Today it is twelve years since I first got out of a suitcase on stage, naked except for a bandage around my head. Where had this idea come from? I don’t remember but I had a large suitcase I’d found in the street, which I’d used when I’d moved house over a year before. That move happened in a year – 2007 – of several moves across London – from Muswell Hill to Battersea, to Wood Green, and then to East Dulwich where I stayed. That final move also heralded the beginning of my life modelling career as I began to get in touch with artist contacts my sister had passed on. All that suitcase action – which was accentuated by some of the moves happening in public transport dribs and drabs (the Battersea home was a squat so there was this flexibility) clearly left its mark in my subconscious. The large suitcase played a very significant role when I was moving to a new home on buses, as long as its wheels still worked (at one stage they broke but I found another suitable case). It could hold a lot of my stuff, so each journey made my new home more real and personal, as I tried to settle during a very changeable year. Finally the case helped to bring me to the place where I became a model. This episode surely fed into my imagination. It made me think of women migrating – and my performance partner Szilvi had migrated to the UK as had my mum. Some of the painful poses tutors demanded of me put me in mind of being a slave, so I thought of the sex slave trade of women from eastern europe. All these images and connections…
The suitcase stood outside my room on the landing of the top floor where I lived above a greasy spoon. That particular stretch of East Dulwich still had a way to go towards gentrification back then. So the case regularly caught my eye as I climbed the stairs to my room, after a hard day’s modelling. I think the bandage idea came from Szilvi, who suggested it when she saw me in the case. She had Naomi Wolf’s book, ‘The Beauty Myth’ and the cover reminded her of my position. She lent me the book and no doubt that reading fed into the fire that stoked up Spirited Bodies, 18 months later.
I was modelling at Heatherleys and a spell under the late and very eccentric, beloved tutor called Karn, produced a piece of writing in my breaks, from which I wrote the opening sequence. Bent over her stick as she walked, or using it to point out an unusual vanishing point; never predicatable – always keeping the students guessing – she inspired me too. And reminded me of my mum some years earlier still walking with a stick. A character was born as I responded to her instructions in her off-the-wall life room. Lots of tutors try to make students look and think differently. Karn certainly achieved it, by coming out with the most seemingly obscure, disparate stories, anecdotes, advice. Their meaning, if it was ever gleaned, trained the mind towards the cryptic. She had a nerve, ignoring students’ pleas of “what do you mean..?” and they learnt to wait. I think she had a degenerative disease which contributed to her sheer nerve to be as uncompromisingly, inexplicably, yet brilliantly odd. She had us all spellbound.
For reasons of being in very different mental headspaces, Szilvi and I could no longer work together. I am ever grateful for the opportunity she presented me with however. Later that year my dad became briefly incapacitated and couldn’t look after mum. My sister and I were drafted in to help; and dealing with that challenge was the subject of my next performance writing. 2009 was very significant in that regard, for writing and seizing random and awkwardly charged opportunities. It felt very very good and so pleasing to realise this calling, finally in my early 30s. Working out how to develop and continue was my next mission and took another year to manifest. That was a very fraught year, negotiating radical change I needed to make.
I was thinking of that recently; that longing and waiting for change process. When you really want a big shift, like moving up to the next level, and you run out of ideas how to make it happen. You keep trying, but after a while you have to sit back and sort of wait for things beyond your control to align favourably, without taking your eye off the ball. There might be a series of applications, carefully waiting in the balance. In the end it’s a freak encounter which gives you the breakthrough.
Today’s videos include that original opening sequence
and, the Equinox performance from 2018