Wild, naturist and free ~ Brighton Rock

Body painted at the World Naked Bike Ride, Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull, and last week with the Neo Naturists at the ICA. Also of course in my 3 Girl in Suitcase performances. Guerilla nude photoshoots during each visit to Venice, and as well twice on Hilly Fields. This year has been exciting for me for a proliferation of artistic naturist opportunities, surely not unrelated to having a partner with similar leanings.

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WNBR 2016 © AntwoneWalters.com

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part of the Sea of Hull (photo by Steve)

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Backstage at the ICA Steve and I painted each other Neo Naturist style. Photo by Cy Wol

I have been getting back to where I was 3 years ago it seems. Revisiting Scotland with Spirited Bodies, renewed enjoyment of the nude art community, and finding my way towards playing a role with WOW, as a mentor for girls once more. In 2013 I took part in speed mentoring school girls on the London Eye on the Day of the Girl. When asked for feedback afterwards I responded that I felt slightly misplaced in the role as no school girl aspired to be a nude art model! It wasn’t the point; it was all the other things about what I do that I need to share. Spreading the message of body confidence and empowering women, developing art projects, and surviving unusual pathways. A 12 year old might not imagine where I have come from, but you never know. I signed Laura Bates’ petition this week demanding that sex and relationship education become compulsory in all schools. The availability of violent porn to youngsters has led to a rise in teenage rape, largely due it seems to ignorance. The young people don’t know that this isn’t normal because they haven’t been presented with another way. There need to be healthier examples and people who aren’t afraid to speak about these issues. That could be me.

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at the Lido beach Venice, February 2016 photo by Steve

This month I felt strongly the need to shed a layer (again). To embrace more the light, and cleave less to darkness. Those parts of my past that I am separate from now I do not shun. I just need space to grow my own way without old associations limiting my path. Then when I have created new patterns, it becomes ok to revisit the old without fear of undue influence.

My blood rituals; often signifying shedding a layer; marking myself with an old (waste) part of me, then rinsing it off. Yesterday in Brighton the sea was choppy and I saw a rock I could sit on for the act so to be steadier, yet still close to, sometimes within the water.

I arrived at the naturist beach in the afternoon with my partner, Steve, and our long-time friend, Rodger. We undressed, though it was brisk at first, and had a cup of wine. Toasting our capers and Rodger’s 60th year, cameras were readied and my menstrual supply was by my side. Although a private moment, the ritual gains significance for being captured and shared. Psychically knowing it is out there increases my sense that this will change something within me. It gives me a chance to share a message with others too.

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photo by Rodger

The pebbles under foot were uncomfortable to tread on. I reached the water which was charged and rushing even at the edge. I was moving forward commitedly and successive waves kept splashing me more. Any sense of coldness was lessened by my pumping adrenaline, my effort to remain upright in the face of uneven painful footing; the force of the enormous sea pushing me back as I lurched towards the rock. I was focused; I had to be; there was no being casual here. It was set for drama. There was the potential of a calmer sunshine in the gaps between the clouds, but nothing sure and I just felt to seize the moment.

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I gripped the seaweeded rock and pulled myself on. There was to be no standing on the slippery  wave crashed and submerged platform; too dangerous, easily knocked off and blown about. No I sat, still clutching my tiny full pot of blood. I unscrewed it and poured it liberally around limbs and torso. The intense elements hastened me, so little time was spent just enjoying this moment. Quickly blood dripped then splashed off by waves. The smell of menstruation from April I believe, was strong, but hardly did it stay on me. I bathed, lowered myself surfing the rock (part of a groyn) on my belly. All wet with the sea I faced the expanse of water, then turned back and sat astride. At once ready for the walk to shore I attempted to climb down but was pushed off the rock by another wave. Knocked under water I became more involved in my scene than I’d planned but knew the immersion was good. I stood again, finding feet to make the walk. More than refreshed this felt quite raw and wildish, beyond health and safety!

Back on the stony beach out of the water I found a new cut in my foot flowing fresh blood. My friends stopped filming and helped me stumble back with a towel. We discovered more scratches grazed in the backs of my legs and right buttock, presumably from the point of being pushed off the rock. I’d not felt sharp edges but who knows underneath the powerful water what marked me, maybe barnacles under the greenery. I’d shed old blood, washed it off then opened fresh wounds, to make more memorable perhaps my encounter with Brighton rock.

With thanks to Rodger and Steve for recording my cleansing ritual.

 

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The Sant’Erasmo Blood Ritual

Unplanned and spontaneously born of some organisational fuck up on the part of It’s Liquid, this bloodening on a remote shore of a Venetian island salvaged a tricky episode. Truly I am grateful to It’s Liquid on several levels. They invited me to perform two different performances in Venice last week, and the invitation had come through back in May, shortly after my last show for them. It gave me a reason to hone Girl in Suitcase, particularly for a travel and international version, and as well to create a brand new show, which I entitled Blood>>>Orange.

Whereas my April visit to Venice had been straight forward and smoothly run, it seemed that It’s Liquid had bitten off a bit more than they could chew on this occasion. It wasn’t personal, but they did not handle it well. They showed the utmost disrespect to many of the performing artists. I will record this separately concerning Girl in Suitcase on that site, but as for Blood>>>Orange, it seemed only I was involved in the debacle. I had been booked to perform in the Hilton Molino Stucky Skyline rooftop bar, on Saturday 6th August as part of the Colors of the Sky series, for the Funky Orange evening.

The It’s Liquid performance art contribution to these Hilton events had been meanwhile suspended unbeknowst to us, and they never thought to inform me. I had already picked up that the organisation on this visit left a lot to be desired and certainly sensed something was up, but with no official information, I continued to prepare for the Saturday gig as planned. My partner Steve and I took the considerable gear over to Giudecca island, to the hotel only to find they weren’t expecting us. The hotel staff were really accommodating and friendly however, and possibly would have let me perform, but it wasn’t the point in fact. I sensed that my somewhat edgy performance would not fit so well here, between the more mainstream singer and DJ and the very well dressed guests; I mean I would have been happy to present there, but without a properly prepared introduction (from It’s Liquid) I preferred not to.

There was a fantastic view from the roof at sunset (we arrived around 9pm), but we would have to wait till 10:30pm to perform, and that would in fact be during either the singer or the DJ’s slots. We felt out of place and hungry. We wouldn’t have been paid for performing and couldn’t afford the food there, so decided to find a more reasonably priced meal by the water’s edge further along the island. We left the option of returning to perform open, but took all our kit with us. I knew in my heart that we didn’t want to go back. We wanted to move on from this mess, and get back to our holiday. It did take me a while to debrief, as preparing for a performance is more than the practical and physical considerations. I become psyched up for quite a while before, in this case a few months even. If the intended outlet doesn’t happen I am thrown into a limbo of confusion. I am not ready to return to the everyday; I need the hyper-reality of performing to take place somehow.

Steve and I knew what we would do, and the weather was kind. I had brought blood supplies for the Blood>>>Orange show, and didn’t want to return to London until my jars were empty. Sunday 7th August was our last full day in Venice, with nothing planned except now completing the mission. Throughout the preceding week (and indeed earlier trips in the year) we had visited several of the smaller surrounding islands, at least all those that are available by vaporetto. We had discovered the best spots for solitude and natural beauty, and the island of Sant’Erasmo suggested itself to us clearly. There is a crowded beach in high season on a hot Sunday, but we knew to walk further round where far fewer folk venture. There we had the space and landscape we wanted, to be unwatched and left alone.

We waded through muddy marshes and long prickly grasses till we found our perfect spot. The blood in my bag was from my last two menstrual cycles, kept in the fridge for such occasions! The ritual side of it is pouring the blood on my naked body. I make particular movements which invest greater energy in the proceeding, and focus me. There is an embracing of my cyclical, female nature; as well a letting go of recent events and processes, and a rinsing cleansing action in the water to refresh myself. I am completing a cycle; more than a monthly one, a wider episode in time too. I am connecting with (Mother) nature, and the elements – Earth, which I stand on first and drops of my blood fall to; Air, which I move through, the gentle breeze sometimes sending the stream of blood away from my skin; Water, which I walk into and submerge myself in and splash on myself to wash; and Fire, represented by the Blood itself that was created and expelled by my body and signifies my fertility and creativity.

Steve filmed me and as well added some music afterwards. The track is The Host of Seraphim by Dead Can Dance, and was part of the setlist for Blood>>>Orange, indeed the scene in which the bloodening takes place. I have used the track in the Goddess version of Girl in Suitcase (last year), so it is already established in my performance psyche!

After the disappointment of the previous day(s), this outing on Sant’Erasmo felt really special, loaded with impetus to reclaim something that I had been denied. An intention to celebrate that moment with myself and Steve, in that place and time. It felt joyful and liberating as well as sensual. We had considered a further performative action, also connected with the undelivered performance, but after my blood ritual I felt no further need to make that, for now.

Here is the film!

With thanks to Steve.

Rewriting the Past – regaining confidence after rape

This year at WOW, I was there with my still relatively new partner Steve, and on the Saturday we went to the rape survivor talks led by Jude Kelly. She has been doing this for a few years but I had never been before. I wanted to see how it was handled, but didn’t quite anticipate how the session would affect me. The extremely open and raw talks moved me, because they made it very clear how normalised a lot of rape, and rape culture is. What I became aware of is the value of speaking out, for the brave (and very articulate) women we witnessed there as well as for the audience listening, and also that I had buried experiences that would benefit from being unearthed too. I’d started writing this blog in February I think, as I’d sensed there were some blocks I needed to uncover, and hearing the talks encouraged me further. I had to postpone processing the effects of the session, as I was running Spirited Bodies later that day and there was a lot to coordinate. The next day however, I felt it. In fact I have been finding that whenever I am at a low ebb, those feelings re-emerge, and I have to do some work on them. Writing really helps.

A long long time ago, I had an experience with a photographer, from the fetish scene, which was part of a big period of setback for me. I wouldn’t say that rape was uniquely responsible for my fall, because, I was already on that trajectory. I am not letting him off the hook, however if it hadn’t been him, I at that point would most likely have attracted something of that nature one way or another. There were deep family problems that created the right set-up for some disaster. It’s not always the case, but it was for me. Rape happens in many ways, from via people we know very well, to complete strangers. This was a man I met in a club, who lured me to his studio with the promise of paid fetish magazine modelling work. I was interested, and probably overlooked unsavoury signs, because my parents had told me I had to move out after finishing my A-Levels. It was the Spring term, 1995. I was clubbing a lot, taking drugs, and truly I had a bent to try injecting. It was that sort of phase in life – and I was also considering the sex industry. I didn’t know how I would support myself after leaving home, and could not imagine getting an ordinary job. My general appearance was a bit punk, or hookerish, and back then I don’t think that was ok in your average bar, or shop. In any case, I had a yearning to experience a different side of life to the narrow band of just-within-the north-circular-suburbia that the edge of Muswell Hill had thus far afforded me. At that time, life modelling was not within my sphere, sadly! Although artistically gifted as a child, going to an academic school I was mostly guided towards more cerebral subjects, which later proved to be less fruitful.

Rape has become much more publicly spoken about in recent years, and I keep reading that there is no hierarchy in rape. It’s positive to read that, because I did use to categorise my own experience as something far less valid or challenging say than a woman who had been forced violently, perhaps drugged too. Mine was more psychological, harder to prove technically. I was such a mess generally at the time that I never considered going to the police, I sensed that could be even more difficult. I was very promiscuous and hardly ate. People say I’m rather slim now; back then I was weighing myself everyday and making (short) lists of the foods I ate. I wore basically underwear in the nightclubs I frequented and took speed in particular on a regular basis. On occasion I whited out at home in the kitchen and Mum had an idea of the nature of my condition. We weren’t on the friendliest of terms then. She’d been diagnosed with MS a few years before and though only in the early stages of onset, was quietly dreading her more limited future.

I didn’t dare go above 7 stone – I had a strict limit on myself, would not allow myself to grow further. This wasn’t anorexia exactly; I wasn’t vastly concerned with being fat. I just didn’t want to be bigger, and I was deeply unhappy on a soul level. I could not allow myself to enjoy food. I had newly discovered confidence on the dance floor in my underwear on speed. I didn’t have to work at remaining thin, but I made a dedicated practice of it. I could get high on being empty, and drugs were more readily absorbed by the absence of food in their path.

The photographer was sleazy and I was far too easy prey. I must have embodied ideal victimhood. I was already well-sexualised and largely looking for it, just sometimes not being as discerning as I might. I was not strongly grounded – I felt undermined by family support who ought to have been guiding me with love. I was abandoned in spirit and in need of a new home, a new family. The lynchpin of my independence (and career) could wrest on my completed education as I had been thus far prepared, but it was not to be as I spiralled off the rails. I would have to find my own way, invent a new path. Hard won female pathways of power had already been indicated, however there seemed a fault along my branch.

My Mother though having a degree, had simply been a housewife (and not a happy one). My Father’s Mother though having graduated well from Oxford (and the first woman in her town at that), had not long after developed schizophrenia and suffered detrimentally. My Mother’s Mum hadn’t been to university but had forged several careers including journalist, broadcaster in East Berlin, and fashion designer in London. This woman was the closest person to me in my youth, who represented female power and autonomy. In her old age she was a talented artist who guided my love of painting and creating collages as well as building sculptures made of rubbish. She died just after my 14th birthday, and I don’t think it was by chance that my walk towards the darkness happened soon after.

I was emotionally lonely and found myself submitting to the photographer. He had a very large penis and he wanted anal. I was not so gifted in the art of saying no and he was obsessed with gratifying his appendage. I sank to new levels of despair but home was a spent force for me and I had to cut loose. Finding fellow inhabitants of such a place of broken was my calling. I count three of those people still as friends even if we don’t meet so often. Another died last year, and others fell off the radar a long while back – indeed I think their own darkness was a tad beyond my scope in time. Outside of that immediate circle a wide sprawling network of Slimelight, fetish and gay clubbing networks buzzed and vibed. It was the 90s, there was a scene.

The rape photographer staged intimate shots of me that he personally prepared my body for. He was keen on bondage but it was all relatively new to me and he so pushy. I negotiated away from the more extreme stuff, and took lines of speed between shots. I wasn’t interested in keeping any of the prints, except for one of me dressed, and one a portrait. The innocence and beauty on my face at the time he had in fact caught. I actually put the portrait on the wall of my bedroom in the new lodgings I secured with a friend. A curious memento marking my departure from the parental home, more so for in the image of my face, I saw my Mother’s resemblance. It seemed mostly her that I escaped from, yet she would always be with me, within me.

The pictures were never used for a magazine that I know of and I have no idea what became of them. He never paid me, and at the point of acquiring the two nice photographs (which subsequently got damaged or lost) after two or three visits I was able to say I wanted no more business with him. Being raped had seriously hurt me emotionally, but I couldn’t completely think of it as rape as I had allowed it. I hadn’t wanted it, but I hadn’t stopped it. I thought life might somehow be better if I didn’t say no. I thought I might get something I needed, though I don’t think I had a clue what. I just wasn’t in a good place to begin with. My Mum shouted and screamed at me (and the rest of the family) every day, that she hated us and wished we were dead. I could hear how unhappy she was, but she was unreachable, and we couldn’t utterly understand what was so wrong with her. At the same time, she was very powerful and there was little manoeuvring around her stubbornness. She wanted me out, and was especially jealous of my open and youthful sexuality. I had to go, and was yet to discover my own layers of protection.

Within a year I had transformed into a notorious and newly powerful dominatrix; if any man deigned to try even the slightest wrong doing towards me, I was ready to kick him with my heavy metal boot heal.

I gave myself away to that man in 1995 when I could have spat in his face and walked away. I wasn’t empowered enough at that time to do that, or to even be aware of it in the moment. Maybe that’s why now, I have been wanting to help other women wherever I can. It took me quite a few years to get to that point of just being able to help in the way I have. Now I realise I have to help myself a bit more, before I can help anyone else.

Talking about the rape incident with a new friend at the time led to a lasting friendship that helped throughout my several years episode outside of the mainstream. Up until that point I had been considerably more isolated, and now at last a small family of fellow freaks emerged in my midst. It wasn’t exactly a smooth ride; I did enter the gloriously varied sex industry at several junctures, and found the wild experiences and underground insights I’d sought.

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In my dungeon kitchen in Old Street, 1996, photographed by David Hindley, friend from the Slimelight. I love the way that David has captured me looking strong and confident. In my underwear and make-up was often how I was seen – in clubs, at work, and sometimes at home. I was not a model exactly, but I did do some modelling. David liked to photograph many of his friends from that period.

 

Coming back from that journey wasn’t easy either, trying to re-enter institutionalised life not as my unwise youth imagined. At university and drama school I didn’t know how to connect, effectively. For years I hid behind a very long fringe, dressed down, so no one would ever guess my bohemian past. When a fellow student once asked what I’d done before coming to college, I started to shake and stutter for several minutes. I gave up on uni and transferred to an experimental theatre degree at drama school. Even if I couldn’t find much commonality with other students, I could dig the out-there qualities of some of the practitioners we were investigating. Tadeusz Kantor’s ‘Dead Class’ resonated with my gothic leanings; I felt I’d already lived this art, let alone studying it!

 Now at 39 years of age, I have managed to reach a considerable way in my life modelling career without greatly delving into photographic modelling. I think, even if I was bound to get raped when I was 17, the fact that it was a photographer did leave particular scars. I have had a block about photography. While I am comfortable being photographed by friends, especially women, and more recently in the context of my performance work, I have never actively sought photographic modelling work, though it generally pays at least twice the life modelling rate. I always felt safer dealing with drawing artists, and have found that generally far less sexual politics comes into it.

I think I have past issues to heal that could uncover previously concealed layers of potential confidence, that reach way beyond photographic modelling. This is much more than about being raped, it’s about the conditions that led to that. It’s about not feeling valued, not knowing what I had that was positive and worthy of respect. I didn’t know how to channel myself towards a bright future, in fact the very idea of that was alien or even repugnant to me. I was anti-bright-future, and so destined to find some darkness. I was more than a drop-out, I was an active seeker of darkness! I revelled in it; it was the only thing that made sense. The world was not one I could see myself or anyone flourishing in.

Much of that harsh attitude has naturally been reshaped over the years, softened and redirected. But there are still pieces to uncover and iron out, in order to achieve the shine I’m after. As an adolescent I had not been raised with a strong sense of how to look after my own interests. I would let myself be overtaken and wouldn’t allow myself to reach the heights I would like to. I had massively missed out on emotional support, and was far too ready to give myself away and not consider consequences.

My own lack of confidence was responsible, and some of this patterning has remained with me. It has been pointed out to me that while my projects focus a great deal on helping and empowering others, I have tended to neglect some of my own needs.

During this recent period of reflection, I haven’t been seeing my parents so much as I noticed that if I want to realign my behaviour, I need to not be overly exposed to the most original source. At this stage in my life, this is not about blame, but rather trying to get to the bottom of things, to a better understanding, so I and all in my sphere may grow towards greater happiness. I would like to say that I generally have a good relationship with my parents now; a lot has been worked through. They are there for me, and very importantly they accept me as I am. I know I am very lucky to have them, and appreciate the unique upbringing they gave me. My Mother is now severely ill with MS, and caring for her takes up considerable family energy. I have felt that my own needs haven’t been prioritised but know that I am far from alone.

Stone Circle Solstice

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almost all photographs by Kevin LeMaire

To introduce my new site, my first post (which is not migrated from Spirited Bodies) is about a gathering of my friends this Summer Solstice at a stone circle local to me, as it happened just before this country went completely mad.

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First of all, a bit about myself. I write, I perform, I life model. I am often naked, and sometimes this happens as an activist artist. I have created various nude events and performances for several years, and sometimes I just want to create nude art happenings with friends, sometimes without more than the merest forethought. Let’s say however, that this wasn’t completely out of the blue, after all in April I made my own nude and bloody connection with the same standing stones. Furthermore my friend Ursula had said to me, ‘let’s meet for Solstice!’ I regularly visit my local stone circle, and a plan formed, albeit loose, unstructured.

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The date was set for Tuesday 21st June in the evening, as then both Ursula and I were free. About a week before I checked with a few friends who all know each other, if they were also free. Amazingly, they were. All we needed now was good, well let’s say at least dry weather, and in the current pattern of weather, with so many rainy spells this would be difficult to forecast.

I asked the friends to bring picnic, drinks, and musical instruments as well as cameras and drawing materials. We would if possible be making shapes with the standing stones on Hilly Fields, together with our bodies. Most of us are models, life models, if only occasionally while some others are more comfortable with drawing pad, or lens. Apart from my partner Steve, none were familiar with the stones, but it was easy to describe their location as well as answer last minute calls on their whereabouts. Just before 6pm Steve and I arrived and found Rodger standing, intrigued within the stones’ circumference, while from different directions both Lucy and Ursula were emerging, wondering which path best to take. Soon we were five, slowly sprawling across the long flat centre stone which was dry and retained the sun’s heat. Grass had a little moistness from recent rain, but nothing a blanket wouldn’t absorb.

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The convergence of model and artist friends brought me great joy, this mini pilgrimage to a circle of neo-megaliths on top of a hill in my neighbourhood of Brockley. Everyone found the stones enchanting, as I do, and it wasn’t long before people were climbing and sitting on them too, between bursts of picnicking on the ground. We had been lucky to both have the circle all to ourselves, and fine weather including some patches of sunshine. Unexpectedly, Lily and her husband Kevin also joined us not long later. We had heard she wasn’t feeling well, so it was a very pleasant surprise when they joined us. Not before getting lost in a nearby cemetery mind. It is a long two hour journey they drive, from a far side of London and this was unfamiliar territory.

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While all my picnic offerings were shop bought, Lucy had created the most delicious fresh vegetable salad, in a large quantity, plenty for all to feast on, rendering my more prosaic fare mere filler. I had also acquired special cakes for Rodger as his 60th birthday had been recent, and fresh strawberries and raspberries went down well with apple juice or wine. Judit was the final friend to join the gathering, and still we had daylight. Now we were 8, and some wine had been flowing, poses cast a’top of boulders, and poems declaimed which spoke of Summer. Drums started to patter, a tambourine shake, shoes removed – for barefoot we trod.

Before it was late, Lucy had to depart while the rest of us continued. We each occupied a rock, and made sounds as we held our postures. Kinaesthetically we responded to unknown calls to switch places, join ranks or move between. At some twilight point I felt the urge, emboldened with alcohol, though always a natural inclination for some of us, to remove a layer of clothing. It was my trousers and from there I saw Steve follow suit – or unsuit, going topless, and Rodger too. I was still in my pants but just a skimpy top and thought, ‘we’ve come this far – it must be done’. Although colder than when we arrived, we had now warmed up to our vibe and soon Steve and Rodger were completely naked. I kept my pants on, truly I think to encourage Judit and Ursula, who did start to undress too.

More of us women mostly nude felt preferable to just one fully. It worked as shortly the 3 of us were down to knickers. I think psychologically in this public and semi-daylight setting, it feels easier to cover up if necessary, with pants already in place, for a woman, where men require less coverage to be acceptable. Since we were just being (nearly) naked for our own merriment, there was no set time frame in this ad hoc occasion. We just let it flow.

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Lily and Kev are not as we are in this respect, but greatly appreciated being part of it, and as well Kev recorded many moments photographically. What we created exceeded my expectations – after all there was no firm plan, more than an arty celebratory Solstice picnic. For me it was an affirmation of the living of my art and resonates strongly with what I make in my art projects, particularly Spirited Bodies at present. It is a living research and a way I want more of. We all felt that we wanted more of this connection with the Earth, the land, the sky, the season, and with each other as we truly are.

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In the wake of what happened in this country just over 2 days later, it felt even more poignant to have shared in this collaboration of unity. As Rodger put it, we were our own little European Union – Ursula from Germany, Judit from Catalunya in Spain, and Lily from Bulgaria. The rest of us are mostly English, but also feel European. Steve has travelled to every country in Europe except Russia, Rodger lived in Amsterdam for a few years in the ’80s, and my Mother grew up in 5 different countries on the continent before settling in London in ’63. The conditions of each move were politically motivated (as her parents worked for Communist organisations), and make for an interesting narrative in themselves, destined for a future post.

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Kevin’s photographs capture the energy and joy of our celebration. He hadn’t photographed people before, only practised in landscapes and wildlife. We all thought he did a brilliant job, being amongst us without inhibiting us, capturing our unstaged naturalness, as well as some more posed shots. The nakedness alone marks them as outside of ordinary, a happening capable of offending some, in a public park. Dog walkers and other passers-by did see, stop to look, even attempt a sneaky photo from a distance, but none challenged us; most smiled and laughed with us. Perhaps we had created a sort of ‘Temporary Autonomous Zone’  – “The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen…” if in a rather small and unthreatening form. It is the potential of such occasions to free us of the shackles of usually present conformity, that reminds us of our individual, and our collective power. We feel liberated and humanly connected beyond the normal; we feel alive.

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Underneath our clothes, without the trappings of their markings, we are equal. We become more timeless when nude, as primal beings. To create a TAZ is a bit like a tribe, and so elemental feelings of connection may be rediscovered. I have found that with the larger group sittings (and more recently movements) at Spirited Bodies. The creation of a soundscape by the group, particularly with their voices, adds to that intensity of shared experience I think. It is beyond words in their more usual rational form, and takes us away from our individual thought patterns, onto a group interactive dynamic. Being part of a tribe gives us an amplified sense of well-being, and is part of a wider sub-culture; the nude art scene. Enthusiasts find meaning and fulfilment through participation.

I don’t know if we are judged less without clothes, in the nude – especially when others are dressed. But I do think it helps to normalise expectations about bodies; to satisfy a natural human curiosity – about each others’ bodies, about our own. It helps us to appreciate our difference; unique individual beauty, and the enormous variety between us. Very significantly, we feel that we have nothing to hide. We are pure in our natural honesty. Nakedness removes the potential for pretending to be something we are not. Just being accepted as we are, is so profoundly important.

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Free Bleeding Life Modelling

The following is about a recent experience I had when life modelling and menstruating aligned for me. I am sharing it here as want to raise awareness about this issue, particularly for the benefit of women thinking of trying life modelling, as well as for artists booking models. It is not necessarily talked about much, but I think we all gain from freeing ourselves of this taboo. Female models may feel more comfortable, and artists better understand the issues involved. There is a lot of shame around menstruating, which some women experience more than others, whereby it is felt necessary to hide this biological process; the blood, smell, bodily and emotional changes. All of this concealing can further add to the psychological anguish of not fully realising our natural cyclical power, however unaware we may be of this.

I arrived early in Sidcup on a Thursday morning after no sleep. Despite a stressful night, somehow I remained upbeat in the morning, and on removing my garments in the changing room (this college has an actual changing room for the life model!) was amazed to discover my knickers and thighs smeared with blood. How unexpected, and how early. I am generally fairly regular, and this was about ten days premature. It did explain my difficult tormented night however, to a further degree than the stress I was experiencing alone could. With the full moon approaching in a few days, my cycle was realigning to bring my emotional and physical being, in keeping with the celestial sphere. I now found myself in jolly temperament, typical for me of coming on.

I was caught out, without mooncup or pad. There seemed more blood than usual for the beginning of the flow, which is often minor dribbles, and I actually felt excited by the idea of posing while free bleeding. In my robe I entered the posing space and addressed the tutor Nick. I said, “My period has unexpectedly just begun, and I am unprepared. So I will pose, and there will be some blood between my legs you understand.” He did, no problem. I have known this class for a rather long time and feel so comfortable with them, so appreciated always.

I had presented the predicament audibly so that all the class could hear too, and they were all on the same page. This post-menopausal bunch were relaxed and comfortable, as long as I was. While they were not able to offer me a tampon, they helped me feel far greater comfort than usual. Typically my dynamic and movement poses are stretched to the limit here, and several of the class members are nudged out of their comfort zone. How they must have rejoiced in my menstruation to be able to proffer the sofa loaded with as many cushions as reasonably stacked there. I did a few quick stretchy poses, and then was ushered into warmth and comfort. My tiredness was intense and I felt no resistance, just gratitude for my friendly class, who in their turn were equally gracious.

Nick was considering which of the clean sheets to cover the cushions with, and seeing none were red, I said I thought lying on my own robe would be most suitable. I can imagine in other similar situations that a tutor or class member might offer to go and buy a tampon. That didn’t arise here, and I think it was because of the exuberant manner in which I presented my predicament, more elated than troubled by my bleeding. Finally the staining of my legs was not so dramatic. The combination of long reclining poses and a large absorbant bush meant that most of this sticky mess didn’t travel so far.

When it happens, it happens. Go with the flow. Here are two earlier posts I have made, at least partly on the subject, one from a few years ago, and the other a year ago.

I will host events where free bleeding is encouraged, or if not so overt, then it will simply be acceptable. To promote menstrual health, awareness, and not hiding this vital part of our life blood. Celebrating our cycles and all the (hidden) power contained there, until we open it up and declare it ours. We shift with the weeks (if not blocked too drastically with hormones or lack of food for example), accessing different parts of ourselves at each time. Renewing, growing, blooming and shedding. When the blood comes, we are letting go of the old, what we no longer need; dead waste, old blood. To make way for the new.

Here are some photographs from my Girl in Suitcase performance, from the scene about menstrual rites, performed with Lidia at Dandifest, May 2015, Norwich. Lidia is pouring a syropy fake blood liquid over my already blackened body. The audience have been handed a cup of red wine each, in time for our menses communion ceremony.

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Positive Behaviour, and reclaiming the Erotic

Topical at the moment in the London life drawing scene, is dealing with sleaze, namely, The London Life Drawing Society. This is run by Tony Picano/Picanto/Pianco – he has various guises not limited to these. For many years he has been known for behaviour that has upset and offended many women, with inappropriate advances in what was meant to be a professional context. This mainly affects female life models. It’s also true that he has run events that have been straight forward and unproblematic too.

One model, new to London, recently called Tony out on Facebook, and the response has been overwhelming, with many other women coming forward, and a police investigation launched. It is no surprise to many of us veteran models, who spotted him years ago and stayed well clear. This new development is however a very positive thing for women and the life drawing scene, as while Tony may have made himself obvious to us who are in the know, for a newcomer that may be unclear. ‘The London Life Drawing Society’ sounds quite proper, and could be mistaken for being representative of a recognised standard, which is not the case at all. Most life drawing groups here are utterly appropriate, so it is very misleading. We don’t know how many women have been affected or to what extent, but we do know that Tony made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable.

When I say that Tony made himself obvious, this was from his email messages and online notices looking for models. Without ever actually meeting him, he gave himself away to a lot of us. His messages often mixed up the role of the model, with someone offering more intimate services for example, or suggested that models might not need to be paid. Indeed he has also been known for refusing to pay models, even when it was agreed beforehand. His reputation has unsurprisingly been notorious for a good number of years. Please get in touch if you have been affected and would like the police detective’s contact details.

I have had my fair share of dodgy guys to deal with whilst running Spirited Bodies. For the most part they never made it beyond emailing me, but occasionally in the early days one slipped through the net and got into a session. This led to me not inviting new men to pose for Spirited Bodies more recently. I am slowly working out how I may incorporate new men again, after serious vetting of course, and in very controlled conditions.

Following posts I made on Facebook outing Tony, my Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours, apparantly because of nude pictures I had posted. Those pictures had been there for quite a while however, so I suspected a disgruntled man getting revenge.

When my account was reinstated, I took the opportunity to celebrate by sharing a beautiful image recently taken with my partner, which while totally nude, and sensual as well (considered soft porn by some!) shows none of the forbidden body parts. We had done an intimate photoshoot with a friend and this image felt timely and apt.

With Steve Ritter, photograph by Lidia, www.lidialidia.com

With Steve Ritter, photograph by Lidia, http://www.lidialidia.com

The Tony case sparked much positive discussion in the life model community, about safety, and also some about the morality of erotic life drawing. There were voices attacking this art form as an afront to our profession. I don’t see it that way however. It is a personal choice, and in the right conditions where boundaries are clearly understood, and the practice is consensual, can show another aspect of the human form, from life. Sex is a part of us, and to deny that and its relevence to artists is bizarre I feel. I wouldn’t pose with anyone else, the way I do with Steve,  but that is my preference, and others are more open.

Posing as a genuine couple offers a glimpse into our real life intimacy and affection for one another. The emotions we feel while we are connecting physically go way beyond arousal, and may entirely be of love and mutual appreciation. I think that is a very rare and beautiful opportunity for artists.

Because this is WordPress and not Facebook, here is another of Lidia’s photographs of us.

The joy of feeling comfortable with my partner and fellow life model, Steve

The joy of feeling comfortable with my partner and fellow life model, Steve

Steve will be sharing more images of us soon on his life model blog, and has created a page for us! https://charoigne.wordpress.com/esther-and-steve/

We look forward to posing together again, and to promoting healthy attitudes and behaviours within our community.

Circles of Women

Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.

All artwork from the women's session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

All artwork from the women’s session at the Bargehouse, 4/11/15

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The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.

In daylight before we began

In daylight before we began

We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

There was a mix of experienced models including Ursula (a full time model and performance poet), and Claire (professional model, writer and feminist artist from the 80s, returning now with mastectomy), and Paula (relatively new). New models included an opera singer, who sang with Ursula in a sonorous pose; also another totally new model.

operatic notes on a page

operatic notes on a page

That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.

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Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.

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A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.

bending in the wind

bending in the wind

We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.

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There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!

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I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.

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I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.

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I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).

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I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.

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A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.

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Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.

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For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.

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Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.

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Another women’s space I would like to bring your attention to, is run by Calu Lema, as part of her Naked Movement project. She describes her philosophy, background and intentions very well, and – Details of her next women’s (naked) space, are here.

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I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.

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My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!

a sea of bodies

a sea of bodies