Circles of Women

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

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

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

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

In daylight before we began

In daylight before we began

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

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Hands reached up in a blaze of flames

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

operatic notes on a page

operatic notes on a page

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

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

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

bending in the wind

bending in the wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a sea of bodies

a sea of bodies

 

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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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Choosing a Different Path, & Spirited Bodies at The Dana Centre

by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre

by Cynthia Barlow Marrs at Dana Centre

Sometimes I get a touch of the social phobia – the shivers creep up on me as I get dressed for a family function, or an attack of nerves has me weeping on a bus on route to a networking event which I am sure will be full of ‘posh’ women! It’s that fear of being judged for not having a ‘proper’ job, a ‘normal’ life. I would prefer it if instead of subtle remarks hard to pinpoint when you are feeling twitchy, people came out with the more direct “But how do you get by with a crap job like that?” or “Are you a slag because you pose for artists?” “Is it because you are mentally ill?” “So where did your parents go wrong?” “I hope my daughter never meets you!”

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I am so familiar with the usual run of questions trying to suss out if I am still renting in my ’30s, if I can afford to do this because I have a rich husband (I don’t!), if there is any evidence of a ‘normal’ job in my background (there isn’t), if my life gets any more shocking than being a life model (this is where the fun starts); I can anticipate this nonsense a mile off. Sometimes I am on form coming back at them in all my cutting finery, other times it’s an effort and I reel off some well worn spiel and take another sip.

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It doesn’t happen very often, but when things do get to me, I ask friends why I still do this. Recently, a good friend reminded me. She said, picking up that part of me wondered why I am not ‘normal’ after feeling like an outsider at a party where everyone seemed to be part of the ‘mainstream’; “It’s very important what you do. If you had a child, you would not be able to make Spirited Bodies the way you are now. Most people grow up thinking they must get a certain kind of job, with a set income. They must marry the right kind of person, buy the right property, have children at the right age, mix with the right people and send their children to the right school. When people do choose a different path, that is something amazing.” (Her voice was shaking. She is a young Grandmother who is very close to her family and has grown to appreciate so much an alternative lifestyle.) “You must celebrate your different path,” she said, “And remember how unique and inspiring it is.” Thank Goodness for strong, clear-sighted friends. I knew immediately that she was right, her words rang loud and resonated deeply. I almost cried with joy as I remembered that I had indeed chosen a different path many years ago. When I was still a teenager I knew I never wanted to be conventional! The girls in my North London grammar school wreaked of materialism and bored me no end. I got off the track, scrambled through all sorts of wilderness to find some freaks who were real! Idealistic and romantic – me? More like dark, fearless and underground!! It can take a long time to come out of the dark, and sometimes it’s pretty fucking scary. But I am out now, and I mean business!

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On Tuesday Lucy and I gave a presentation at The Science Museum‘s ‘The Dana Centre‘ in South Kensington at an event called ‘Eating Identities’. Lucy spoke whilst showing slides and I posed so the audience could draw. Lucy was talking about portrayal of the body in the media focusing on youth, slimness and sexualisation, and how Spirited Bodies can help people discover a sense of value in their bodies no matter what. Other speakers included Dr Meredith Brown who is a feminist art historian at The Courtauld Institute; she looked at the female form through the ages in art, and Catherine Collins who is Principal dietician at St George’s Hospital in Tooting; she discussed the futility of most fad diets and how our bodies are meant to be a certain shape anyway so we are better off not attempting to deviate too much from that. While these two spoke, Lucy and I both posed. It definitely felt quite novel to have some life drawing at this presentation – when Meredith was speaking I got the impression she had not anticipated how real and live we would be, nude and contorted in front of her! She was trying to describe one of the original models for a Renaissance Venus painting or some such, and the fact that the model was a prostitute. She kept stuttering on that word as she looked open mouthed at me in front of her feet away on a table with my legs open and unashamed, totally cool!

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Here are some photos of the presentation and more of the artwork from it.

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IMG_2587Me in classic one-legged pose

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IMG_2628Some artistic licence with the accessories!

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Still Life in Brighton

Henrietta Moraes

Henrietta Moraes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photograph of Henrietta Moraes

Photograph of Henrietta Moraes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Henrietta Moraes

Henrietta Moraes (Photo credit: Wikipedia) by Bacon

Sue MacClaine wrote her one woman show ‘Still Life’ about a life model of the ’50s called Henrietta Moraes. She performs it and poses while the audience draws. We went to Brighton on Sunday to see her.

Moraes’ world is a basket of name-drop; she dined with Francis Bacon and posed for him regularly, knew Lucien Freud and was Maggi Hambling‘s lover until she died. She wrote as well as taking her life modelling very seriously, fitted a few kids in, worked as a cat burglar, caravanned across Wales and Ireland in the ’60s with hippies and drank copiously. Like other alcoholic artists she tended to maudlin lament then startled with insane fiery presence. I thought MacClaine caught particularly well the in-the-moment quality of a psychedelic trip; the sense of continually re-arriving at the same point as it is pushed into our vision relentlessly. This worked with our need to keep Looking at her and really looking as we simultaneously drew. She wasn’t a mechanical model which is what I have found off-putting about the usual life drawing class; she was running the show and poses became infused with personality as we got taken on her trip.

She broke up the flow not always timing herself, sipping wine which convincingly loosened her, wandered into the audience, staring into our eyes. It was the relationship between watcher and watched reassessed and I loved being on the other side. Philip Herbert a life model and actor of today has his own one man show which is biographical, ‘Naked Splendour’ with its own essence being very much himself. I love that too. It’s good to see what others do to remind me how I am different and where our themes naturally overlap. I am going to return imminently to my own life drawing play.

Supernormal Body Image

At the weekend I went to a festival called Supernormal with my punk choir, The Hackney Secular Singers. It is an experimental art and music festival in Brazier’s Park, Oxfordshire in and around the grounds of a gothic mansion which has been an artists’ commune and residence since the ’40s. Ian Fleming and Marianne Faithfull spent time growing up in its bohemian enclosure.

Choir rehearsing in the garden, Brazier’s Park, image by Jemima Broadbridge.

Terrace where we sang. Photo by Jemima Broadbridge of the choir

Musically this festival was quite geeky. Sound artists twiddled knobs in tupperware boxes with wires attached to them. Lights and torches came into the soundscape mix with light sensitive technology creating hypnotic drone music as they call it. Pedals and electrical goods littered the floor of the stage which was literally in front of our feet. The drone musician knew what each item was there for and he carefully manipulated each one. The intensity of his own immersion was like a ritual.

Other bands had ‘normal’ musical instruments, often jamming with apparently no synchronicity. A friend explained that this method allows moments of rare togetherness and tuneful episodes to shine phenomenally. Some of it was a bit ’70s prog rock; I am a Hawkwind fan so that worked for me.

It was a very uncommercial festival and too small to get lost in. It seemed like most people there were artists taking part, and there were odd processions, performative interludes and creative opportunities galore. In the mornings there was life drawing in a gorgeous old barn. People were invited to model and/or draw so there were some new models trying out, some as a duo to take the edge off. I naturally did a stint, as well as some drawing.

Campbell Works artists made and baked bread in the shape of life-size humans.

They specially built ovens to fit the cremations!

Guests were invited to a bread feast where body-pieces of the wholemeal natural yeast bread were eaten dipped in a dressing of olive oil with garlic and herbs .

Talking of body parts I especially enjoyed trying on Miracle Shapers by the artists who are Jerrica. This is participatory art about body image, challenging the idea that we obsess about body parts we dislike, in particular fat, and celebrate them instead.

http://www.jerrica.co.uk/miracle-shapers.html Artists Diane Archer and Christina Sabberton made soft golden pads in the shape of bums, boobs, willys, balls and bellys. They are stuffed inside clothes, worn on the outside for display or attached to special underwear garments.

First the boobs and behind

Boobs and bum. Luckily I had a compliant dress on

with a belly too. Jerrica probably have better quality images available soon… my phone camera being what it is

Possibly pregnant

These women were so jolly. Here Diane sports all their wares available for auction at the end of their session

When I told Lucy about this she asked if the parts had the weight of real fat. They don’t, so you just get a visual impression. They are fun items designed for convenience to make a point.

I liked being able to try out the ‘bigger me’ look. It might be interesting to wear the parts discreetly and experience life as a different size with people who do not know me. How do people relate to me differently like that and how much depends upon my personality, and do I alter my personality when appearing much larger? An experiment waiting to happen!

Finally I am looking forward to seeing the drawings by artists of Ortelius Drew; http://orteliusdrew.com/web/orteliusdrew/drawing-groups who documented as much of the festival as they could by drawing.

Charcoal & Broomsticks

Like Cindarella after a hard day’s work I rest on my broom

exhausted and in a day dream about my Prince

Ugly sisters are having fun, being invited to everything and somehow stopping me from joining in while an evil step Mother holds the key to my cellar

Then a Fairy God Mother appears and offers a chance of freedom, to come out and shine

Cindarella figure from different view points; she is the hidden consciousness about to be revealed at the right moment

She holds the secret to unlimited success, beauty and Love!

Before you can manage your own affairs you must find the peace inside. Repeated rhythms of arduous work have kept Cindarella calm and disciplined. Drudgery has not dampened her dreams which sparkle more alluringly than ever. Solitude has brought her closer to herself and to value the company of others.

Reflection is a vital part of the discovery. To stay totally still and not move an inch, except for the infinitesimal but steady descent with gravity which the artists observe as they alter their measurements. I don’t notice, I’m locked in a stare and far away

Feeling the Love

I have been running on empty but I feel the love

While I stand before the people drawing me, the warmth inside of me just reaches out

All I feel is love, I am the love

I wish them every clarity of co-ordination and fulfilment as they connect eye to hand to paper

I send my being out towards them and give them all I am

Pure happiness is in me, around me, we feel it together

There is no worry, and I am not my body

I may be in it now, but I am love and light

I return to being my essence and that is what they feel whether they know it or not

In my place of comfort my body informs me how to move and what to express, it just does it

Because that’s what makes me feel the love