It happened that Ursula also felt inspired to record herself in a video, performing her poems from our 2015 Girl in Suitcase performance. She has done them back to back, overlaying her voice and some musical sounds delightfully, witchily I think, with dreamy sandscape shoreline intersecting with her shadow. We are enjoying revisiting, reconnecting, recreating together, apart. Please, enjoy her voice, words and images!
The photo at the top of the post is of Ursula performing ‘The Moon’ in the same ‘Girl in Suitcase’ show referred to.
Now is a good time to let viewers in on one of my precious show-biz secrets. How to apply make-up. With me, it’s very much about the intention and the feeling; and being concerned about the environment, I like to recycle as much as I can. Making a mess is encouraged. Keeping a mobile and flexible face, perhaps giving it a little work-out at the same time, while it may not seem fashionable, it’s always good to express ourselves! In this video, I am preparing for an upcoming performance, so a little character work is gently coming into play. There is no speaking, so people all around the world may appreciate the useful example. I hope you enjoy!
Video shot in lovely Ladywell Cemetery. When I am surrounded by nature, and dead people, I am well attuned to the look I desire.
There is a photo of me as a child aged about 5, walking in a field of long grass on a Summer’s day with my Dad. It would have been around 1982. I’m smiling and very much in a happy place. I’m also naked. Dad isn’t, but that hadn’t seemed odd at the time. His hair is a bit wild and beard looking very 70s, the way I remember him when I was young. Hair-wise, he has returned to a similar state since lockdown, but that’s another story. The point is, I was naked and free, and without a sense of shame. How very fortunate in all sorts of ways. An image like that now can provoke hysteria in the media or just in people’s heads, such is the cultural taboo firstly around any kind of nakedness, but much more than that, a child’s nakedness. Innocence has been removed/hidden/safeguarded. It is of course absolutely necessary that paedophilia is finally being addressed, but in the all encompassing sweep to save children from it, we have lost an important part of childhood. Society so often can’t handle nuance. One of the safeguarding trade-offs is more body shame and naked shame.
My parents were quite free in their approach to upbringing in some ways, like with the nakedness, and later on freedom to play outside when other kids were more sheltered in that respect. Freedom to explore our little world and feel that it is a bit bigger than just the home. It stretched into nearby streets, estates, gardens, alley ways, carparks; and whatever hidden places we could find. I really really appreciated that freedom. Nothing bad came of it. I just became more confident in a streetwise sense. I think for my Mum, she just wanted us out of the flat. It wasn’t very big and she was house proud; we would naturally make a mess. Better off outside. Just as well, because although I did have a healthy imagination, outside is where adventures happened in the real world, back then. When I was off the leash, just exploring.
Naturally naked shame entered my world upon socialisation no doubt in school. But I did retain an unusual kind of body freedom. I remember once in primary school, I was that child who, when the class were collectively feeling curious about forbidden body parts and it was the long break, must have been lunchtime I imagine in the Summer term – somehow got picked or maybe even volunteered to be examined whilst lying on a bench, parts of my clothes removed or uncovered for all to see. The whole class crowded around, with someone on look-out in case a teacher walked by. A few of them touched me, but only barely. It was like one of them would venture a hand momentarily where it wasn’t allowed and then all of them would gasp or screech, so it was quickly pulled back. Again, nothing awful happened. We were just being kids, and I was perhaps showing early leanings towards performance art! I didn’t feel coerced; I was willing and curious of this thrilling feeling myself, of exploring what was taboo. I do remember a slight sense of shame though; an awareness that some others considered my openness strange, perhaps questionnable. We must have been about 7.
As you can imagine, the nakedness of life modelling was never an issue for me. From early on I wasn’t shy about it, and when things went online that still applied. I didn’t have a normal job to protect from the judgement, nor could I imagine ever having one. By the time things did properly get going online, I was doing Spirited Bodies, so I was actively talking about and promoting body liberation.
More recently I became aware of not wanting to be so naked online. There are a few reasons. One is too much of the wrong attention from the wrong people. Another is, being tuned into feminism and wanting to be taken seriously by those people. Related but another point is, when it comes to body positivity, I’m very aware of having what many consider the ideal body. Putting it about online is not radical. And finally, and related to the feminism point, is wanting to be taken seriously by organisations I’d like to work with. It just started to feel like, the choice to share naked images of myself or not, is political. There ought to be a reason, a meaning. I know for some the whole point is continually being naked as much as possible publicly, and that is political too.
I guess it comes down to personality, and I realised I operate better when I’m a bit more selective. I think I needed to tone down my public nakedness in order to regain my understanding of what it meant. I’d become desensitised to my own nudity. That’s always going to be a thing, and it’s often a good thing; but it had become a bit unhelpful. These days I try to engage with people where demonstrating that I understand their delicate position, where they are coming from is important. I might be in a normal situation like when I attended college last Autumn, and suddenly it’s like back in the world of normal taboos. I find myself carefully explaining what I do, whilst automatically scanning for latent signs of shock or judgement in the listeners.
Going through old videos we made when I first got together with Steve, I am reminded of that change in my outlook which has occurred since then. We were going on these amazing holidays, and being Steve, there was always a naked photoshoot in some remote place, or sometimes a bit more daring and not that remote! Anyway, I was also going through a menstrual art phase – it was featuring in my performances, and I’d participated in a workshop led by my friend Calu. I’d been collecting my blood each month in my mooncup, and pouring it into little jars (that still happens when I can be bothered to wear a cup. I actually prefer a more free-bleeding experience with pads/padded knickers and lockdown has been a dream for that.) My fridge has long contained several jars of my blood of varying vintage. They come out now and again when I fancy painting.
With all the gorgeous settings in nature on our holidays and us being naked, I had an idea. I often seemed to bleed while we were away, uncannily, and if I’d just bled before we went, I started taking a pot of blood with me because we always found occasion to use it. There emerged a series of ‘menstrual rituals’ which were really just me pouring the blood over myself and then washing it off in a lake or the sea. I like the aesthetic and feel of the pouring blood, and normalising what is a natural body function. Removing the shame of the blood, actually celebrating it. I personally enjoy my cycle, the variations in myself like seasons – and especially the part when I’m bleeding is generally accompanied by strong feelings of confidence and self-assuredness. The hormones happening at that time are powerful, and it’s a good time for me to make decisions or deal with tricky situations. I am unflappable! My instincts are really switched on, and my psychic powers are strongest. It makes sense to luxuriate in the whole bleeding process, and smash menstrual taboo. Not everyone has such a positive experience, but just being able to speak about it and express ourselves can make a difference in really important ways.
Some of those menstrual acts were recorded and are online already. After a few, I started to think that’s enough. It’s not really achieving anything new. But looking at the rest of those films now, there is one that stands out for the beautiful location, and the way Steve put it together with some sound. I’m releasing that one publicly for the first time with this post. I want to mark my return to reclaiming some naked pride – surely a recurring theme. Some of my other recent blogs have begun that inadvertently as I shared old photos in them. Not long before this recent blogging phase, I applied for a job which due to working with young people, I felt obliged to remove all the naked photos from this site. I never heard back from the job, and subsequently applied for something else which I realised I wanted a lot more. It was being an artist/writer in residence, and together with the realisation that the college course wasn’t right for me, led to re-embracing myself the way I am. Not trying too much to package myself to fit somewhere I don’t really. Just noticing that, and having gone through that process has been important. A constant work perhaps, of re-assessment. The subject of this post is vast and could become a much longer chapter if not a whole book. For now, I’ll leave you with a piece of stunning Slovenia in Lake Bohinj which acquired some of my blood in 2016.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
These pictures are of myself and Hope Deeney posing at Toynbee Art Club, December 2014
It’s been far too long. Since I wrote one of those species of posts that incriminates more friends than I have time or inclination to check with first! I am the only one at home, in fact I am the only person in the building as other flats are both empty. The bass has been returned to its natural position (my downstairs neighbours used to complain about this) and I am working my way through the metal archives. Rocking Suicidal Tendencies!
After a busy term I took a holiday on my own, for walking and writing in the Highlands of Scotland. 8 days and nights in Caithness and the North coast of Sutherland changed the way I felt about my life. I mean I wanted to stay there, I want to live there! I found a remote place with cliffs of such rugged awe and not a person in sight for hours, and I felt like my soul lived there, that I belong there. A place where the power of nature is so extremely evident, that you know man has just long left it alone, given up considering the possibilities of exploitation.
Coming back home was painful, the anonymity of living in the big city felt bleak. So cramped, over-built and ugly, unnaturally polluted. To think I have lived here all my life, trying to claw my way through it. I felt intense resistance towards travelling out of my area, especially into Central London for nearly a week. When I did venture to the Tate Modern to check out the Matisse, even though it was a Sunday I found myself shutting down in the traffic. I mean I was cycling and I felt myself putting up a wall of defense around me to protect myself from the heavy dense energy, the selfish push of each vehicle wanting to get where it needed to go above all else, never mind the rest. I’ve never been so aware of this before or so sensitive to it. In fact I think I used to thrive in some way from the adrenaline rush of cycling in thick London traffic when I am in the quick of it. It certainly enlivens one’s senses and I long gave up listening to music at the same time as I need to be alert to every sound around, quiet motors behind or other cyclists approaching.
Once my psychic screen was in place I actually felt more focused like nothing could distract me from my mission, and again I was revelling in rising above it. So before I can move North I have to work out how to live there. There isn’t much life drawing there, I mean there just aren’t that many people and that’s the point. I will say however, that everyone I met who asked what I do and I told them I am a life model, well they all knew what that is. I cannot say the same in London, I am frequently met with quizzical looks. Cultured folk those Highlanders.
Before I left for my trip I was thinking I would organise a Spirited Bodies event immediately after I returned, for September. The lochs and mountains temporarily threw me though. I found myself losing all interest in my erstwhile London activities. The only thing which inspired me was trying to get back North. I had the hostel guide and lots of numbers for self catering accommodation on Orkney or again on the North coast of the mainland.
So last Monday I happened to be online at the right time in the afternoon when a life model colleague (and former Spirited Body) posted a job for that evening partly directed at me. I had spent a lot of time in my area and on my sofa and felt ready to get to work. Sometimes when I get dressed I begin to have a sense of the day ahead from the clothes I am drawn to wearing, in that way I can create my own reality. In any case I was bleeding and that just makes me more in tune; I had a very good feeling about this evening, and it lined up with meeting a friend in the area too. I was experimenting with not wearing a mooncup as I was feeling that this mini plunger contraption which is better for the environment is actually blocking my bits, stopping my cunt from breathing in the correct manner. For the first time in a few years I was going back to tampons and breathe they did. I got to Leytonstone in good time, met Jenny the organiser setting up and surveyed the place. I was ready to rock it, and after the first half the artists clapped enthusiastically. I felt a bit slimey and often this feeling is just an illusion or sweat, but in the bathroom I discovered blood smeared all over my thighs. This doesn’t happen with the mooncup but at least I was breathing.
You know it’s been a good session when several more offers of work come immediately as a result. I also thought that this hall would work for Spirited Bodies and felt positively about the group. It was discussed favourably over drinks so watch this space for an imminent date, in September.
Slime at the Farr Bay
Summer sunset over Torresdale Bay, Bettyhill
Borrogeo inlet with former site of medieval Borve Castle (above left)
So underpopulated is the village that at the Farr Bay Inn a german shepherd sometimes serves behind the bar