Reflecting on where I’m at from St Michael’s churchyard in Fobbing, Essex, on Saturday 27 March 2021.
Giving Testimony: Breaking The Silence
I want to speak out: for too long I have been silent.
I have been told that my case will be closed but not officially confirmed.
I have learnt to be more quiet. I have learnt to love being more quiet, not having a mobile phone for nearly 4 months. Paying more attention to what’s around me, listening better to others and my own inner voice. Responding to emails when I am ready, looking at the internet and social media just sometimes. This has added enormous quality to my life. It wasn’t just because of the police investigation but the timing worked out, when my mobile naturally died, so long overloaded.
It was a good episode and so far has culminated in my rape survivor talk at WOW on March 11th. There was of course also doing a video testimony for the police, and that whole process, which as well resulted in the accused man being brought in for questioning. I am happy knowing that he knows that I was pissed off enough to report him now. It lets him know that his past actions could yet catch up with him and may be a warning to him regarding his present behaviour. It might make him more careful or even more dangerous… but he knows.
The video wasn’t easy though I was fairly calm. I was nervous too, and the preceding days were challenging for how vulnerable I felt again. Being so re-immersed in that earlier difficult part of my life was a headfuck. I was glad to get it done and found the police ok to work with. Also the support of an advocate from Rape Crisis UK was highly appreciated. I want to state that anyone can access Rape Crisis and its sister organisations like Solace Women’s Aid (there are men’s ones too). You can get advice to find out whether it’s a good idea for you to go to the police. The legal process may not be advisable, and if it possibly is, then it’s great to be armed with knowledge in advance. The Rights of Women‘s ‘From Report To Court‘ is recommended reading as is this essay on institutionalised misogyny in the legal system.
There has been the added bonus that a good friend of mine was involved as a witness, though treated as a separate case. It has been a privilege if in fact awful, to share this with her, naturally for the solidarity. It is a little challenging for the legal system if witnesses know each other, as they may contaminate the evidence, so we were obliged not to discuss the case. At first we thought we were not allowed to communicate at all, which felt very wrong, but fortunately it was discovered that the law was not actually so restrictive.
What I want to say is, it was great to do this even so many years later, in fact because of that and being in a relatively strong place in my life now so that being the right time. It has helped me to re-examine the map of my life, what led to what and what that means for where I am now. The rape preceded an important part of my life that I wouldn’t ever change. The important part didn’t only happen because of the rape, but it was heavily informed by it. I made close bonds in a new community and lived an alternative, underground lifestyle. That shaped me so much that I can’t imagine changing it now. But the rape was not a positive act and it is right to seek justice however unlikely to be met. There is a sense of realigning my relationship with my own past; underlining that my departure from that time in my life, has its origins in rape. There was a very positive outcome to an unhappy family life; I made good out of a dark situation. Moving on entails examining the background circumstances more fully. That was an empowering solution for that time, but by no means solved all the problems.
I would like the man to be put on a register at the least as I think if he is free, he is dangerous. I would love to give talks to teenage girls and vulnerable young women about my experience, though I understand the landscape has shifted towards the online. Still, being vulnerable hasn’t changed so much. It’s about when you are in a desperate place and you have to leave home, or you just arrive in a country with no place to call home yet. You are more vulnerable, sometimes with few options. Men like this one I am talking about, know how to spot this, and to avoid being caught. In my case it was all too easy. Others are drugged. I wish I had been able to report him at the time. I think speaking out must be a lot easier now, not just for me so many years later, but for young women who have seen #MeToo. Of course it is one thing posting on social media and another to report to the police. Then you are obliged not to post online, so it really is a dichotomy. The police are not always useful, and cases can be extremely stressful. I wouldn’t want to go through with a court case unless I was one of several witnesses. Historic cases are difficult to prove. But if you report, then at some point the police may realise they have several allegations against the same man. Or if you have strong evidence yourself and are able, going to court may be viable.
None of the other women I shared the panel with at WOW had gone to the police, so often it isn’t appropriate. There may be family entanglements involved, or the perpetrator is not known… Speaking out is important for being listened to, for owning your story, for fully integrating complex and challenging realities. That is what I have found, and it gave me an appetite to dig deeper, go write more, share more in this way, whether speaking or writing. This is not new to me as several of my performances include personal experience, but somehow this feels more direct. There is not the spectacle, but simply rawness.
Giving a rape survivor talk has allowed me to look at my past through a contemporary lens. Rather than seeing the incident as just an unfortunate thing that happened and was bound to happen, I am ready to see it more for the damage it inflicted in its own right. I want to say out loud that what he did to me (and others) is wrong. Something ought to be done about him if it hasn’t already. I believe if not locked up, he would be dangerous, with a large appetite and no scruples. Even if he can’t be convicted there should be a way to warn women and teenage girls about him.
I met Winnie Li at WOW, she was leading the discussion session after our talks. She was one of the speakers I saw in 2016 at Giving Testimony, and she has written a book called Dark Chapter about her experience. She also started Clear Lines Festival in 2015 as a forum for discussing consent and sexual violence. I hope to join her for a meeting of Clear Lines supporters on April 17th. Her story is one of adult stranger rape and she was able to report and win a court case, most fortunately. She has an inspiring approach, as it changed the course of her life and she has made it into an extremely positive thing, for the benefit of others like myself as well as herself. She brings professionalism and confidence with leadership to an emerging scene; I hope to learn from her! She led the discussion with the equally inspirational Silke Grygier who founded the Survivors Collective and is an activist.
I myself felt a little different for being less innocent if just as vulnerable as my fellow panel speakers. It is just the nature of my circumstances that I was already in some question with the law; I had chosen an underground path. That feels a very valuable thing as society isn’t like that in the same way now, to have followed a less travelled path. Everything is more diversified now with the internet, yet still an oppressive mainstream dominates. We do enjoy considerable freedom of choice and expression here however, which I appreciate keenly. One of the other speakers regularly speaks as a survivor representative on the radio or does magazine interviews I think. Her name is Sophie Yates Lu.
As I grow older I become more interested in the bigger picture of my origins, beyond the immediate time of my life, into the past of various strands of my ancestry. It makes such a rich composition that touches on lots of 20th century history from fleeing Lithuanian pogroms, migrating to South Africa, founding the South African Communist Party, escaping McCarthyism to bring up a family in East Berlin, and living on one of the last colonial plantations in East Africa. With all this in mind, the smaller events of my individual life are put into a grander perspective. I may be relatively unusual for being such a mongrel in terms of having various origins, but all our ancestors lived in vastly different periods of human history, no matter where we come from. Taking it all in, I feel less victim, more survivor, and more connected to different facets in my character.
I wonder how my life may resonate with others, my particular story, who it might reach? I always felt no one could have reached me when I needed it most, as I was not open to it. So who might I reach? Simply being the best version of myself that I can must spread the most positive energy. It may have all manner of outcomes and that I could never plan.
A recent chance experience in Hamburg reminded me of one of the most effective forms of therapy I have come across. Death metal, head banging and loud industrial/noise music/sound. This kind of music saved me when I was a teenager. It’s the sort of thing that sensible parents work hard to avoid their offspring encountering, but sometimes there is a powerful catharsis available through the medium of live performance, the direct connection with singer (or growler!) or simply received via the sound. If you are in a place in life where you feel a great deal of anger, and find that there is no reasonable recourse to justice apparent, that can leave enormous frustration and an intensification of toxic anger. This is very unhealthy if left unchecked, as the impulse to seek revenge being thwarted by fear/legal implications, there is no place for the anger to channel except inwards to the sufferer, possibly affecting others too.
I recommend a good dose of death metal (or similar). Just seeing or hearing someone else expressing what appears to be angry dark emotions (I have wondered if sometimes they are in fact exploring more nuanced, sensitive mental states, though in their screams and roars it is hard to discern, I imagine they must as they produce so much!) seems to validate my own anger. It says, ‘It’s fine to feel this way – for whatever reason – and you don’t need to hide it. In fact you should definitely not hide it, but show it loudly and not holding back.’ Then to join in by dancing/head banging or growling/screaming along allows you to share in the righteous reclaiming of that part of you that felt forced into the shadows. At least that’s how it worked for me. It was my regular practice aged 16 – 20 perhaps, sometimes weekly or more often. It aided the processing of unhappy emotions, and shifted my sense of disaffected outsiderhood towards focusing on a state of elation found in dancing free-form with others. It is a tribal thing, to all be pounding the ground together rhythmically at the same time, to sweat the night through. The dance floor was a temple, the DJ/bands priests and the clubbers a congregation. It was not lost on us as we stomped to Ministry‘s ‘Psalm 69‘. That the psychedelic messages on all the record covers told us to take a trip, to drop out, to groove and feel the love (and the anger) but also to reject mainstream culture and capitalist consumerism, served as a wider political framework to hold such disillusioned youth.
I was visiting my friend Sabine in Hamburg over Easter and she is a musician who recently moved back to her home city from London. We wanted to see some live music and quite randomly picked something from the listings which none of us knew, and nor did we research. Just took a chance. I might not have chosen it had I known it was death metal, but I was so pleased we did. It took me back to the clubs of my youth and the immense source of power I found them to be! An issue that had been plaguing me relentlessly recently, now found a place to be deposited.
In Rolo Tomassi‘s combination of rage and sensuality, soaring synthscapes and earthly torment, I found redemption. The switch in my head to release such negative emotions was flicked. I left the head CRASH venue just off the Reeperbahn, a happier, more connected and grounded person than the distraught harpy who arrived earlier. Modern life – mass produced culture leaves swathes of loneliness, devastation, anger and deep sadness amongst us. But there are natural remedies out there if you look hard enough!
Recently I wrote and performed Girl in Suitcase, once more at my local Telegraph Hill Festival. I had the tremendous musical support of Sarah Kent, and as well other friends were involved too. It was a wonderful opportunity to be celebratory and make something I wanted to, be an expression of myself in the moment! With some preparation of course… So I leave you with a few photographs by Judit Prieto. I was developing some of my narrative here, particularly about being a life model. The slideshow is very indulgent; for the non-nudity collection please see here! This was the Equinox performance at The Telegraph pub on March 20th 2018.
Borders and Fragmented Identities
My show for the Fragmented Identities exhibition opening in Borders Festival was moved from the Venice Art House to the Ca’ Zanarde at the last minute. The space at Ca’ Zanarde in the gold room upstairs, is much more opulent in style than the minimalistic Venice Art House, and I appreciated performing in it. I had in fact almost lost the will to perform as we had been waiting for hours, had to move from one venue to the other with the considerable suitcase in the piercing heat, and had the disheartening impression that the It’s Liquid organisers, at least those in charge, were not very organised, and nor did they seem to care about the consequences for the artists involved.
I am grateful that Steve encouraged me to go ahead anyway, because I would feel better for it, and I did. There was a very small audience by the time I performed at about 10:30pm, only four hours after the scheduled time. Back at Venice Art House we had been given the choice of remaining at that venue where there was hardly an audience, or walking to Ca’ Zanarde where there was one… but these two venues both had performances scheduled, and Ca’ Zanarde was running late too, so we ended up with very late slots by which time most people had either left, or were just drinking outside rather than watching shows. It was a loyal few that supported each other in solidarity at the end, and they were just enough for me to interact with in the piece.
It was a very different experience with It’s Liquid in April, when I spoke with both Luca Curci and Andrea Chinellati who run it, and was given the chance to rehearse in the space the day before. This time just Luca was there, and we had no communication. There were many more acts and I think the plan for the evening was over-ambitious. Overall I enjoyed my time in Venice and am grateful for the opportunities. Steve recorded my show which is very valuable for me to learn from. For these Venetian performances I created new 20 minute shows and it proves a new discipline. There were lessons in simplification, minimising the importance of language in the show, and reducing the bulk to carry. My previous blog post describes this show in more detail, as I was preparing it.
Here it is!
And here is a lovely shot of some of the sweet folk who stayed with us till the end on the evening of Thursday 4th August.
Journey of performing with Lidia
After the various phases of creation of the Goddess version of the play, involving a few different friends for Telegraph Hill festival 2015, a new opportunity arose. I was called upon to bring the show to a festival in Norwich, and neither Sabine nor Ursula were available. This show about several Goddesses ideally required at least two female performers. Some searching followed, and Lidia was the obvious choice. She had filmed the previous show so knew the score. We had never otherwise worked together, though I knew she, like me had a background in physical theatre as well as being an accomplished life model. We did not have long, but she was game and we would adapt the show for two, rehearsing in her Haggerston studio space. She was also adept technically so we were able to rerecord all the soundtrack according to our new specifications (I had recently split up with a partner who had assisted in this regard previously).
Lidia threw herself utterly and thoroughly into realising her roles – she sewed costumes, bought her own wings and wig for performing Isis, sourced appropriate paints for the Enchantress scene, and learnt her lines. We rehearsed methodically, and even within the limited time of a few weeks (a couple of which I was away in Spain) we managed to develop a strong stage rapport together. It did make a considerable difference bouncing off (sometimes literally!) a collaborator of equivalent training. Also, as neither of us are particularly tall (I am 5′ 4″ and Lidia is not taller) and we are of comparable height, the shared low centre of gravity makes for ideal contact movement work. Her relative sturdiness compared to my more slender disposition meant she was better suited to carry my weight if a lift was required. The contact in our performance enhanced it greatly, and gave the dance elements more emphasis. The physical closeness matched the tightness of our connection as performers; we operated well as a unit. Lidia’s attention to detail meant that the fairly complex structure of the play was smoothly absorbed and delivered.
I had just enough time to improve on the previous script of about 6 weeks earlier. I had felt it was lacking punch at the critical climax of the play, during the witches scene. The tragedy needed to hit harder of the women’s fall, from all their power as enchantresses, to being cruelly wiped out. With an added monologue, and Lidia’s idea to bring another conceptual layer to the body painting, this extra drama was achieved. The result felt powerful.
We performed in a very cold stone church – St Margaret’s Church of Art, quite late in the evening on Saturday May 8th 2015. There was no running water in the building, and only an outside portaloo, so there was no chance of washing all the sticky fake blood, and the thick black paint off us afterwards. We had to put on old clothes and let it dry before showering at our residence a while later.
The coldness of the building was overridden by adrenaline, and possibly contributed to edginess! It did however mean that the chances of getting the audience to strip off at the table-turning audience-modelling scene were vastly limited. We were at least lucky to get one keen taker, who seemed possibly suitably inebriated or otherwise altered for the occasion. He did very well, and Lidia and I both drew him.
It was a very friendly crowd, and our message of menstrual celebration was well received by the Norwich Dandies. Eloise O’Hare in particular was displaying several of her own menstrual paintings in the exhibition in the church. There was so much vibrant work and activity in the space, it was a pleasure to be part of Dandifest’s alternative vibe.
It was also an intense and valuable experience working with Lidia. Life and other commitments have gotten in the way of further collaboration, however I am sure more will emerge when our theatrical spheres converge once again.
Writing Girl in Suitcase ~~ & Soir a Toulouse Lautrec
A week to go before Girl in Suitcase comes to The Hampstead School of Art. I have rewritten quite a lot to keep it fresh. I know what needs to be junked or rewritten when I am trying to re-learn the lines. If a scene doesn’t feel right, I just don’t want to learn it. I have to get a kick out of each scene. There has to be some sort of continuity, though the show is fairly abstract, playing around with time, me shifting between 2 different characters, which sometimes could be and are the same person. That’s cool. They are Mother and daughter, and as you get older you start to realise, you are becoming your parents whether you like it or not!
The musicians will take on the whole score this time, no recorded music. So I had to get clearer about exactly which lines they were coming in on with which instruments. It’s not easy getting 5 pretty disparate people together to rehearse so time together is very precious. Learning how to think as a conductor or composer is a bit radical for me, being able to articulate what I want from them, but the art of working together is appreciated. It could just be me and my sound system (and at some point it might be) but sharing this process with others helps to get me out of my head!
The writing is something I usually do alone, though there are certain people who deeply inspire me. I take notes whilst in the company of my very good friend Szilvi. She knows me so well and has long been a creative partner of mine. There is this fire in her, I’m not sure if it’s because she’s a Leo or it’s the Hungarian in her, but she describes her pain or her excitement with such delicious colour. Some lines in the play are just plain Szilvi! I rock up at hers on the way home from work on a day when I’ve been totally blocked, and within minutes my notebook is out, trying to keep up with her dynamic spiel. I love that woman.
Then there’s Mum whom the play is actually largely about. That’s hard as feeling too emotional about the content inhibits my ability to engage with it or play with it. Hence Szilvi. Between the two of them I access most of the ideas. In the way that only someone who knows you deeply really can, Szilvi will tell me straight what I need to do. She’s not afraid of upsetting me and she has a fabulous instinct for drama. She doesn’t so much suggest an idea as perform it for me. Of course if she was available I’d invite her to perform, but we are not sharing that particular path for the time being.
My boyfriend Aaron listens to a lot of scenes and feeds back. He loves good writing, usually on television, or science fiction, and has an ear for what works or how I might adjust something.
I’m posting some pictures from a session I was modelling at this evening because I like them so much (they don’t really have anything to do with the show except they are life drawings with me in them!) I was asked to bring in black stockings and high heals. Well it was liberating. I’m quite a lazy girl in general on the girl front, I mean dressing up. Now and again I go for it, but being asked to wear heals, and not to walk in, just pose, was awesome! I could feel the temperature going up in the room! Stockings too, it all got a bit Toulouse Lautrec. Some very pretty artwork so that’s why I’m posting. I tell you, it’s a whole different set of muscles to negotiate in stilettoes, and they don’t get out of my bedroom enough. It felt a little erotic, though actually the poses are very similar to what I would normally do. Just adding some simple French brothel parafernalia makes all the difference. Loosened me right up, it was a nice gift just as the midsummer full moon approaches.