Positive Behaviour, and reclaiming the Erotic

Topical at the moment in the London life drawing scene, is dealing with sleaze, namely, The London Life Drawing Society. This is run by Tony Picano/Picanto/Pianco – he has various guises not limited to these. For many years he has been known for behaviour that has upset and offended many women, with inappropriate advances in what was meant to be a professional context. This mainly affects female life models. It’s also true that he has run events that have been straight forward and unproblematic too.

One model, new to London, recently called Tony out on Facebook, and the response has been overwhelming, with many other women coming forward, and a police investigation launched. It is no surprise to many of us veteran models, who spotted him years ago and stayed well clear. This new development is however a very positive thing for women and the life drawing scene, as while Tony may have made himself obvious to us who are in the know, for a newcomer that may be unclear. ‘The London Life Drawing Society’ sounds quite proper, and could be mistaken for being representative of a recognised standard, which is not the case at all. Most life drawing groups here are utterly appropriate, so it is very misleading. We don’t know how many women have been affected or to what extent, but we do know that Tony made a lot of people feel very uncomfortable.

When I say that Tony made himself obvious, this was from his email messages and online notices looking for models. Without ever actually meeting him, he gave himself away to a lot of us. His messages often mixed up the role of the model, with someone offering more intimate services for example, or suggested that models might not need to be paid. Indeed he has also been known for refusing to pay models, even when it was agreed beforehand. His reputation has unsurprisingly been notorious for a good number of years. Please get in touch if you have been affected and would like the police detective’s contact details.

I have had my fair share of dodgy guys to deal with whilst running Spirited Bodies. For the most part they never made it beyond emailing me, but occasionally in the early days one slipped through the net and got into a session. This led to me not inviting new men to pose for Spirited Bodies more recently. I am slowly working out how I may incorporate new men again, after serious vetting of course, and in very controlled conditions.

Following posts I made on Facebook outing Tony, my Facebook account was suspended for 24 hours, apparantly because of nude pictures I had posted. Those pictures had been there for quite a while however, so I suspected a disgruntled man getting revenge.

When my account was reinstated, I took the opportunity to celebrate by sharing a beautiful image recently taken with my partner, which while totally nude, and sensual as well (considered soft porn by some!) shows none of the forbidden body parts. We had done an intimate photoshoot with a friend and this image felt timely and apt.

With Steve Ritter, photograph by Lidia, www.lidialidia.com

With Steve Ritter, photograph by Lidia, http://www.lidialidia.com

The Tony case sparked much positive discussion in the life model community, about safety, and also some about the morality of erotic life drawing. There were voices attacking this art form as an afront to our profession. I don’t see it that way however. It is a personal choice, and in the right conditions where boundaries are clearly understood, and the practice is consensual, can show another aspect of the human form, from life. Sex is a part of us, and to deny that and its relevence to artists is bizarre I feel. I wouldn’t pose with anyone else, the way I do with Steve,  but that is my preference, and others are more open.

Posing as a genuine couple offers a glimpse into our real life intimacy and affection for one another. The emotions we feel while we are connecting physically go way beyond arousal, and may entirely be of love and mutual appreciation. I think that is a very rare and beautiful opportunity for artists.

Because this is WordPress and not Facebook, here is another of Lidia’s photographs of us.

The joy of feeling comfortable with my partner and fellow life model, Steve

The joy of feeling comfortable with my partner and fellow life model, Steve

Steve will be sharing more images of us soon on his life model blog, and has created a page for us! https://charoigne.wordpress.com/esther-and-steve/

We look forward to posing together again, and to promoting healthy attitudes and behaviours within our community.

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

1st & Second Skin with ‘Quills’

It was a thrill to see Andy and Nika as Marquis de Sade and his last love Madeleine during his dying days in a lunatic asylum. The Marquis can’t help his debauched imagination and the need to communicate his sordid tales to as wide an audience as possible. Upsetting the chief doctor and the priest who determine to silence him, he is relinquished of his clothes, his wine, bedsheets and finally he is separated from his hands, tongue and cock. You see they would discover his manuscripts which were exceedingly popular, and so they removed his quills and ink so that he might write no more.

Undeterred, even spurred on in his role to push limits, he used his own faeces and blood on the sheets, vestiments and walls. His fans – fellow inmates and the servant girl Madeleine, aided him in transmitting the obscene messages, but being mental, the chinese whispers passing of words caused more than a stir. One deliverer acted literally on the violent intent conveyed, and such was Madeleine’s sad demise. But in this tale some karma is realised in death as both Marquis and Madeleine return to haunt and taunt those who judged them, and of course to flirt as well! The nature of human desire is unpicked, and the tendency to judge where not we have ourselves inquired fully. The doctor and the priest are revealed as hypocrits, in particular the priest getting to know his inner sadist as the punishments advanced.

A sense of destiny is strong on several levels with this performance. Punishing the Marquis teaches the pain givers new lessons their censorship would otherwise lack. It is said more than once that this particular lunatic is running the asylum – and his genius has been misunderstood by those in authority. That artists’ and writers’ words of magnitude do live beyond the grave as the play certifies. That while the greatest imagination may conjure the realities of some powerful/elite/sorry few (i.e. e.g. paedophiles and their victims which are a theme in this show), it also resonates with widespread human desire/lust which although unrealised in many cases (depicted especially through the virginal Madeleine here and even with the Marquis himself) needs to be allowed expression, purely for its rightful place in the imagination. To limit the artist’s mind is a crime; the troubled feelings/ideas set alight in another’s head/heart are not the artist’s responsibility.

To see Andy perform this role felt so apt. Though stepping in at last minute, having to leave temporarily his position of director while sudden line learning was thrust upon him, it appeared from an old friend’s view point as a call of destiny. I cannot imagine another better suited to the role, knowing Andy as I do. For what he has always stood for and stood by, even before I i knew him as an actor, it fitted him perfectly and brought him to act opposite his real life love Nika for the first time in years.

Andy was literally stripped bare on the tiny stage before us, for daring to uphold the boldest most revolutionary ideas, and his character bore this apparent humiliation with amazing grace and charm, ennobling him further. In fact I found him gain in confidence and power as he strode and strutted nude before us, just a metre or so from the front row. Intoxicating lines well crafted by Doug Wright and uttered from the heart did mesmerise. I thought, ‘he could do anything now!’ and I believe he will. It is wonderful to watch friends flourish and bloom. I will add that the whole cast and production are spectacular; the passion is evident.

http://secondskintheatre.com/pages/

http://secondskintheatre.com/pages/?page_id=17

To Feel Human with You

Being with people naked with all different bodies, still and silent is liberating. Our bodies are ok, there is beauty in each, from the essence being allowed to be. Open and free allows, encourages each to flourish. That is a gift, that is magic, to share that is bliss.

To witness the unlocking of pain, but simply all I see is beauty. Individual expression, sometimes connection, the love of friends, couples, and the inclusion of all. The connections of the more confident and brave, the shapes of different bodies, sometimes balancing, sometimes relaxing, sometimes wanting to be looked at or not; to have all the variety is the magic of life.

At the begining of the morning session when I got on the platform, I found myself close to my friend Sylvie

As I was posing on the stage with everyone I noticed this wonderful feeling and it didn’t matter if we were being drawn or not, that was incidental. It was just being with everyone that mattered, and knowing we were all ok. I guess the artists do help though! That way you have a reason to stay still which helps. And impressions beyond photographs.

Thanks to all the models, and the artists at Spirited Bodies at the Drawing Theatre in Battersea Arts Centre last Saturday 20th October. Thanks also to Lucy, Steve and Denise for photographing art work. There is much more of it to be seen on our Facebook page; it may take a while to upload it all on here, so in the mean time: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.484653994890614.107239.320375434651805&type=1

Summer Solstice with Neo Naturists!

Thanks to my friend Peter I got a last minute ticket to be with the Neo Naturists yesterday when they were at Hayward Gallery doing body painting.

a few people drew on paper

most of us got straight to work painting each other… on each other, as well as clothes

I said I wanted a baby elephant inside my belly

This experience is almost beyond words. The power of touching strangers with a paint brush and exercising expressive motion is very liberating. It ought to be compulsory. To see others’ bodies as normal and then make art with them breaks down barriers. Love love love. How much closer we may all be if we did more of this with each other freely.

I am quite a tactile person and enjoy the touch of the brush

The Neo Naturists are Christine Binnie (originally a life model), her sister Jennifer and their friend Wilma Johnson (all 3 are artists). Their practice blurs the roles of artist, model, tutor & canvas as ideally everyone models, paints, is painted and may instruct. After a long day in the studio we tumbled down to the Thames for the brave ones to strip on the beach, and we danced around a fire for a Solstice ritual. A most healthy act of nudity!

The Neo Naturists began in 1981, they came from a new romantic background where one took hours to get ready. They wanted to channel this obsession with painting the self into an art practice with greater freedom of expression. They performed in body paint in the London club scene. Similar to my previous post about feminists, these women then had a break partly due to the advent of children. The sisters reformed during the Noughties a couple times, and now for the first time the 3 of them are back!

http://www.neonaturists.org.uk/

http://www.englandgallery.com/EXHIB_Neo_Nats.htm

http://www.wilmaweb.com/neonaturists.html

http://www.theblitzkids.com/site_archive/the_blitz_kids/neonaturistpics.html

A Feminist Uprising in Brockley!

The coolest thing just happened to me. I had been indoors much of the day working from home when I felt my antennae twitching. It wasn’t just the coffee. Thought I’d go stock up on fruit so took a walk in the warm evening.

I got some grapes and plums etc and was meandering back when I bumped into a woman I met last week when I joined up with fellow Lewisham residents who are part of 38 Degrees Campaign group. We had handed in a petition to our MP against plans by government to spy/collect more data on people’s internet use.

So we were chatting about her involvement in a charity supporting refugees in Lewisham, and about my naked events being tricky for some ethnic/religious groups when I saw a woman waving at me from across the way. I told Heather, my companion and she turned and recognised a friend of hers. We joined her in the little park by the street; she was sitting as she had a bad leg. This woman had a slow, lilting Scottish voice and a warmth which seemed to operate on a different time. She described the old ways with affection, when children played outside and books had pages. I recognised her at once for an artist with her care and pleasure to tell me what she valued. It was not a rant, more a musical aside; you might lean in to catch. Someone with a vision and a smile.

I wanted to stay in touch and as I took her details she mentioned an impromptu meeting of women locally coming up soon, they would take over a pub! She said she used to organise regular feminist gatherings in the 80s but had not done so since having children. This will be the first reunion of her womenfolk friends and some new ones for nearly 30 years! I was astounded and felt the serendipity so sweetly. I was/am looking for women. I want to bring back the sense of empowering women to my events. I not long ago removed the ‘Empowering Women Through Art’ tagline as men are blatantly invited too. However since this change I have stopped hearing from women so much but instead have a regular influx of inquiries from men. I want the men; it is important to have them, for themselves and for the women. But my first passion is the women. Men sometimes asked ‘why do women need empowering? – Are they weak?’ The answer is sometimes unfortunately yes. You might not be able to see it but I feel it. I also know that women are increasing in their power as I write; their energy is on the up.

While a few white men basically control the planet’s finances, I think it is safe to say what may be a cliche that women and coloured people and every other minority/alternative do not yet enjoy equality. There is I believe another way to do things… and 38 Degrees represent just that – People, Power & Change. Our MP Joan Ruddock argued that policing the internet is vital for catching evil criminals particularly from the porn industry. There may be much abuse in that area and I could not say I know the facts (who can?) but our society (globally) as we presently exist keeps sex as something which still has taboo about it. The idea of tackling crime by targetting ‘criminals’ is akin to treating disease by symptoms. It is a way to manage things, though I think short-sighted. In a better world, we may look deeper at our beliefs which allow the negative manifestations of crime and disease to function. Work in progress.

Meeting Joan Ruddock