The Sant’Erasmo Blood Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the film!

With thanks to Steve.

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Return to the Womb of Winter Hibernation before Rising for Justice

I was grateful for a good year, and ready for a rest. The rest came early when complications arose with the final event so it was cancelled. During the two weeks preceding my holiday in Spain I raised my voice to artists drawing me on two separate occasions. The holiday was well overdue! It was the continual objectliness of the role of life model, being referred to not as a person, but as their (the artists’) object, so that they could get their picture how they wanted it. I cannot remain passive, and at this point in the term, my level of politeness was challenged also. The part of me that has missed making theatre rose up spying an opportunity for a natural drama. My voice shifted to histrionic tones, without quite shouting I did project! I let them know I am much more than an object and they ought to honour my presence, for without me, they would not have a model. They may have many other models, but right here and now, they have me, with the shape and form that I am. If I need to alter the pose because I have damaged my shoulder in the position it was in (whilst doing the pose), then that is what I will do. No questions. And if I know which poses my body can make on a Monday evening at the end of a term when I have been modelling almost every day, and I am a professional model and have been for 7 years, then I know. Not them, however long they have been drawing for, does not make them master of my body ever. They may have trained in the ’50s or ’60s when the model really was often regarded as little more than an object – and when I say model, you can place ‘woman’ in that sentence in most contexts, especially for the type of antiquated artist I refer to – but we are now in the 21st Century. Get with it. Or get lost I say, because I will not tolerate this.

I returned to Barcelona where I had lived briefly 10 years ago, only this time my home was 5 minutes from the sea. Each morning I walked to the beach, and most days the sun shone very bright, the sky brilliantly blue even if the temperature fairly cool. I did not have internet and barely used my phone. I noticed the quality of my sleep improve, as well as my breathing. I kept a journal – hand written – meticulously. I unpicked thoughts over and over, and lingered on memories of my old self bumbling around the city a decade ago in a cloud of hashish smoke. Nice to feel the changes. It felt like a pilgrimage as I revisited favourite spots, and remembered the particular state of play in 2003. My sister visiting me, spending time with my classmates which helped to prep her for the audition to drama school. She got in, and we spent a year living together while we studied at the same college, reconnecting since I had left home. The massive anti-war demonstration which was the biggest of its kind around the world, must have been all the more satisfying for the leaders who ignored it to feel their supreme power. I had gone with my flatmates all day in the packed streets of the centre, then watched the next day as scenes from every city everywhere doing the same thing were shown on television. You can raise a massive outcry like that and know that you are all doing it, feeling it, but you cannot sway the powers that be, the way things are. Stupid white men Bush, Blair and Aznar were the butt of our jokes but who had the last laugh? Well war one place or another continues. To rise above that we have some way to go.

This holiday felt like the greatest gift, and it came via a friend who offered me a room in her tranquil apartment. I knew I never wanted to return to the way Spirited Bodies had been, but at some point I would take the best of what it had been and develop that. It felt like SB had drifted too far from its core. I had let other people’s wishes take over, and now I was pulling my baby back. I longed to reignite my creativity apart from this direction too, so that drive will be honoured from now on.

I came in touch with a female shaman (shamanka) at the beginning of 2014 and with her transcendental insight she had strong advice for me (she gave me a good telling off!) Not to let others take over ever again. Keep nursing this child of mine as it is a calling and to be given the utmost care. I didn’t skip school, waste my youth in mindless chemical abuse, sell my body and give up all pretensions of wanting a ‘normal’ life, mortgage, academic success and 2.4 children to let people who had some of these things take over. Moreover my grand parents and great grand parents did not give up promising careers in the West to live and work underground in the impoverished East or start the South African communist party, in order that their bloodline would give up the fight for justice. Because when you have made big decisions about your future that mark you forever like an alien, you have the power to change things, but only if you use it. It is a unique and divine power and it comes from the passion of youth. You never knew as well as you did when you were 16, 18 pounding the beats on the dancefloor what was wrong with the world, and also what felt right.

It would be vital for me to nurture my own sacred masculine who had gotten lost amidst my celebration of the feminine. That would help me to avoid leaning on others or being led by them. The shamanka pointed out my inappropriate openness left me vulnerable to others hoping to make money, further a career or even meet women through SB, which ultimately was at my expense, undermining my efforts. The good news is, I feel in such a place now, that there is no turning back; I exhausted other pathways. I am left figuring out the direction for myself and have faith in the perfect unfolding of this beautiful phenomenon, with a bit more experience behind me. In the beginning there were so many questions that I was grappling with – whether to have men model with women, whether to make events more theatrical, whether to organise every element of an event myself or combine with organisations of artists, whether to target ‘vulnerable’ women or to create a financially viable operation aimed at wealthier women, whether to stay attuned to the shamanistic 5 Rhythms community or go more political with the women at Southbank, whether to include professional models or create a franchise. I know a lot more now where my heart wants to go with this, and experience has taught me much about what keeps the essence pure.

I aim to bring Spirited Bodies to the Southbank Centre on Sunday March 9th as part of Women of the World festival, late in the afternoon. This will be more of an installation rather than last year’s presentation. It will be a women only space, where women who have modelled with us before will lead the way, before newcomers are welcome to give modelling a try as well. I will invite the experienced women to read out testimonies from women who may prefer not to tell their own story or cannot be there, though live accounts of the transformational experience of life modelling are also welcome. As a healing space for women, it will be totally cool to simply be present, sit on a cushion and listen. Naturally I would love lots of women to come and draw as well as model, but you are also welcome to just be there. Please get in touch if you think you would like to take part; for the most part a day ticket to the festival will be necessary (£12), but if you have modelled with us before I would like to offer free entry to our session at least.

Apart from this my energies are going into a one woman show I am creating, ‘Girl in Suitcase’, which will first be aired in late March (28th) in South East London as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival. It is a follow on from the two woman show I put on in Edinburgh 2011, though now I have decided to simplify matters and concentrate on one performer – myself. Well one performer plus one or more live musicians accompanying me. I will likely start a new website for the show which may provide a new outlet for my more personal ramblings, allowing Spirited Bodies to be entirely for itself and the participants’ stories.

Bringing me right out of the womb will be One Billion Rising for Justice on Valentines’ Day (V or Vagina Day), Friday 14th February. I am simply going to link to Facebook as all the blurb is there – https://www.facebook.com/events/1445985895616396/. Basically Eve Ensler, creator of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and a healing city for women in the rape capital of the world, Democratic Republic of Congo – leads a host of prominent feminists from MP Stella Creasy, QC Helena Kennedy, actress Thandie Newton, performance artist Skin and many others in campaigning to end all violence against all women everywhere (one billion women in the world it is estimated will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes). Between 12 and 2pm in London, Trafalgar Square there will be speeches, performances and dancing. But wherever you may be in the world, there may be an event near you, or you can start your own. A ‘One Billion Rising’ panel discussion at the start of January got my feminist senses buzzing again, and most of the room dancing by the end; it was electrifying. Hosted by Jude Kelly of Southbank Centre and much of the WOW team, it really helps get the momentum going for V Day. Returning to the idea of balance however, The Southbank this weekend is holding a festival to honour men, Being a Man.

That’s all for now, look forward to crossing paths in the upcoming Year of the Horse.

a Barcelona beach in December

a Barcelona beach in December

sleeping on the job

sleeping on the job

my Oriental double?

my Oriental double?

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).