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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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!

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a sea of bodies

 

Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind

5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies

Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

Coming back down to Transition Heathrow

My favourite grooove lingers and rolls, batting away the overgrowth in a cave, Dead Can Dance soaring through a number. It’s the call of the wild on a Tuesday evening, and then you know it’s coming. What is keeping this foggy relationship alive? It must be the noxious tentacles wrapping themselves around our limbs and entwining us from the edges of the floor boards. It’s all in the unravelling. Somehow I have a feeling that the past is also the future, well at least part of it.

If I had to stop living in a flat on my own and I wanted to be free to travel, I might appreciate a tent on a site occupied by eco-warriors. I might learn about the land and how to grow food. But how to let go of creature comforts of being coccooned in a dwelling in this society, my own income, my own time. Choice about how I use my space and time, some of which would go if one joined a commune. Yet I might be on a plane more frequently to far away outposts, learn to live with others again, and how to share more. Know that I was off-grid, making it work outside of housing benefit and at a remove from the big conglomorates controlling our direct debits. I don’t think I want it, but at some point I may need it, to shed a layer I don’t even know I can do without.

This year I am shunning bigger opportunities, but I am grabbing wholeheartedly what calls to my soul. As expressed at the beginning of the year (or end of last), I am called to let go of people with interests outside of my own. I am to return to the essence, whatever it takes. I love my autonomy, not being told what to do or fitting in. Then the magic can flourish with abandon when no one else is looking, except the others at the gathering.

As a teen I was drawn to Industrial music, because it encapsulated the horrific sense of being immersed in the grit. Thrown up, left crawling till you fight back. It deconstructed the bullshit with dancefloors pulsing instead of text books. Hormones and endorphines racing and a tribal pounding felt like a sort of initiation when I’d broken away from normality. I was rising in sublime fashion, not without falling first.

Each Spirited Bodies event is a meeting of new models with their inscribers, the people who see them and commit the memory to paper. We hear what drives those on both sides of the platform. Why is this activity so compelling? Being a witness to transformation in an intimate act, in a spiritual, non-judgmental fashion which makes no intrusion, just allows the naked expression to flow. We know this act is helping to unravel individuals from the tight bind they find themselves in. When it’s ready to let go of the knots then the journey is glorious, unblemished and bountiful, the unlocked doors to self-knowledge. I recommend a life time course to get the best results.

For the next Spirited Bodies event in Leytonstone September 18th, see here

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

Gypsy in Roehampton

Gypsy in Roehampton

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

A double pose at The Mall

A double pose at The Mall

with Alexandru

with Alexandru

Life Art & Therapy in Highbury

I had been busy working on my play – Girl in Suitcase – in recent weeks, and left editing new interviews a bit last minute. I wanted to hear how they would flow with the material from March which was being reused, so naturally I gave each model’s interview a listen. Getting to Mum’s on Thursday afternoon left me with a heavy impression. The power in her voice is so disarming, to appreciate life so readily when one’s experience has been shockingly limited. I was reminded of the caged bird. My heart moved, and when I arrived for work in the evening, they knew something was up. Luckily they’d requested a Tank Girl look, so I was wearing stompy boots (and stockings) without anything else. They took a while to prepare their easels but some hiphop was playing and I just had to dance in my performance space. My way to release, to express, to flow back into a safer, happy place from where I can observe my emotions without being too caught up. The boots helped to ground me, as well as swing me around.

I just about managed to organise the interviews in time, but I was nervous. Every little thing – replenishing art materials, briefing models, instructions for how to maintain the pristine haven of a venue, biscuits, suitcases full of kit to charge across town by bus… and why had so few artists booked places? Would there be more models than artists? Turned out I had sent out a faulty link to the online booking  in my invitations and on the flier! Well it is the first time I have sold tickets that way, and now I know.

People showed up regardless. The right people. Not too many, but enough, definitely enough.

The planning for this event happened just before I was set to look after Mum a few days back in May. I planned the Girl in Suitcase performance then too. I needed a focus to make my days as a carer ok. Sounds terrible when some people like Dad do that all the time, but nevertheless, so it is. So there was a little urgency in the planning, which is great for making things happen, though bound to be a few hiccups.

One of the main models I had planned this event with, had dropped out last minute, due to a very important court case she was involved in out of town. Couldn’t be helped, but I guess it threw me a bit, seeing as she’d been a driving force previously. But hey, she helped get the ball rolling, and, I am so pleased with the outcome. For sure there are improvements to be made; interviews which need more editing mainly, and the possibility of some models doing a longer pose, while others move more often. What worked really nicely was Niomi’s (the absent model) idea of having a post-event debriefing session for all who cared to stay. There had been considerable discussions a while back about how we would ensure that the right people stayed, but in the end, it just happened organically. By that time, with the intensity of all the interviews fresh in the air, the people who can and want to stay on know who they are.

I tried to make sure everyone who wanted to, contributed to the discussion, and it was rewarding for me to discover how much people enjoyed hearing the interviews. As they played I had felt painfully aware of background noise, and parts of interviews which made the model in question (and me too) squirm inwardly as s/he heard her/himself. It was remarked that it was refreshing that it was not overly edited. Made it more authentic, genuine, to hear that I’d caught them at teatime, and this must have been my only opportunity to interview them, so I had just pressed record whilst kettles were boiling, cutlery chinking, or people shouting across a hall in the background. Not all the noises could be edited out, if the words were very important.

There was a difference in the way some interviews were received at Southbank Centre in March, and then at Skylight Centre now. In March at WOW the room was packed to bursting, and women at the festival had spent much of the weekend building the feminist momentum listening to talks, taking part in discussions about the female slave trade, getting more women in top positions, and getting rights for women in the middle east. By the time they got to us at the end of Sunday, they were ripe for each and every woman’s voice at our women only event.

I only invited one male model to Highbury as I was playing it very safe. I knew others would come to draw anyway and they would have a chance later in the session to pose, but I wanted to be extra picky at this stage, for this event. I won’t explain who he is or why I chose him here, as that might compromise his privacy, as with other models. But he stood out in a few ways, and I knew he wouldn’t come otherwise. My main objective might be to offer the Spirited Bodies experience to people who would otherwise not find it, and who may gain the most, as well as contributing most meaningfully to the ensuing dialogue and others’ experience.

One artist mentioned that he was amazed to hear how the interviewees expressed such hatred towards their own bodies, and that it made him realise there were likely a lot of people going round with those negative thoughts in their heads. Tragic. It was news to him (he’d been brought by a friend) that the model might be experiencing therapy whilst modelling. He wondered if all models gained in this way. I explained that for most regular models, after a while one is relatively free of body hang-ups, but that modelling may continue to offer valuable insights due to its meditative energy sharing nature, even for the seasoned model, and that’s part of what can keep its appeal. Another artist who tried the posing stated that modelling raised his energy in a trance-like way, took him to a higher place. I totally agree.

I am aware of a block I might have towards applying for funding. I guess that (funding) has never been a reason for doing the project, as my drive is born more directly of passion, a need to create and to share. I mean, funding might be great, but I would not wait for it. When I need to make Spirited Bodies or a piece of theatre happen, I just do it. I loathe the idea of fitting my plans into boxes for others to judge if my intentions and methods fit with their criteria. On the other hand, at some point I may cross that threshold as I know this is worthy of funding. It just has to happen before I get the itch to be doing the event, because then I have no time for forms.

On Friday evening there were 8 interviews, including one from an artist. There was going to be music too, but due to a technical hitch early on we only got the sound started a bit later, so no extra time available. At least 5 of the artists tried the posing. Mum received a round of applause after her interview! Revealing her identity is a little controversial as she is shy about people she knows knowing that she modelled nude. But I have this feeling it’s like worrying that someone from work will see you at a fetish club. If they are there too, surely you’re in it together? Moreover Mum’s voice is too powerful and my connection to her too strong for me to present this less personally. A middle-aged woman with advanced MS who is paralysed from the neck down poses and tells you about how in her dreams she is in her 20s and can walk, but in waking life she requires anti-depressants in order to feel ok about everything. She would hate it if the people on her street knew about the modelling (but some of them do as she’s proud enough to have some of the pictures from her previous sessions up in the kitchen). Her voice is slow, and would be quiet without volume control. Normally it’s lucky if one person can hear her, let alone an audience. She tells it like it is, and she almost has nothing to lose. Women in the audience who may be too worried about the size of their behind to pose, or think they have a big nose, rethink their concerns when they hear what Mum has to contend with. It puts everything into perspective to have an elder (63, but in a condition more like a 90 year old) like that. She hadn’t thought she could be a role model, but it dawns on her during the interview. By the end we are all extremely grateful to be able to move independently, to pick up a piece of charcoal or remove our own clothes unassisted. Life takes on new meaning.

model Liliana

 

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All pictures taken from the event. There were many more good ones I missed, but hadn’t got that far in my planning. All the same, brilliant memories.

The Warmth of Women

I am so glad we decided to make a workshop at Sh! This is a special environment where women may explore their sexuality in a totally welcoming space. It is much more than a specialist sex shop; it has an ethos to reach women where they have not been touched before! It is an intimate space downstairs where we created Spirited Bodies magic within this new setting. Surrounded by dildos, vibrators, whips, paddles and lubricants we eased into poses on the pink oval couch that had a fetish feel. One of our artists was very comfortable directing poses due to her frequenting of fetish clubs; I took full advantage. Not that I am shy, but when you can see someone flowing with inspiration for ideal use of props and the angle of each limb, it is a gift for all to let that unfold. Thelma and I just tweaked some of these poses according to our knowledge of modelling, and making allowances for the newness of these models who want to try a novel experience more in some cases than have a realistic experience of life modelling.

Here are some pictures from this unusual workshop which hopefully we will try some time again.

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I initiated proceedings with a 6 minute pose; the average pose was 5 minutes

I initiated proceedings with a 6 minute pose; the average pose was 5 minutes

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I made suggestions to models about levels and relative openness or closedness of the body, as well as direction of limbs, and as well they found their own postures to fit with the other model’s shape.

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dynamic and fun

dynamic and fun

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These fabulous felt-tip pen line drawings are by Lily Lemaire

These cartoonesque felt-tip pen line drawings are by Lily Lemaire

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Most participants came primarily to try modelling, and a couple preferred drawing, but they too had a go at posing. They said that it helped them understand the models’ point of view.

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Collection of underwear models, or a ridiculous all girl band as one of them observed!

Collection of underwear models, or a ridiculous all girl band as one of them observed!

Colourful finale pose

Colourful finale pose

Artist Khadijah likes to use oil pastels I believe

Artist Khadijah likes to use oil pastels I believe, bringing out tone more than line

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a pink feather boa connected the models

a pink feather boa connected the models

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The costumed model presents different considerations for the artist; clothes draw attention to other features and shapes which the nude does not.

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A light touch; it is so warming when participants get into the spirit of friendly posing with each other they have not met before

A light touch; it is so warming when participants get into the spirit of friendly posing with each other they have not met before

I thought afterwards, coming into this shop for a class, these women would not be likely to be phased!

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Pleasing parallel lines and angles

Pleasing parallel lines and angles

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While life or clothed modelling is not necessarily sexy, it can be. Above all we want to promote women being comfortable and confident in their bodies – sexually and otherwise. Often being at ease with one’s form may enhance sexual confidence, in a truthful way that is not about doing what is expected of us, or what we think we ought to do, but by being ready to sense our own desire and act on it appropriately. Being able to appreciate ourselves allows us to appreciate others more, and be appreciated by others. While the body can be a very sacred place, we easily become disconnected from it in our mentally driven lives. But if we take time to tune into what is going on inside, and learn to move our bodies however we can to enjoy them, we begin to intuit more the language of the body.

As I move from pose to pose, especially but not exclusively the quick (and movement) ones, there is hardly any time in between poses when I am working, to recover the body to its natural equilibrium, to eliminate aches and cramps. My body tells me which limbs to work as I form a new shape; more than the alternation of muscle groups (though that is part of it) its language is subtle and beyond logical. It knows I am performing a sequence, that there is a climax mid-flow of muscular tension when I will pass through a pain barrier and I will surpass artists’ expectations of what I can hold. I push myself because I am like a gymnast aiming for gold, I take my modelling seriously because I love it. It is my gym, my yoga and sometimes my dance. It strengthens my core and warms my very being. It takes me to places of trance, of deep joy and wild amusement I cannot possibly describe to you because it is so in the moment, the way it lights my smile challenging the artists to catch it! Sometimes it is tantra too and it turns me on, and if I were a man I would have to master myself quite heroically not to offend people and risk not being booked and getting a tarnished name. As a woman I can hide it if I want though sometimes my sexuality is discerned – naturally I am being closely observed, and enjoying it. That is even turning me on too; part of a pleasure loop of enjoying myself, being enjoyed by others. But it is not deemed offensive; though it affects me physically this is subtle compared with a man. Instead I am likely to wear a translucent glow and my pheromones reach the artists subliminally (or not). I am sometimes booked because I am sexy, though not in an obvious way, because that is not my style. I mean, it is pleasing to artists consciously or otherwise that I am in tune with my sexuality and I know how to handle it. It makes me confident and that is attractive. It is about my physicality and my nature. I know that life modelling has enhanced this for me. It was always there, a big part of me, being very sexy; but after becoming closeted a few years for social and personal reasons, the liberation afforded by life modelling was strong and so welcome. Now I share that as best I can with others.

Working so closely with my body and my beauty daily, I am acutely in touch with my cycle. I bring different energies at different times to modelling, from the highly charged and emotional, to the light and easy going, to the blatantly desiring, and commanding. Through meditation with energy work (visualising the flow and store of energy within the body) I aim to master better the hormonal drives in me. I have become so aware of my enslavement to a feminine cycle of emotions and desires, that I look to overcome this through deeper analysis, to channel all that powerful energy to put it to best use. Not to move beyond sex, but rather reach a higher source of sexual power, which is ultimately more feminine, unbound by time or undue strain.

I will add that there are many different types of life model and I am just one. Our individuality is the beauty of our game.

One of the women who participated on Thursday evening wrote to us the next morning;

“Thank you for a wonderful evening last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the modelling and the theme was right up my street 🙂 I am absolutely interested in modelling again in the future, I think my preference would be all women groups at least for the first few sessions since I am a newbie! I am not so keen on the drawing side as my skills in drawing are so inadequate!”

Thelma responded, “Thank you 🙂 It was an absolute pleasure and to see you ‘warming up’ to the experience. That is why I like SB – there is an indescribable feeling of fluidity, freedom and togetherness – spirited bodies, like minded embracing ‘the nude’, our nude in a practical, loving, flowing into unconscious way – if that makes sense! I fully understand about the drawing side – when I draw I try and do a ‘small bit’ or part of the pose or just try and get the positions to practice perspective.”

Finally the young woman wrote, “I am exploring and learning so much about myself and the world through my body and its empowering and  incredibly freeing. I have always been very comfortable with my body, but unfortunately have been surrounded by a lot of people who aren’t! That can really limit who you are when trying to be sensitive to other people’s hang ups.

I am delighted to have been in the space of women who love and appreciate their bodies as they are :)”

Beautiful

Shadows & Light; photograms, rope bondage and mentoring girls

Yesterday I was asked to mentor teenage girls about body image in a pod on the London Eye on International Day of the Girl (October 11th which is also my Mother’s birthday). Today I told teenage girls who were continually whispering in the 6th form class I was modelling for, to shut up. I could not discern their words but there was a constant low level conversation in their huddle, and when I was looking their way I was not imagining the cheeky ‘OMG she’s looking at us’ looks directed at me. 3 poses into this nonsense I thought of saying something. I had a few ideas in my head but knew that whetever came out would be more effective unrehearsed. It needed to come from my heart in the moment. As I changed pose I glanced their way decrying “It would be better if you shut up.” Then realising that might have sounded unduly strong – I am more than twice their age and also about 10 years older than the teacher, I added, “I mean I can hear that you are whispering, and it IS off-putting.” I was calm and I’d said what I needed to say, what a relief! I automatically assumed the next pose facing another direction (I was in the round) and where I had been counting 300 seconds (5 minutes) for each pose in my head, I now just let time be. I felt myself turn a little pink at the surprise of my outspokenness, crossing an unspoken line in terms of my position in relation to the teacher (who was turned away at a computer on the other side of the room) and the class, then returned to my usual shade and gathered a growing smile on my chops. I had taken control just for a minute and the dynamic of the class had shifted. Now there was silence; and a sense of it being possible for anything to happen now. No one knew what would happen next. Well of course it was pretty straight forward; tension had been released and I had more smiles than before. Reminded of the time I told patrons at The National Theatre who were rude to me when trying to buy a programme from me (I worked front of house), to fuck off, got a warning from the manager, left early and had a fantastic evening at an art event I would otherwise have missed, I remembered that sometimes my anger pushes me forward. It’s good to cross lines to maintain strength, make a point. It’s worth risking your poorly paid job to stand up for truth and self-expression, being real and not waiting for someone else to champion your cause.

I will add here that the tutor here had been very supportive and given me such a fantastic introduction to the class as she raved about Spirited Bodies. I certainly felt welcomed (my first time there) and trusted, and in good hands. Dealing with the pair of girls was an isolated, individual case and everything else was fine. I even got a round of applaus at the end of the session; I wonder if I will be booked again.

On the same day that I received an email asking me to mentor teenage girls on the London Eye, earlier in the morning I had been going through old papers and found this section of diary from a few years ago that drew my attention: –

“It’s such a shame I think, that I haven’t known really, what I want to do, since those crucial years as a teenager. It’s as if someone took all the aspirations I had been having, and said, ‘Whoa! You’re not going anywhere with those! Forget that shit, and get some real experience…’

And I bought it, and all the little packets of speed I could get my hands on.

I look back and sometimes wish better guidance had been available to me. There was a sense from within me that I really wanted to go off the rails, to shock, lose control, and completely change from the girl I’d been. Any obviously sensible advice would have been most likely unheeded. It would have taken a very special person to penetrate my closed-in, bent-on-being-fucked-up world. Someone who’d been through something similar, but already come out the other end.

And I could have done with someone being really tough on me, hardline about certain issues, to give me a sense of discipline, and where it was that I was Really fucking up. But for me to accept that, that woman would have to have known what she was talking about. And be kind. I needed all that…….

A little gentle guidance would have been so good. Like, ‘Yeah try those needles, undeniably fun that injecting… but don’t let it take over! And don’t lose sight of artistic interests and your education…..’

She would have told me which things I was doing to make money that really fuck with your head; to live on less, and not worry about pleasing men who expect you to look, act and fuck a certain way….

I hear her voice, ‘Keep reading, watching, alert for what’s going on out there. It’s easy to get lost in that enclosed world, but there’s so much more going on which will be much more important later. Be informed and find your creative path.’

Nothing like learning the hard way.”

It’s a funny idea I have of some sassy role model having words with my troubled youth. Not realistic. The whole point is that you have to find out on your own. Anyway; where would all the fun be if someone had told me what not to do? Events become stories you remember for years after because at the actual time of them happening, you really didn’t have a clue what was going on. Yet I do recall yearning at particular moments of apparent darkness for some female guidance.

Here are pictures from a photogram session which involves holding bizarre poses in a dark room on giant photographic paper whilst coloured lights are flashed from above.

27_20130801-crop-esther-bunting1326 I had to get used to working in the dark with artist Andrew Chisholm which I found very meditative. It was like a ritual, each of my movements in coordination with his procedure and that of a technical assistant, giving each other signals that a phase was complete so the next could begin.

27_20130801-crop-esther-bunting1327Extremely light sensitive paper had to be wrapped and unwrapped in darkness, deposited in a giant processing machine. It was quite amazing and magical as we waited for the result to see if how we had planned the image had transpired.

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This was a novel way to engage in nude art and could appeal to those preferring total anonymity, though I am not sure a shadow is necessarily that. It is a fairly expensive procedure but if you are interested contact Andrew. Some of his photograms will be in an exhibition starting this Friday at Candid Arts in Angel, London.

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Yesterday I was grateful for a more spiritual experience when modelling. This was for a friend Jon who organises the annual Festival of the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage. Dressed in a partly transparent kimono I allowed Jon (Nawashi Murakawa) to tie the intricate knots around me and suspend me from bamboo sticks hanging from the ceiling. An eerie haunting Japanese music accompanied together with Vera Bremerton doing live vocals. The stage was set up in Japanese decoration; a painted backdrop and various paraphernalia; sticks, cloths, hats and the twiney ropes. First I watched Jon arrange Maya into poses as she submitted, I could see she was in trance and so it was after for me. The atmosphere here was very supportive of my whole being, the room full of enthusiasts, people doing knotting themselves at the other end. I felt the love and gave Jon my trust. I experienced how this art allows the model to express sexuality without being overtly sexual. Parts of me were exposed at times which may have been more erotic for me being partially covered. But I was just hanging there, contorted in ways I could not normally manage. There was pain, tingles and numbness but I am used to that. I gave in to the new variation of sensations, the rope digging in cutting off different parts of me in isolation, and enjoyed performing to a drawing audience.

I wore a hat with ears first

I wore a hat with ears first

by Brett who added remembered text

by Brett who added remembered text

by Jon, after he had suspended me

by Jon, after he had suspended me

On October 11th Thelma and I will be spinning slowly in The London Eye around breakfast time with women role models from a variety of backgrounds including ‘policewomen, artists, lawyers, conductors, painters and decorators, athletes and business women.’ We will be speed-mentoring teenage girls about body image and related matters, this is organised by Southbank Centre, Women of the World (WOW) of which we were a part this year and have attended every year since it began (2011).