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.

‘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

Geodesic Bliss for the Crafty & the Queer

Friday is going to drip into my soul all Summer. Words fail but there are more pictures and memories

I painted the 2 figures on Bruce’s back as well as giving him a blue skull cap which he requested

Bruce does some nude performance art with rituals and dancing, unfortunately I could not find the links on Youtube… alas he is rarely online to sort this out.

People who still have long hair! Christine Binnie on the right

Back display

Fritz Haeg‘s Geodesic Dome located on the terrace of the gallery added to the bonding and awesomeness of the day. During breaks and when it got too hot in the studio we rested in the comfy construction, where hot drinks were available.

Books & magazines on Queer stuff plus decoration from artists who have visited

There was a period of scheduled workshops in the Dome; now it is available for any queer and/or craft related activity or meeting until 11th July if you go and ask or go to the site. Brent Pilkey is the tent’s guardian; he is writing a thesis on Queer Domesticity.

One of the artists who did a workshop in the Dome is Hera Cook; it was about Queer family trees and what they consist of and how they differ from biological ones. Hera joined us for body painting and beach dancing.

The presence of the tent made the day more complete as it was outside the concrete of Southbank, yet still within that area. It was a more homely environment, very home-made and intimate too. It was a good segway between studio and beach!

Project Unbreakable, & Walking the Walk

Today I visited Sylvie who modelled at our recent event. She has described how participating has lined up with her own journey of transformation (http://spiritedbodies.com/2012/02/12/little-pieces-of-me-by-sylvie-rouhani/) with regard to healing from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. She recently started her own blog for her art and poetry, and felt inspired when through the world of blogging she came across ‘Project Unbreakable’. Started by Grace Brown in the US, it is for survivors of sexual abuse to come out perhaps, by means of being photographed with a sign stating a quote of their abuser.

Sylvie’s powerful idea is to take part in the next Spirited Bodies – on 21st March at Telegraph Hill Festival – and make such a sign for herself for the occasion. When nude she will pose with the sign at least for a photograph to send to Grace to join the thousands that Grace receives. We don’t know if anyone has done this nude before, but it seems to make a lot of sense, since such difficult experiences can affect the way we feel about our bodies in a huge way. It may be quite subtle, yet highly destructive, making someone ashamed of themselves somehow. To confront this issue any which way how is surely empowering for any soul. In some pictures the person is not identifiable, the face not visible, but it is the act which demonstrates strength, and solidarity since many others are participating.

I am getting a sense that our upcoming event is about healing the heart. I felt upset when following the joy of the last event, an issue about photographs possibly spoilt some people’s experience. I never want that to happen again; it goes against the whole ethos of Spirited Bodies. In future if there is photography I will communicate much more clearly with every model about that in advance, and take pains to stage any photos taken so that no one is upset.

There was a flip-side to the mishap, in that some models who had not been so keen on being seen in a photo, once they saw the results, did change their minds remarkably, especially in the light of the unexpected levels of joy they experienced when participating. The photograph was a happy memory. But for any who trusted us less afterwards, I am sorry. Overall it was a valuable lesson.

One of Alex B's images from 'The Drawing Theatre', Spirited Bodies

Living and learning must be key. And fate gave me a suitable nod shortly after the photograph debacle. Having been body painted by my friend Caroline Young for the Paradise Jam in Broxbourne on 16th February, with one particular glitter tattoo on my back, I then had occasion to model nude on a catwalk in London Fashion Week for a hat designer on the 21st. The tattoo still intact, press photographers snapped my bottom avidly which was highlighted by the glitter. It, minus the hat, made it to page 3 of the Metro the next day much to my and Caroline’s delight!

Robyn Coles, the designer, fared better with her other models for her campaign, who served her purpose better from the front. A pregnant glamour model glowed sensationally, and Alex B strutted regally, amongst our number.

Backstage at the show I did not feel a big sense of belonging. I was not uncomfortable about my body, in fact the opposite. We had been told ‘basic make-up’, and I wore none. I think it is that I struggle to get excited about fashion and that showed. I did enjoy the catwalking however, which was to the tune of Lana Del Rey‘s ‘Born to Die’. Reckon body painting is more my thing!

I enjoyed posing with Caroline Young's body paint - photo by Alex Eve

Back in Drama School, at Rose Bruford 8 years ago I made a piece of theatre about facing demons of the past. I asked an old friend to take part as his story was powerful and had moved me. He portrayed in some theatrical form his tale of childhood sexual abuse. He said it was cathartic to stand up and perform this painful part of his past. To come out and say it, and actually be real on stage, in front of strangers. The audience were young and they laughed at first, but in the end we felt victorious for doing the performance project our way. In a way that felt most meaningful.

He said recently that he has gotten much reward over the years from connecting with other survivors who have had similar experiences. Once they have reached a certain stage in processing the damage, there is something about them which resonates clearly as they lack a more usual layer of bullshit apparent in so many people. They appreciate the value of things, life, better perhaps. And processing one’s struggle with others is part of what stops the damage from being heavily internalised. The easiest way, he points out, for the abuse cycle to continue and be passed on by one who has been abused becoming an abuser him/herself, is to not truly connect with others about the matter.

What I find becoming apparent is, 20 odd years ago there seemed to be a minority of victims, but now a growing awareness suggests  more likely a majority. So by joining up with Project Unbreakable for example, there is a strength in numbers. A knowledge of being far from alone. A power to let potential and actual aggressors know that they may be outflanked.

The next Spirited Bodies will welcome survivors and those who want to support them. Life modelling in a group can be healing in various capacities, and I will focus on this aspect of the event to drive it forwards.