go to the pub’. The audience react with laughter, as does QC in synchronicity with the audience, the performance came to an end. Closing with an applause.

‘This is what QC wanted, to be disrupted – the performance would’ve just continued until an audience  member disrupted the performance.’ – Member of the Audience

Words such as controversial, confrontational were used to describe Allen’s performances from viewers. With audience expressing a sense of relief from not being singled out and uncomfortably put on the spot, since QC attempted various times to be disrupted by the audience to bring an end to the actual performance, which makes me think of the audience as a passive viewer and/or now need for the viewer to participate and be activated from the performance. In this sense I find this particular performance to be effective in it’s activation of the audience yet more discussion around the language employed to describe the QC persona and the use of black signifiers and black stereotypes in previous pieces is yet to be dissected and discussed.

A public symposium event on Transcending The Signified’ will  take place at Camberwell College of Arts, UAL, Wilson Road Lecture Theatre on Friday 23rd June 2017 in response to this performance from QC at MOCA.  

The symposium, chaired by curator Indra Khanna, will open with a performance by Quilla Constance aka Jennifer Allen, followed by responsive presentations from

A panel discussion and audience Q&A will follow.

Refreshments will be provided.


Jennifer Allen is a British artist, cellist and freelance lecturer who graduated from The Ruskin School of Art, St John’s College, University of Oxford with a BA in Fine Art (First Class) and completed her MFA in Visual Arts (Distinction) at Goldsmiths College, London.

Allen explores her artistic concerns through an interdisciplinary practice of live and recorded performances, lectures, paintings and video installations, situated variously within art gallery, academic, theatrical, street and pop venue contexts. Allen’s art works have exhibited in the UK and overseas since 2000 and currently revolve around her invented persona ‘Quilla Constance’ (QC).

Links and References:


Transcending The Signified – Exhibition & Events

Transcending The Signified

MOCA London

11 June – 1 July, 2017

PV: Sunday 11 June 2-4pm (with performance)

Transcending The Signified : Symposium

Wilson Road Lecture theatre, UAL

Friday 23rd June

(Contact MOCA for further details)

MOCA London – 113 Bellenden Rd, London SE15 4QY

Contact: 020 7771 9778


Transcending The Signified will tour to The Old Fire Station Gallery, Oxford in August and St John’s College, University of Oxford.

Transcending The Signified

The Old Fire Station Gallery, Oxford

Thursday 3rd August – 1st September, 2017

Private view Thursday 3 August, 6-8pm (with performance)


Gallery exhibiting Quilla Constance: ‘Transcending the signified’:

Recent video piece by Quilla Constance:

On the artist, Jennifer Allen:

Review of work by :   by OxfordCultureReview