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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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

Taking the Men out of Menstruation; Return to Women Only at WOW

When I bleed the artists Love me more.

They sense my edge more clearly and it pleases them in their aim to capture me, define me. Even if the power of the Mystery is actually stronger, their overall grasp of my Being is deeper, more profound at that time, because I radiate so vibrantly.

Other times perhaps I’m a bit blurry, but day 1 of my cycle, I’m as crisp as an iceberg, as hot as a volcano, and I melt and pour all over their page. During Menstruation, the artists compliment me more, rebook me more, and generally become more fascinated with me. I have observed this over 8 years of primarily making a living from being a life model.

Sometimes I can smell myself, maybe a little blood has rubbed onto my thigh. Can they smell me too? I’ve heard of artists taking offence at male models getting hard or just dribbling! But female models bleeding; I think they are simply grateful I turn up at all. Lots of female models won’t pose at that time, but I do and I know I excel then. I don’t care if my mooncup overflows and artists get a sight of my rich blood flowing down my leg. In fact I like that they see the whole deal uncovered. It doesn’t happen often as to pose without mooncup or tampon would be extreme, blood necessarily instantly gushing. Only a very feminist life drawing group might go for that, but I haven’t found such yet. To be honest, I haven’t asked. This post my first overt foray into the grit of menstrual posing.

I love my periods and decided to celebrate them with my girlfriends in a red tent group every new moon. The female body and our connection to the natural world and the universe is incredible. I hardly get PMT; at worst it tells me what I need to remove from my life. At best it makes me a lot more badass. Sometimes I want a lot more Me time. I’m less malleable.

I used to experience it more painfully when I was younger, in my early 20s, but I think becoming a life model improved my relationship with my body. I can use the poses like yoga to stretch parts of me that need releasing, sending endorphins on a regular route round my nervous system keeping me in check.

Every day I go to work is a celebration of my body.

Also over the years I have attracted partners who respond more positvely on all levels to my form; less jealousy, greater acceptance and gratitude. Naturally this is a mirror of myself.

PMT may be very individual, but I think many of us can work through it, unblocking its potentially negative hold on us. I believe that it is a cultural construct (and very powerful at that), but it can be undone. That involves unlocking the burdens that have been placed on us by others and ourselves, and figuring out what we actually want for ourselves. In some cultures and in some cases, that may be nigh impossible, but here in the post-Industrial West where the traditional family unit long disintegrated for many of us, reconsidering the life of womankind must assume prominence. We are ripe for it.

Men & Spirited Bodies

Some men are sneaky fuckers. They know how to behave in front of me so I’ll think they are kosher. Then they act like a dick with the female models. They don’t realise some of the women are my friends, so I know all about their idiot tricks.

I’m left with a choice.

a) Don’t bother with men any more.

b) Only invite men to model who I really know and trust. (Male artists very rarely a problem).

c) Get funding as dealing with idiot men is very consuming and one ought to be paid to bother. It would be a great shame to miss all the lovely men out there who may benefit and not cause any problems. But dealing with men in this game involves many idiots.

d) Make the issue clearer at events with announcements at the start outlining the rules.

What can happen when the wrong men pose at Spirited Bodies

Staying still in close proximity to several nude (desirable) women – they get carried away in male fantasy of what this long awaited opportunity means. They have been conditioned to think that because these women are happily naked with them, they may be sexually available. Perhaps they have never been naked with a woman before, never had sex or a girlfriend. There’s a lot of potential issues rumbling around the studio. Not just about the body, not just about sex, but concerning the entire Patriarchal corruption of the male/female relationship.

One more thing about the Blood

That bit at the end of the period or the beginning or even somewhere in the middle on an unpredictable one – where there’s not enough blood to warrant an insertion (tampon/mooncup). Fuck it. I’m just going to bleed a little, smell a tad, because that for me is going with the flow.

Spirited Bodies at Southbank

On Saturday 7th March we return to the Women of the World festival at Southbank Centre. We will be in the Blue Room on the Spirit (ground) Level, from 5 – 7pm. This is a Women only event, for women wanting to model, draw or witness. Interviews with some of the women modelling will be played while they pose (sound recording). Get in touch (info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com) if you would like to book a place to model, draw, or even be interviewed. Limited places. If you get a day pass or a weekend ticket to the festival you can also come. There will be guidance on how to pose if you are new, and this is a very supportive environment if you are nervous. If I have time I will schedule a smaller workshop for women a week or so before the event to warm up for it.

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These pictures are of myself and Hope Deeney posing at Toynbee Art Club, December 2014

A Christmas Workshop in Highgate

I thought for Christmas, a light hearted, fun event, more like the workshops we used to run, and without the intensity of the interviews. Creating amusing scenes with a group of models, so that with the focus on some abstract drama, there is a distraction from the possible discomfort of being nude. A bit of wine and some music to ease the flow, and we will be transported from a community centre to a Winter scene from popular fiction or a fairy tale. Also a return to the workshop format, where each participant has a chance I hope to try modelling and drawing, if that balances with the numbers. There is always space for those who only wish to draw, and for women who only wish to model; for men to model or do both however may be more over-subscribed is usually the case.

In the Autumn I reconnected with Camilla Scaramanga who runs life drawing classes at Holly Lodge community centre in Highgate, and after a chat she was keen to collaborate. I saw the centre as an ideal workshop venue for the upcoming season. She liked the ethos of Spirited Bodies, and shares a feminist disposition, but agreed that a mixed event would be most fortuitous now, to introduce the idea to the area and her group.

I have some personal history with Holly Lodge estate where the community centre is – in the next road down, my Mother grew up when she moved to London in 1963. I visited the place often where my Grandmother resided for many years until she died when I was 14. Her flat was the first place where I came across life art; she herself was an artist who sometimes drew, embroidered and sewed nude women in her art. Her walls were decorated with female nudes by various artists and I did not quite understand her appreciation as a girl. I preferred her more abstract pieces, or those featuring animals as was more fitting with my socialisation, which little did I know included some inhibition about the naked body.

My Grandmother was apparently more relaxed, and looking back I realise she was a greater influence than I ever had the chance to fully acknowledge during her life. She embodied a woman who lived for herself as well as for her family. Her life spanned several careers and different socio-economic climates as well as 3 different husbands. She always married for love, and husband number 2 was a communist American. The plan to migrate to his home in Seattle was thwarted by the US government’s House of Unamerican Activities Committee, so they tried in vane to settle in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria… and finally grew tired of being tracked down and blocked by the FBI. They found sanctuary in East Berlin where they remained for the rest of their marriage and the formative years of their daughters. My Grandmother – Mary Wolfard, worked for the communist party at various stages in the early years, became a journalist while they lived in Europe, notably though sadly lacking evidence she interviewed Picasso on a beach in Spain, worked in radio in East Berlin; and when none of her socialist credentials were recognised when she moved back to London, she decided to become an artist. I have often wished she might have lived a few more years, as an adult I have so much to ask her! I unfortunately don’t have any photographs of her work, though plenty of it is on the walls of my parents’ home. I have a few pieces at my home also, but just now I am away in France modelling for a month in the Loire valley so unable to provide images. This however has reminded me that some record ought to be made.

I haven’t been to Holly Lodge estate at Christmas time in 23 years. I very much look forward to returning.

For more details please see the Events page, and for inquiries relating to Women, please see here.

 

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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