Stone Circle Solstice

stone-circles-01

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.

stone-circles-02

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.

stone-circles-03astone-circles-04

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.

stone-circles-08stone-circles-15stone-circles-16stone-circles-17stone-circles-18

 

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.

stone-circles-11stone-circles-27stone-circles-28

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

stone-circles-39

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.

stone-circles-40stone-circles-41

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.

stone-circles-42

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.

stone-circles-44stone-circles-43

Oreet Ashery’s ‘Party For Freedom’ ~ nude art performance

film still

film still

I went to a show that was billed as containing full nudity and sexual content, it was at The Asylum in Peckham. An old stone chapel of a mental hospital creates excellent atmosphere with evening sun pouring through high windows. Audience could sit on scattered seats, benches or rugs and were told the action would move, so they could too. Beer and mojitos flowed from a mobile bar.

Once settled the party began. A crew of white clad folk (three men and four women) strode in distributing props, assembling apparatus. Some of the clan wore a grey uniform instead. It was not long before one by one they started to undress, apart from one of their number. Clothes were neatly folded and hidden or bestowed upon audience members to look after. A camera was passed around the audience and we were told it was the only means by which we could photograph the event.

Film and narrative, prepared by Oreet Ashery, were apparently loosely based on Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1918 play Mystery-Bouffe, and explore performances of liberation and political nakedness. It responds to the changing landscape of Dutch politics following the assassinations of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn in 2001 and film director Theo van Gogh in 2004, and the ensuing popularity of Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician and leader of the far-right Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom).

Pieces of film rolled on a screen. Naturists frolicking outdoors on a trampoline and other oddities accompanied by audio description of government position on nudity in different countries, how it is treated in the law etc from what sounded like archive recordings, BBC kind of voice. It was not always easy to hear the narrative and the images were quite a roughly edited assemblage of old clips and actions filmed specifically for the show. They added to the atmosphere though and gave an effective backdrop to the semi-improvised feel of the performances.

The performers (most of whom were graduates of performance theatre courses and had been assembled for this show) randomly paired or grouped to move and make noises together. Each body was of course different, though all fit, young, toned; what you might expect of dancers. I imagined them all living together in a commune, but it was just the effect of rehearsing intensely, intimately. It was surreal, the nudity and not knowing what would come next intoxicating. I waited for the sexual, was turned on by women doing press ups nude, and the closest they got was a couple writhing albeit in a contact movement kind of way. Nevertheless I found the whole show a turn on as it pushed a boundary of what we are used to, and in a most sincere and simultaneously bonkers way! The performers moved gracefully, with a confident physicality, each quite unique apart from the others, and all as a group. They occupied a dinghy in the middle of the space, tumbling over each other in a mixture of control and abandon. We didn’t know what to expect when they heralded us onlookers to undress too, but a few of us went with it. A commentator with a megaphone informed us by the second which items of clothing were being removed around the room. Hilarity! Shoes were thrown to the centre of the space, and the first member of the audience stripped was applauded! We wondered if more interactivity was on the cards, it felt as if anything could happen, and that was the magic!

daygloface_0

As for how the show explores currencies of perceived threats to Western freedom… I had to think about this. The nudity with movement and dancing was not Western in style, more Dada than Gaga. But the openness of the performers which would be forbidden in some other cultures, is possible in our society. Are we collectively afraid of getting nekkid? Does the idea actually really excite us? If we lost our right to nudity, how much would we lose? Looking into the political backdrop of the happening, it is about artists and politicians taken against Islam, speaking openly about it, in Theo Van Gogh’s case making a film criticising Islam’s treatment of women. Assassinations ensued. So this fear, of loss of freedom led to a racist mentality.

Further performances are planned over the coming weeks at venues to be decided. After the show the audience mingled with the performers and the director and there was a great sense of mutual experience. It made me want to get out there performing on a stage with movement and in the company of others…

About Party For Freedom – including a link to further performances

Nude modelling giving women confidence ~ my talk with Women on Fire

On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.

I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.

I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance.  There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.

I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.

This is a women only event.

About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”

Women on Fire founder Judith Seelig is a shaman and change maker. She will be talking about women letting go of judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.

To book tickets for this free event, register here; it takes place at Kings College London, from 7 – 9pm.

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!

Related articles:

Feminine Transmission

Fire Power

‘The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’ reviewed by a male life model, and Esther

I’m a big fan of performance art. Truth be told much of it is dull, some of it is interesting and a few performances are inspirational. The main thing is that it is never predictable. It usually involves a degree of exceptional self exposure by the artist/performer – either physically or emotionally. It requires an open mind to enjoy it and it pays to be non-judgemental. Nudity has become an important part of performance art with a lot of artists using the human body to make a statement or using it as a canvas for their performance.

Esther and I went to see the “Famous Lauren Barri Holstein” performance at the Barbican Silk St Theatre on 4th April.

As life models we were intrigued by the prospect of her physical performance.

The fact that she uses the word “Famous” in her title perhaps tells you something about Lauren’s persona. Shy and retiring, no. Enjoys attention, yes.

I’d seen some of her work on Vimeo and thought it was going to be exciting and worth watching so there we were…

The performance consisted of four or five set pieces, rather like a cabaret with song and dance a key element.

The style of her performance is dead pan but also crazy. Standing in her underwear with a knife held at her crotch slicing small balloons with red paint exploding from them, hanging upside down from the ceiling while singing, fairy tales with orgies, wandering around the stage dressed as a naked deer, and inserting dildos into her vagina. Ballads and dance music performed naked in a trapeze – it was all there. Near the end she was joined by a group of twenty or so dancers, in various states of undress for a group dance culminating in a vast number of toilet rolls being thrown onto the stage while Lauren was dragged sideways across the stage – you have to see it for it to make sense ! The whole performance was a feast for the eyes. The packed house clearly enjoyed it.

The message seemed to be part self-expression – “I am a woman and proud of my body” while also exploring the surreal and crazy elements of human life. It was enjoyable to see a woman explore her creativity so indulgently and clearly having no inhibitions….

As a life model it made me think that our passive role is rather tame and how nice it would be to be involved in performance where nudity is integral to the performance, not gratuitous but striking nonetheless. The unpredictable nature of the performance was also refreshing – compared to the formula of the life drawing class – five short poses and then a long pose etc. Imagine a female life model posing with a dildo … or a male with an erection…. That would be a change … may not be on the cards but it is good to see radical performance art alive and well on the London stage.

Esther says:

I liked the way she was simultaneously sending up porn, reclaiming a porn aesthetic, funny, thought provoking, very confident physically and performatively, and sexy. She was also kind of ground breaking for the context of her piece in a mainstream establishment. Beautiful and moving, the cheesy power ballads (Leona Lewis’ Happy was one) worked in this show.

Her vagina was explicit, and she controlled what went in and came out of it, in this case fake blood, dildos, plus she urinated on the stage and on a fellow performer (apparently one of her set pieces I gleaned from her interview on Woman’s Hour). The show was messy though well tidied up as it went along, by all her helpers. That was one of the points, that real life is blood, piss, cum etc; it’s time to give up being so precious perhaps. This show made us so aware how we all hold back so much of the time from expressing our truest selves, because of fear and society. Blessedly Lauren does not hold back and this makes for outstanding and truly inspiring theatre. We see her having so much fun whilst working really hard (pushed to her physical limits) with friends (my assumption of her fellow performers) close to her. She is having her cake and eating it.

Naturally there is a strong feminist element to this show and Lauren’s work in general. In the blurb it states that she has been doing ‘vagina based work since 2009’. One of the skits involved a bikini clad babe practising dying theatrically. She was instructed to do it in various styles; like Rhianna with her violent ex, in the zoo, sexier and more exaggerated. Each time the death throes became more like sexually explicit movements and thrusts.

When spurting fake blood from her vagina, Lauren aimed in the mouth of the same bikini’d woman who was on the floor, then kissed it off her. Throughout such sequences Lauren peppers them with ad hoc deadpan remarks like, “Oh no we ran out of ballons” to break the mood, followed by ordering about her minions, kind of sending up the diva mentality and showing female power in quite a bitchy way. She made us laugh as she rained rude and dismissive remarks on her tribe, but we knew it was in jest.

To balance the more extreme visual antics, she also did a beautiful solo ballet routine, with point work. It took me a while to realise it was the same performer as the Lauren covered in blood, wearing an animal head, dangling from a rope naked and opening her vagina for us!

On the body image front, the troop of dancers for the finale were all shapes and sizes, though generally young. They appeared from nowhere, some nude, others with a pair of pants etc, what a joy to behold.

all images of Lauren Barri Holstein found on the internet

all images of Lauren Barri Holstein found on the internet

red shoes are a motif

red shoes are a motif

fake gore

fake gore

beside the cauldron of tomatoes - tomatoes came to symbolise vaginas in the show, and were casually expendable as she sliced and threw them one by one into the pot

beside the cauldron of tomatoes – tomatoes came to symbolise vaginas in the show, and were casually expendable as she sliced and threw them one by one into the pot

Appreciating Life Art when you are Undressed

This evening was a little chilly in the Daniel Libeskind Space on Holloway Road, but at least we could move as we perused some outstanding art works of the figurative variety. It was a ‘Clothing Optional’ event and most of the guests obliged as did some though not all of the artists. It was the first time this group known as Guerilla Galleries had put on such an event and no doubt it will be a learning curve. I know myself how tricky photography can be with a group of nude people – how do you take shots that everyone feels good about for one thing? Someone’s bum is bound to look too big and other parts sag ungainly and no matter how much you tell them it doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t wash. Photography is so easy today and potentially in the hands of a ludicrous number of creeps. The organisers received several complaints from those unkeen to be snapped willy nilly, myself being one of them. I don’t have a problem appearing nude on the internet. That however is different to being shot at quite surreptitiously when one is unaware. This is called rude, and technology is in the hands of plenty people who need to be taught manners! I am feeling a little matronly all of a sudden and feel quite sure that if such an event is repeated, hosts would do well to employ the presence of a few dominatrixes with the task of dealing with the too happy snappers.

I would like to show you images of art work from the event, however I will have to wait for them to be sent to me by organisers. I was really enjoying catching up with Spirited Bodies friends from several of our events and workshops as well as meeting new SBs to be, and the presence of unwanted camera work did put me off using my own even for innocent use. Plus there was after all a house photographer with far better equipment than I, so hopefully images will be shared and made public in due course.

I did download these from Facebook from 2 particularly Spirited artists’ Facebook pages – Pilar Camino Alcon has a lovely website too, and Eliza Freespirit was having lots of plasticeine fun.

By Pilar Camino Alcon

By Pilar Camino Alcon

Colourful little people by Eliza Freespirit as exhibited in the 100% Nude exhibition

Colourful little people by Eliza Freespirit as exhibited in the 100% Nude exhibition

Little Spirited figures larging it by Faerie light

Little Spirited figures larging it by Faerie light

704120_290462767742160_533286697_o

Going underground

Going underground

Very joyful overall so despite the technical drawback I hope they/we continue with events like these, and just keep learning. It was of course indicative of the overall picture in our society of too many creeps outnumbering comfortable and happy women. There was a gender bias in this scenario unsurprisingly, which is reflected too in the number of applications we receive from men, and women. We may alter our tactic to counter this, and be forced to make men jump through more hoops in order to have the privilege of spending time in the nude company of some of our female Spirited Bodies. I think some of the more body anxious women out there might feel safer and more relaxed to know that our event caters to them so impeccably. That men have shown their dedication to our cause and proven their worth and integrity. That men must compete for the honour of gracing the picture they complete. I think about the feminist fetish club, Pedestal (my description) and how the women who run that keep House slaves to see to female guests’ needs and desires. That those men profess a deep love for the Feminine, that they indeed worship Women as Goddesses. That has a pleasant ring to it. I will keep going back to the Women!