It happened that Ursula also felt inspired to record herself in a video, performing her poems from our 2015 Girl in Suitcase performance. She has done them back to back, overlaying her voice and some musical sounds delightfully, witchily I think, with dreamy sandscape shoreline intersecting with her shadow. We are enjoying revisiting, reconnecting, recreating together, apart. Please, enjoy her voice, words and images!
The photo at the top of the post is of Ursula performing ‘The Moon’ in the same ‘Girl in Suitcase’ show referred to.
Until our legal system changes to allow more than two genders, we are stuck. We would then be operating in a structure that acknowledges and gives rights to more diversity of existence. Until then trans rights are trying to fit into an outdated system which doesn’t do them or anyone else justice.
Until a child can grow up knowing it could be more than male or female and there is a meaningful place for that in our world, people who are gender diverse may only imagine their lives as they ought to be, whilst limited to fitting themselves within the binary for all sorts of functional purposes. That in itself can be harmful. I also believe it contributes to some divisive strategies happening within feminism today. Personally I sit on the fence regarding the gender debate. It may not be fashionable, though to be honest I’m not sure what is! I mean, I think both sides – because that’s what it is (after all we’re stuck in a binary) have elements of sheer value and goodness. I cannot pick a side. I have time for trans activist arguments and gender critical ones. I deplore the negative aspects of both, and as well the fact that they are necessarily at ideological war – a political war for power. They ought to be helping each other.
It’s a distressing situation that sometimes puts me off feminism, or getting more involved. I can’t fit into the current factioned polarity, so I reckon I am better off outside it. I express my feminism as an artist, however my openness to open debate will affect where my work appears and with whom.
I want to hear more lesbian voices. I love this video (below) which showcases a few prominent lesbians in the arts in New York last year. When I see and hear the video, I wish more young girls in particular, but all kids, could see this sort of representation. It normalises female masculinity, in such a way that may or may not be trans; it might be trans that accepts itself as it is. So it offers another perspective that quite often gets missed out in today’s arguments for “inclusivity”. I’m not saying transitioning is wrong; it’s clearly the right thing for many. I just think young kids today might not see enough options to really empower them. If you can truly accept yourself in the body you’re born, that is a very fortunate thing. It’s certainly simpler not to rely on taking hormones for the rest of your life for example. The current pandemic shows how sometimes the modern lifestyle we take for granted can be pulled suddenly from under our feet.
“…we’re simply not out to appease the male gaze. We disregard and reject the confines of a sexualized and commodified femininity.” Said actor Roberta Colindrez in the article about butches.
I’m not going to write a huge essay on this now. I wrote a bit more last year about gender inclusivity in women’s spaces, for the Spirited Bodies site. It states my position clearly. I embrace the multiplicity of gender and urge a change in the law and the structure of our society which dismantles the binary. I want to see more representation of different types of femininity and masculinity. Until we live in a world that is ok with every version of gender, it’s a lot harder for some of us to know who we really are, and feel safe.
I’ve noticed a current drive by trans activists to push feminists and women’s organisations to make a stand demonstratively. I understand they feel very urgently about promoting their cause, but I think it can sometimes be divisive. The other side has important points too and I will not deny that – like about how gender neutral language can be problematic and erase the experiences of girls. This is very pertinent in addressing violence against women and girls. I also appreciate the need for more varied gender language – like when I used ‘womxn’ above. There is so much to this discussion – and it does contain a lot of nuance – I am just lightly touching on here. I am avoiding linking to either side, but just search on Twitter for examples of them.
The divisiveness is very toxic. I want to hear more people standing up for an open discussion that is not shut down. The message at the moment can sound a bit like it’s from George Orwell’s 1984. If you can’t comply with every part of the activists’ mission, you are their enemy. It needn’t be like that. It would be healthier if it wasn’t. There is another way! That’s why I’m encouraging you to watch the video and read the linked article, as these express in a bit more detail a type of middle ground, and it’s coming directly from some of the queer community. They are people who are more connected perhaps to the issues and I think their voices are so extremely relevent.
“It goes like this; find your place or make your own, join in when you can”
X-Ray Spex and Motorhead
Violent Femmes and Radiohead
Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk
The Rezillos and Killing Joke
The Kinks and The Undertones
Joy Division and The Ramones
Ever Fallen in love with the Buzzcocks?
The White Stripes and Talking Heads
Ian Dury and the Blockheads
Wreckless Eric and Nirvana,
The Pogues and Cock Sparrer
The Only Ones and Dead Kennedys
Pulp, The Doors and The Zombies,
Stiff Little Fingers and The Pixies
The Fall, The Damned and The Clash,
The Ruts, Lou Reed and Johnny Cash
At St Johns Church we sang punk rock in parts
In Hackney, harmonising wild musical hearts
Bridging our worlds
I stayed with punk choir a while
Where I belonged, freestyle
The photograph at the very top of this post, is of my old choir – Hackney Secular Singers – rehearsing in the garden, Brazier’s Park, at the Supernormal Festival, August 2012. Image by Jemima Broadbridge.
I really enjoyed writing or posting everyday for a while, but when I ran out of things to say I knew it was time to slow down (let’s see). In the past I have spent a month writing a blog post (usually for Spirited Bodies) when it is properly researched like an essay, almost academic. Sometimes less is more. Also I lost my momentum for the play I am writing, getting too caught up in creating blogs. But it’s been exciting and I don’t want to lose that fun, laidback and open vibe. See you soon!
I recorded another of Ursula‘s poems which had been part of ‘Girl in Suitcase‘ in 2015, when it was about goddesses, and witches. I used some old footage of myself performing menstrual rituals on the island of Fuerte Ventura in March 2017. It was pleasing to rediscover the text, and the videos, and be able to combine them whilst recording my voice on top.
There is a sense of reclaiming communion for a matriarchal rite, reconnecting sacred blood with menstruation. What a different culture that would look like, that celebrated women’s cycle. That honoured its connection with nature, and all that it brings. The changes in our moods and energies, our appetites and sensitivities. Our fertility. The blood itself as a means of connection; from part of what keeps us alive, to becoming waste blood; on with the cycle. The red liquid that reminds us of mortality, with its distinct flavour and smell. That looks like paint, has been used as paint; to colour our faces and bodies; to draw on walls. To share messages and signs. An essential ingredient of human life; the liquid passed down generations; especially through women in the process of birth.
To restore balance in the world, this natural order must be honoured. The implications are enormous and rock every foundation of patriarchy. The power of menstruation can be revolutionary!
In this phase of blogging, creating new material every day, I feel enlivened. It reminds me of when I used to blog regularly about my life and work as a life model, alongside Spirited Bodies stuff, several years ago. 2011 – 2013 mainly. I was quite open sometimes and eventually realised it didn’t fit having it all on the Spirited Bodies site, so I compartmentalised – and made (this) separate space just for art and myself. I remember how I was always thinking about what I would write next! It gave me a good focus while I was posing. The excitement and pleasure at sharing my process… it’s a healthy thing.
Thinking of blood, I remember this track I listened to a lot in the late 90s. ‘Love Like Blood’ got played on the dancefloors where I hung out. It’s a sad song with a strong edge. ‘Killing Joke’ were part of an intense soundtrack for those years.
The painting at the top is by me, made by dripping my menstrual blood as well as some wax. It is called ‘Lunar Waxing’ and I made it in January this year, at new moon.
When I recently rediscovered the ‘Girl in Suitcase’ script from 2015, two of Ursula‘s poems in particular stood out. When we performed the show, on neither occasion was I Kali’s face/front person so I never had those lines, though I did make a recording at the time but I can’t remember if we used it. It would only have been if whoever was at the front – Ursula or Lidia – felt more comfortable with it than learning the lines or reading them. I really loved saying the words! They are so powerful. So I asked Ursula if she’d like to make a recording now or if she minded if I did. She’s busy with other projects, but she was happy for me to. This is ‘Kali’ performed by me on Saturday in Ladywell Cemetery close to where I live. You will need the sound on to hear the poem!
It took a while to get the right voice, which I added at home. That rich, timeless, reverberant, almost musical intensity; had to be right for a goddess, especially since I was overlaying the voice on to the video. She/I am speaking with my mind. I wanted to focus on being her, as in embodying her, and in particular using my face to express her. I hadn’t learnt the lines so I didn’t want to be distracted by trying to remember them. Also there were people about, so it was one thing dressed down to my tights wearing blood on my face waving my arms around in front of a tree pulling silly faces; if I’d been shouting manically on top of that, we might have attracted too much attention!
When it came to adding the voice, I realised I wanted to slow the video down about 50%. When we’d shot it, I hadn’t been consciously thinking of the order of the lines; I was just moving my face as I felt like in the moment. So then I had to work out when to start speaking so the lines best fit the expressions. I think that worked out quite well, but it would be cool to do it whilst saying the lines live, or to have the lines playing while I filmed my face.
In any case, this was a last minute production where I seized the day – suddenly thought of a simple idea and made the most of Steve being around and us both being free. Not much time to prepare. I literally grabbed the blood from the fridge and said let’s go. On the way to Ladywell Fields, Steve said I think the cemetery would be better, fewer people. And he was right. The cemetery is always quieter, and has a fantastic, atmospheric ambience.
Nevertheless there were some people about and there was a bit of waiting for folk to get out of shot, or kids to stop shrieking, or a motorbike to clear off. Finding the best location within the cemetery was firstly about a quiet spot unlikely to be disturbed, and with the right background. On a grassy clearing, I saw the tree and thought that’s it. We’d discussed how ideally we’d have another person to help make Kali arms behind me, but what were the chances when we didn’t have much time? I’d thought about putting my hands around my face to accentuate them in striking ways as an alternative to having more hands and arms. We’re not proficient in video editing to the point of overlaying extra arms… The tree presented a shape with short “arms” at about the right height and length to create an idea of extra arms. It seemed a natural alignment.
A word on microbes. This hadn’t even crossed my mind, however the blood I used is months old – it’s a composite from several periods and some of it may be over a year old. As I was applying the blood to my face some drops went in my mouth. I wasn’t bothered, but Steve quickly said, “Don’t drink it, spit it out, and don’t let it get in your eye, because the microbes could kill you!” I thought that sounds a bit over-dramatic and didn’t pay too much attention. I just think what came out of my womb will be healing, no matter how old! That’s confidence, or madness, not sure. What I’m saying is, don’t do this at home kids! Or if you do, use fresh blood. That would be safer. I did notice that after I’d washed the blood off, some staining wouldn’t go away for the rest of the day, even if I washed it again. It looked like I might have a rash. It was fine the next day, and part of me wondered if such a thing could even be good for the skin, like a scrub or a facial… not that I’m thinking of trying that. Just saying who knows. They could be good microbes!
Now is a good time to let viewers in on one of my precious show-biz secrets. How to apply make-up. With me, it’s very much about the intention and the feeling; and being concerned about the environment, I like to recycle as much as I can. Making a mess is encouraged. Keeping a mobile and flexible face, perhaps giving it a little work-out at the same time, while it may not seem fashionable, it’s always good to express ourselves! In this video, I am preparing for an upcoming performance, so a little character work is gently coming into play. There is no speaking, so people all around the world may appreciate the useful example. I hope you enjoy!
Video shot in lovely Ladywell Cemetery. When I am surrounded by nature, and dead people, I am well attuned to the look I desire.
There is a photo of me as a child aged about 5, walking in a field of long grass on a Summer’s day with my Dad. It would have been around 1982. I’m smiling and very much in a happy place. I’m also naked. Dad isn’t, but that hadn’t seemed odd at the time. His hair is a bit wild and beard looking very 70s, the way I remember him when I was young. Hair-wise, he has returned to a similar state since lockdown, but that’s another story. The point is, I was naked and free, and without a sense of shame. How very fortunate in all sorts of ways. An image like that now can provoke hysteria in the media or just in people’s heads, such is the cultural taboo firstly around any kind of nakedness, but much more than that, a child’s nakedness. Innocence has been removed/hidden/safeguarded. It is of course absolutely necessary that paedophilia is finally being addressed, but in the all encompassing sweep to save children from it, we have lost an important part of childhood. Society so often can’t handle nuance. One of the safeguarding trade-offs is more body shame and naked shame.
My parents were quite free in their approach to upbringing in some ways, like with the nakedness, and later on freedom to play outside when other kids were more sheltered in that respect. Freedom to explore our little world and feel that it is a bit bigger than just the home. It stretched into nearby streets, estates, gardens, alley ways, carparks; and whatever hidden places we could find. I really really appreciated that freedom. Nothing bad came of it. I just became more confident in a streetwise sense. I think for my Mum, she just wanted us out of the flat. It wasn’t very big and she was house proud; we would naturally make a mess. Better off outside. Just as well, because although I did have a healthy imagination, outside is where adventures happened in the real world, back then. When I was off the leash, just exploring.
Naturally naked shame entered my world upon socialisation no doubt in school. But I did retain an unusual kind of body freedom. I remember once in primary school, I was that child who, when the class were collectively feeling curious about forbidden body parts and it was the long break, must have been lunchtime I imagine in the Summer term – somehow got picked or maybe even volunteered to be examined whilst lying on a bench, parts of my clothes removed or uncovered for all to see. The whole class crowded around, with someone on look-out in case a teacher walked by. A few of them touched me, but only barely. It was like one of them would venture a hand momentarily where it wasn’t allowed and then all of them would gasp or screech, so it was quickly pulled back. Again, nothing awful happened. We were just being kids, and I was perhaps showing early leanings towards performance art! I didn’t feel coerced; I was willing and curious of this thrilling feeling myself, of exploring what was taboo. I do remember a slight sense of shame though; an awareness that some others considered my openness strange, perhaps questionnable. We must have been about 7.
As you can imagine, the nakedness of life modelling was never an issue for me. From early on I wasn’t shy about it, and when things went online that still applied. I didn’t have a normal job to protect from the judgement, nor could I imagine ever having one. By the time things did properly get going online, I was doing Spirited Bodies, so I was actively talking about and promoting body liberation.
More recently I became aware of not wanting to be so naked online. There are a few reasons. One is too much of the wrong attention from the wrong people. Another is, being tuned into feminism and wanting to be taken seriously by those people. Related but another point is, when it comes to body positivity, I’m very aware of having what many consider the ideal body. Putting it about online is not radical. And finally, and related to the feminism point, is wanting to be taken seriously by organisations I’d like to work with. It just started to feel like, the choice to share naked images of myself or not, is political. There ought to be a reason, a meaning. I know for some the whole point is continually being naked as much as possible publicly, and that is political too.
I guess it comes down to personality, and I realised I operate better when I’m a bit more selective. I think I needed to tone down my public nakedness in order to regain my understanding of what it meant. I’d become desensitised to my own nudity. That’s always going to be a thing, and it’s often a good thing; but it had become a bit unhelpful. These days I try to engage with people where demonstrating that I understand their delicate position, where they are coming from is important. I might be in a normal situation like when I attended college last Autumn, and suddenly it’s like back in the world of normal taboos. I find myself carefully explaining what I do, whilst automatically scanning for latent signs of shock or judgement in the listeners.
Going through old videos we made when I first got together with Steve, I am reminded of that change in my outlook which has occurred since then. We were going on these amazing holidays, and being Steve, there was always a naked photoshoot in some remote place, or sometimes a bit more daring and not that remote! Anyway, I was also going through a menstrual art phase – it was featuring in my performances, and I’d participated in a workshop led by my friend Calu. I’d been collecting my blood each month in my mooncup, and pouring it into little jars (that still happens when I can be bothered to wear a cup. I actually prefer a more free-bleeding experience with pads/padded knickers and lockdown has been a dream for that.) My fridge has long contained several jars of my blood of varying vintage. They come out now and again when I fancy painting.
With all the gorgeous settings in nature on our holidays and us being naked, I had an idea. I often seemed to bleed while we were away, uncannily, and if I’d just bled before we went, I started taking a pot of blood with me because we always found occasion to use it. There emerged a series of ‘menstrual rituals’ which were really just me pouring the blood over myself and then washing it off in a lake or the sea. I like the aesthetic and feel of the pouring blood, and normalising what is a natural body function. Removing the shame of the blood, actually celebrating it. I personally enjoy my cycle, the variations in myself like seasons – and especially the part when I’m bleeding is generally accompanied by strong feelings of confidence and self-assuredness. The hormones happening at that time are powerful, and it’s a good time for me to make decisions or deal with tricky situations. I am unflappable! My instincts are really switched on, and my psychic powers are strongest. It makes sense to luxuriate in the whole bleeding process, and smash menstrual taboo. Not everyone has such a positive experience, but just being able to speak about it and express ourselves can make a difference in really important ways.
Some of those menstrual acts were recorded and are online already. After a few, I started to think that’s enough. It’s not really achieving anything new. But looking at the rest of those films now, there is one that stands out for the beautiful location, and the way Steve put it together with some sound. I’m releasing that one publicly for the first time with this post. I want to mark my return to reclaiming some naked pride – surely a recurring theme. Some of my other recent blogs have begun that inadvertently as I shared old photos in them. Not long before this recent blogging phase, I applied for a job which due to working with young people, I felt obliged to remove all the naked photos from this site. I never heard back from the job, and subsequently applied for something else which I realised I wanted a lot more. It was being an artist/writer in residence, and together with the realisation that the college course wasn’t right for me, led to re-embracing myself the way I am. Not trying too much to package myself to fit somewhere I don’t really. Just noticing that, and having gone through that process has been important. A constant work perhaps, of re-assessment. The subject of this post is vast and could become a much longer chapter if not a whole book. For now, I’ll leave you with a piece of stunning Slovenia in Lake Bohinj which acquired some of my blood in 2016.
In 2015 I made performances with female friends. The ‘Girl in Suitcase’ play was reborn, structurally divided into seasons of the year, which represented phases in the life cycle of woman. Extraordinary goddesses led the way, soaring through time to articulate our feminine narrative.
Four friends brought different qualities and talents into the process. Sylvie was around at the beginning for the main development period which also included a red tent gathering with other girlfriends. Sylvie helped formulate the idea, and some of her poems were part of the script. I’d recently read ‘The Alphabet Versus the Goddess‘, about how misogyny culturally emerged alongside the written word. This made a big impression, partly because it suggested the significance of drawing in connection with cultures loving women. The text outlines the neurological impact of reading and writing, and charts how misogyny grew historically in tandem; leading us away from matriarchy and goddess worship as the left brain was privileged.
Smitten with the book I manoeuvred some of its thesis into the play. It talked about religion, mainly Christianity – how Mother Mary had been the centrepiece during the dark ages (obviously she still is to a great extent for Catholics but it seems she had been even more so), after which much of her power was removed. I fashioned a Madonna costume wearing a white dress, a blue sheet, and a white head covering, and narrated some historical detail. The second commandment basically forbids life drawing! That’s still a thing for many Muslims, but has been disregarded by most Christians and Jews these days.
Sylvie’s life was in a lot of flux. She suddenly had to move house a couple of weeks before the performance and cease involvement with the play. This threw me into a mild panic. Her circumstances were critical, so she just had to focus on fixing them. We could no longer be there for each other, having been super-involved up till that point. I had a performance to salvage and she, a very important life move. The script required more than one woman and there was minimal time to sort it out. I had to leave her to solve her crisis, as I cast my eye about and told female friends of my predicament.
Germanic Goddesses came to the rescue! Ursula was interested, and so was Sabine. Even with such a short time to go, I now felt supported by two good friends so my anxiety was relieved. They brought new inspiration – three powerful poems of Ursula’s were added to the script, and Sabine belly danced when performing Isis. We could easily cover all the roles between us, and have fun. What had been a very tricky situation was turned around and made a really lovely opportunity to be creative with other friends. Both of them – and Sylvie as well – had worked with me on Spirited Bodies events; being interviewed; telling their story; and in Ursula’s case singing on one occasion. So there was an understanding of how we work – and play together. Although rushed, this collaboration was fruitful.
Sabine sourced a stunning costume with long, shimmering wings for her dance and practised her moves meticulously. Ursula’s rich ode to the moon poem fitted perfectly, and another was a firebranding feminist call to arms – for menstrual rites. “Women! This is our blood!” we decried as she and Sabine delighted in pouring the period offering over my body. Building up to that she and I got body painted during the Autumn/Enchantress act. First of all we splashed paint on each other and Sabine drew on us before inviting the audience to make their own marks.
It was the first time ‘Girl in Suitcase‘ had not included the original scary art tutor scene – it had morphed into a sexist male tutor played by myself. I took more than one masculine role, as male voices were needed to hound “witches” in the middle ages. To obtain a suitable voice, I used a programme to alter mine.
We became a three person Kali with six arms, fronted by Ursula. Her Kali incantation of survival poem was also a piercing lament for the “witches” killed, sending chills like shockwaves. The menstrual ritual with fake blood (I didn’t start using my actual blood till the following year) came a little later, after which I was pretty sticky. I have done several shows especially in 2015 and 2016, which got royally messy, whichever kind of blood I used. If there wasn’t a shower in the building, the real endurance came after the show when you are meant to relax and celebrate. Either spending a long time taking up one basin and ruining the floor, or just wearing old clothes that stuck to my skin, bearing the discomfort with a glass of wine. That’s show biz!
We wore shawls and hunched over our walking sticks for the Winter act of Crones. Sabine wrapped me in a shroud and helped me into my coffin suitcase – where I had begun the tale in Spring. Sisterly mourning completed the show cycle.
It was a wholly different show now (to previous years’), and almost not about me personally at all. Artemis did have a very spikily charged monologue in the Summer act however, which reminds me I snuck in some of my deeper thoughts at the time. Rediscovering this script has been another revelation for me – similar to what I describe in Script Variations. I can’t believe I buried such a precious gem so long. Life was an emotional dodgems, with too much blocked out by smoking. I was trying to make my life work – but my goodness this had potential. Hey – I am grateful we had the opportunities we did and made the most of them even if only for a while. I can see how my difficult feelings regarding Mum’s condition, were barely fit for public consumption, and I was working out other matters through my relationships.
Even so; the writing and scenography came from all of us. A true collaboration, created by necessity in different phases, much of it hastily. Working with the German goddesses grew our friendships, and particularly with Sabine, it helped inspire her in some new artistic direction. I wish we’d recorded Ursula’s Kali and Menstruation poems, because they shine through the script with timeless rhythm and urgency. Having this time now to look back with a bit more clarity and hindsight, is a gift. To stop and understand allows the lessons to settle. There is still time.
Not long after the March show, I was invited to perform it again in May, at a festival in Norwich called Dandifest. There were a few weeks until the date, but I was going away for two of them to Spain where I had a job. I asked Ursula and Sabine, but it happened both would be away for the performance date. What to do? Again, this was not a one woman show. I thought about who else to ask who might be able to take it on with me and save the day. There was my friend Lidia, also a life model and performer with strong feminist ideas.
Around this time my personal life was taking a change of course and I called her to catch up. She always had a lot to say, and I let her speak a while. In my memory I casually dropped in at the end of the call, oh I’ve got this show coming up, by the way there’s funding. That last bit of course important. Many of my projects are on a shoestring, and for the professional artist, we have limits on how much we can give in these situations. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it helped. Critically she was available, and I think quite keen of the opportunity to perform.
When Lidia commits, a lot of work happens. Work might start happening you hadn’t realised needed to happen. The game is upped, and preparations are rigorous. We had to make the show much tighter with just two of us. Because we were travelling with it, we didn’t have someone else to operate sound, which was too complicated to ask one of the Norwich crew. Lidia recorded all the sound in one long track, which possibly had to be stopped a couple of times during the show, when one of us was off-stage which wasn’t very often. Most of the time we had to be bang on queue with every move. Lidia had it covered, rehearsing us with dictatorial precision till we nailed it. She organised props; from the most ideal squirty body paint, the best fake blood recipe, I think two different extra long wigs, and she’d been inspired by Sabine.
Lidia had kindly filmed the last performance (see above) so she knew what she was dealing with, and now she was taking on some of the key roles. She was the belly dancing Isis (I’m not sure how much belly dancing she’d done before, but while I was in Spain I think she studied it) complete with wings; a very inviting enchantress; and I think as well a moon character with white shiney hair down to the ground (the photographer perhaps ran out of battery at that point).
There were some stand-out moments. Because we have both trained in physical theatre, we incorporated some contact improvisation after the Kali scene. This allowed the thick black paint which I had brushed on to her, to spread onto my body as well during the dynamic movement. We were running across the stage at each other, colliding and sliding one over another; pulling, resisting, and receiving impulses to send ourselves beyond or under. Imaginatively, this expressed the rage and torment of the women burnt as witches. Part of the text speaks of the Malleus Maleficarum, which ordered these killings on behalf of the church, and made it extremely dangerous for women to be seen to be – or just be – friends with each other. It underscored a genocide of female power and sisterly love. Our physical movement together, demonstrating unguarded connection, was also disturbed. Circumstance forced us against one another; to survive at all we would have to fight. Spiritually we were vanquished; brutalised and distraught.
That could have been the end, but our characters – now crones – did find means to live, and unbelievably regroup. With elderly wisdom (and new found gentle spirit) we invited the audience to model for us (some of them had been drawing the show). It was very cold in St Margarets Church (what an appropriate place!) with stone floor, and we were largely kept warm by our adrenaline. Most of our audience were not tempted in the slightest, but we did have one keen novice, who immediately stripped. He was quite drunk, and pleased of this chance which legitimised a likely urge he already felt (he’d been an avid body painting participant already). We duly got on the floor ourselves to sketch him while he posed to Bananarama’s Venus.
It was a lot of fun being part of the Dandifest and meeting their folk, not to mention that it provided reason to develop the piece. I’d met Christina when she’d come to Spirited Bodies at WOW, and now she introduced us to some wonderful artists she created with in Norwich. It was also a treat to have the Lidia experience. It made a difference working with someone who had a similar training, and intense feminism. There had always been something peculiarly familiar I felt with her, like we’d known each other in a past life. I mean, she understood part of me on a very deep level, and it was to do with trauma. There were particular dark things I didn’t have to explain – she just knew.
As I stare into the camera with my long hair framing my face, there is a light side and a dark. My eye traces the silhouette of the beautiful left, and in her softly refined cheekbone curve to the jaw, I don’t see me any more. Mum is looking back from the screen, directly meeting my gaze. She is in me, and my portrait won’t let me forget; she is watching me.
It is her youthful beauty channeling through the light side of my face, wondering what I will do next. I search for condemnation in her pupil; does she mind the way I write about her? I find only a questionning, a look that is checking.
The light side is only a sliver the width of an eye; grossly out-proportioned by the shadow. The darker part is tired and pasty, baggy-eyed; wearing the weight of my worry like the picture of Dorian Gray. It is real life lived, completing a model with stories to tell. Only squinting can I shed the ugliness to reveal a blurry pretty me/my Mother all in one.
In Victoria Rance’s class I agreed to sit, on Zoom, finally giving in this term. Yesterday evening an experienced class drew me in Steve’s clean studio space. This morning I was at home in Brockley for beginners.
Last night was my first good night’s sleep in the last four. Returning to my own bed with its double mattress all to myself, helps to reboot my insomniac system. I spread out luxuriating, stretching my limbs to each corner as far as they’ll go. I feel the cracks in the walls, the raw plaster above my head, the drafty windows and their damp underside; pictures on the walls telling pieces of my history (my sister calls my home ‘the museum’) and my bones know they are home. I haven’t had a home this long in my life ever till now, and I know its value. Not just in terms of housing benefit. It is a sanctuary.
In the afternoon I met one of my oldest friends on the Heath. We talk about how we are different when we are spending time in our homes alone, to when we are staying with our partners. She has a similar set-up. Sometimes coming home is a reconnection with self, and this is something we hadn’t always realised in our lives. Now in our 40s it is really clear; but when we were younger, we didn’t always notice the disconnection.
Here is a short video I shot yesterday in Bowers Marsh, close to where Steve lives. I was very tired and spontaneous; it’s a bit rambly, but honestly I love the ambience! It wouldn’t be the same on a grey drizzley typical day, but here in gorgeous Spring sunshine, something is working. It continues from yesterday’s theme of sex and connection.