Performance Artings

Tectonic plates were shifting in my world in Autumn 2015. Vibrations increased through the Summer, but I was late to detect attraction with a new mate, having been certain of his unsuitability. A friend of mine had pointed him out a few years before, “I think he’d be good for you!” No, I said. He’s far too normal. He has a job. Far too functional. It would never work. Nice guy though, and 100% reliable and trustworthy… a few things in common. A few important things it happened, like a penchant for participating in nude performance art adventures!

I am not consciously tactical when it comes to choosing partners, but perhaps over the years I had retrained my unconscious. I don’t have a checklist; it’s all about desire and chemistry. I know in advance something is going to happen because I can’t stop thinking about the person I am falling in love with. I barely sleep or eat, and once contact is established, consummation is not far off. There then follows inevitable fall-out over some months, for not having addressed (or even noticed!) major issues of concern ahead of diving in. Aspects of their life and personality which will bother me and possibly vice versa. I work hard for some years to fix this stuff, and they do too, but usually after 5 years or so, I or we give up. This pattern repeated with Steve, however since things calmed down after the initial shock; it has mainly been peaceful and rewarding.

It’s not cool to listen to The Smiths any more since Morrissey came out as unequivocally supporting the far right. That is a shame because some of their music is brilliant, and he knows that for lots of people it captures an essence of a generation’s emotion. I played one tune over and over in Autumn 2015; ‘Money Changes Everything’ (maybe it’s ok since Morrissey isn’t singing? – it’s basically a Marr number). I was experiencing a new kind of awe, fear and heated anticipation. I am a serial relationshipper, and each partner brings a whole scene change of characters, sounds, places, smells, tastes, moods… the anticipation of these is all wrapped up in the attraction. You have an idea what some of the change will look and feel like, and then there’s the unknown dimension that is like moving to a country you’ve never been to before or learning a new language.

With Steve, as soon as I was conscious of the attraction, I sensed that massive change was afoot. My partners didn’t usually have normal jobs, a reliable income or own a house. I said I didn’t have a checklist, well I probably had an anti-checklist for many years. Mustn’t have conventional trappings of the sort parents tend to approve. That’s why Steve wasn’t even considered, until… our paths just crossed a bit more often, and I couldn’t ignore an interesting tension. Nothing has actually changed in the circumstances of my living since we got together, but I have been on a lot more exciting holidays. In the past I only travelled for work, or to visit a friend. The exception was in Summer 2014 when I took off to the Highlands for a week of solitude.

It took me a while to adjust to letting him pay for holidays. Was I giving away my power? I don’t know, but I got used to it. Sharing those travels is very special. Moving in with him in Essex is not so likely at least while I can keep my home in London, because my life is based there. Until lockdown, travelling was the longest time we would spend with each other – trekking a rainforest in Ghana, a desert in the Cape, or sailing to Zanzibar. It wasn’t just touristing; I always learnt about the places or had personal reasons to visit them. It helped me appreciate more viscerally what the UK is, to see its effect on other parts of the world. For someone who comes from quite a few different countries (and I haven’t visited them all yet) it has been incredible to go to those places. I understand not only the UK past and present better, but also my ancestral heritage.

The first time we travelled together was in February 2016, to Venice. It rained almost till it flooded but not quite. We wrapped up warm, tried to hold onto our umbrellas, and I was able to practice my Italian which had been dormant for 11 years. By chance or destiny, we ran into Steve’s performance artist friend, Glynis Ackermann, who lives in Switzerland, and happened to be performing in a festival there in Venice! That unexpected introduction guided our next two trips, for having acquainted ourselves with the festival and its organisers, it naturally followed to bring more than my packing suitcase in future.

A movement sequence from the 20 minute Italian ‘performance art’ version, April 2016.

Although my work contained performance art I’d always thought of it as interactive theatre, and barely paid attention to the live art scene. Seeing a greater possibility of travelling with the show I readily repackaged it. With shorter performance slots of no more than 20 minutes usually, there was a stronger sense of community as several artists would all perform the same evening and enjoy each others’ shows. Much of 2016 was spent in this effort, with denser scripts and more visual action. Italian friends translated my script (my own italian was learnt by ear and works for getting by in conversation) for two different Venice festivals – in April and August.

The complete 20 minute version of the August performance in Venice.

In April’s show, Steve was involved as a sort of prop, and as well in a longer, full length version in London in March, he had a speaking role. I have two scenes recorded from that show;

This show addressed feminist issues very directly in every version; about violence against women, gender inequality, and including in yer face menstrual art action.

Steve made his mark on how I approached performing that year, as we settled into being together. I went to the SPILL festival in Ipswich alone in the Autumn, to see how others do it – I’d made an unsuccessful application. It is a thought provoking genre of variety and endurance. It wasn’t all for me, and I felt there was a bit of a clique around who gets funding. Not surprising, I mean that’s normal. I peaked my head into that tent of curiosities, grafted applications full of appropriate artspeak, and finally found I didn’t fit so well. Theatre was my original love after all, but I do have room for live art happenings too, on or off-stage. The in-the-moment encounter speaks to my spontaneous soul, which is very fond of one-off performance art.

The image at the top of this post is from a show I did at Bethnal Green Working Mens Club in October 2016, at the Panic Sermons performance art event. The Venice shows were enabled by Steve’s passion for travel combining with my need for performance making, and both our love for nude art happenings. At the April festival we both took part in Glynis’ show as well as staging mine.

Glynis’ performance (called ‘Mobilé’) involved the three of us holding frames, with more nudes from an earlier version of her show projected onto us.

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!


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

Continual Rebirth

The negotiation of the model with her destiny; her liberation from karmic bondage dealt pose by pose, breath by breath, artist by artist and stroke by stroke.

A fastidious group in Dulwich. I am confident, go for a long standing twist. They are 320 degrees around me and some spot infinitesimal changes as more or less breast appears in their sight line, a greater proportion of shoulder etc. Their individual wills vie for the pose they want, they see; so they pull me – my profile a tad this way, my right arm back a bit and more weight on my left hip. I feel like a puppet. So I must be strong. By the time they have finished manipulating I feel like I am on the rack. I want to scream “I make the pose – you deal with it! Otherwise there is a mortuary up the road at the hospital…”

I think, when I can make every session smooth, work each one to be bliss for myself, the nirvana it can be, then I will be ready for the next level. Ready to reincarnate!

Running around to far flung pockets of London all in a day’s work is no stranger to a life model.

My session in Muswell Hill is weekly and in a ‘therapy’ room in a sort of neutral facility. Here I will process years of childhood and adolescent torment in a slot on Tuesday evenings. There are four arbiters of my progress drawing results from my posture. They will experiment with wrong-handed drawing and release their inner artist/child while I writhe on the inside as my inner rebel taunts me.

Getting the bus to freedom after feels like I ought to be heading to Feet First at the Camden Palace. I am just missing a can of Strongbow.

Drawings by Simon Whittle from my recent session at the Mall Galleries (see last post:

This water colour by Graham Wood, also Hesketh Hubbard, Mall Galleries