A Christmas Workshop in Highgate

I thought for Christmas, a light hearted, fun event, more like the workshops we used to run, and without the intensity of the interviews. Creating amusing scenes with a group of models, so that with the focus on some abstract drama, there is a distraction from the possible discomfort of being nude. A bit of wine and some music to ease the flow, and we will be transported from a community centre to a Winter scene from popular fiction or a fairy tale. Also a return to the workshop format, where each participant has a chance I hope to try modelling and drawing, if that balances with the numbers. There is always space for those who only wish to draw, and for women who only wish to model; for men to model or do both however may be more over-subscribed is usually the case.

In the Autumn I reconnected with Camilla Scaramanga who runs life drawing classes at Holly Lodge community centre in Highgate, and after a chat she was keen to collaborate. I saw the centre as an ideal workshop venue for the upcoming season. She liked the ethos of Spirited Bodies, and shares a feminist disposition, but agreed that a mixed event would be most fortuitous now, to introduce the idea to the area and her group.

I have some personal history with Holly Lodge estate where the community centre is – in the next road down, my Mother grew up when she moved to London in 1963. I visited the place often where my Grandmother resided for many years until she died when I was 14. Her flat was the first place where I came across life art; she herself was an artist who sometimes drew, embroidered and sewed nude women in her art. Her walls were decorated with female nudes by various artists and I did not quite understand her appreciation as a girl. I preferred her more abstract pieces, or those featuring animals as was more fitting with my socialisation, which little did I know included some inhibition about the naked body.

My Grandmother was apparently more relaxed, and looking back I realise she was a greater influence than I ever had the chance to fully acknowledge during her life. She embodied a woman who lived for herself as well as for her family. Her life spanned several careers and different socio-economic climates as well as 3 different husbands. She always married for love, and husband number 2 was a communist American. The plan to migrate to his home in Seattle was thwarted by the US government’s House of Unamerican Activities Committee, so they tried in vane to settle in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria… and finally grew tired of being tracked down and blocked by the FBI. They found sanctuary in East Berlin where they remained for the rest of their marriage and the formative years of their daughters. My Grandmother – Mary Wolfard, worked for the communist party at various stages in the early years, became a journalist while they lived in Europe, notably though sadly lacking evidence she interviewed Picasso on a beach in Spain, worked in radio in East Berlin; and when none of her socialist credentials were recognised when she moved back to London, she decided to become an artist. I have often wished she might have lived a few more years, as an adult I have so much to ask her! I unfortunately don’t have any photographs of her work, though plenty of it is on the walls of my parents’ home. I have a few pieces at my home also, but just now I am away in France modelling for a month in the Loire valley so unable to provide images. This however has reminded me that some record ought to be made.

I haven’t been to Holly Lodge estate at Christmas time in 23 years. I very much look forward to returning.

For more details please see the Events page, and for inquiries relating to Women, please see here.

 

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Tampering with Nature, & the Making of Ritual

I knew that Leytonstone wasn’t so much about the people I don’t know. My focus is definitely concentrated on the artistic and therapeutic direction, while my marketting skills are falling behind. On that front I really miss Lucy, but I wish her all the ground-breaking success she deserves in overcoming the skeptics and the nay-sayers on her quest to become a teacher – with a life modelling past. I mean it’s not like she can erase her name from press quotes relating to Spirited Bodies, so better to be upfront. I have a lot of faith in her. She is a great teacher and showed me much on the path to growing this project. The English education system is missing out enormously if it discriminates against those who have been or are life models. If it won’t accept her on those grounds, it is because it is not worthy of or ready for her. A pox on those naked fearing bureaucrats. If they knew Lucy they’d rewrite that protocol. It is time that any anti-naked religion took a hike. Early Christians knew that nudity meant being closer to God, free of society’s masks. This lingering, prevailing Victorian attitude needs to be dropped in a country, well a city at any rate that is more multi-cultural and integrated perhaps than any other on the planet. Let’s adopt some more timeless values. We are human animals for Goodness sake! Living in fear of man’s savage behaviour denies our higher feminine principles.

Back to Thursday evening. It was largely about my friends. I have the privilege of interviewing them, after all some have taken part in numerous Spirited Bodies events, and being friends I might catch them at more opportune moments. Other participants I didn’t know so well before, but now I do. Maybe we are friends now after sharing so much, but regardless I am grateful for the personal intimacy shared and aired. This ritual is growing as I learn incrementally how to work it.

These people have landed in all kinds of uncommonly normal circumstances. Overdue on their credit card payment, reacting unfavorably to high blood pressure medication, stuck in a job with the NHS administration that gives just 30 minutes for a lunch break, unable to chew their food properly, broken stomach, sexually abusive family, didn’t face their biggest fears till their 40s/50s/60s, tall but can’t walk without a stoop, have always had just enough so never been pushed to challenge themselves more, know there is something massively missing in their lives but no clue how to remedy.

If you are stuck in a rut, there seems no way out, just a long waiting game. A series of expected hospital appointments, courses of medication, rounds of relatives paying their respects. A gradually diminishing diet, bank account, and circle of friends. A partner oscillating between losing interest and reaffirming her raison d’etre. Just a few things are constant, you really get to know what they are. Maybe there is never really a partner, just a Mother, reluctant, unavailable and always in absentia. She can’t moan about you because she can’t even remember your name.

But if you have a chance you may describe the rut, listen to your voice, and watch others listen as they try to draw you. Do they get it? Do you gain something by hearing your voice amplified in a hall with others listening? Does it make the words sound more real, or like you are watching it on Jeremy Kyle? You hear the silence, sometimes a laugh when your audible sincerity hits a mark of recognition. Perhaps you sound daft, insecure or indulgent; but if you didn’t you wouldn’t sound like anything at all, and from awkwardness, at least you emerge with a voice.

There is responsibility; are these people vulnerable? Being exploited by me for dramatic material? One model reveals an undiagnosed personality disorder on tape. He has a nervous stutter, and describes a most unfortunate, horrific life, but is in the later portion of it. He is candid and unbothered by the consequences of openness – what does he have to lose? Not a lot I think. And he may gain more people understanding his shy, reserved character. Not just looking past him, perhaps imagining him as a creep – so quiet and nude, more than a little awkward. His voice has been heard, not overly edited to be politically correct. It is borderline but perhaps we need that, and to hear about mental health as it really is instead of carefully packaged to avoid lawsuits.

He stands alone, but he is supported by the others who are more comfy characters on their respective journeys. They are either artist or model, gaining experience or utterly professional as Ursula is. We hear their insights – on colleagues discovering their life modelling life, on the horrifying prospect of trying life modelling themselves, on the idea that men cannot help but look at women as objects; we hear advice from one who has overcome her fears to become a respected professional life model involved in theatrical events.

At some point I long to return to having a big event of the scale we have had with London Drawing in the past. I just need to be utterly sure of how that could manifest. Now that I have rebuilt the event with a therapeutic model, combining that with a stronger view of artists’ interests may come next. My shaman friend who attended on Thursday was inspired to write as well as draw during the session. She started describing to me a vision of how this could grow into a big healing and art event, with different types of artists, poets and alternative therapists joining in. That is a very beautiful idea.

Something else which enhanced our Leytonstone gig, was a playlist of music tracks to accompany each interview. After all, the zone of life drawing is a meditation, and too many words could get in the way of that.

Some pictures from the event; poses were between 1 and 20 minutes long

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Many thanks to all who made this event possible. The other thing I realised about how to run Spirited Bodies is, no one should make a profit from it, it is a labour of love. All proceeds are going to an orphanage in South India called Goodwill Homes (it turned out not to be the right time for the charity in Guatemala we originally had in mind). This is because the models are posing for free, and this needs to be for a higher purpose. I gain plenty in other ways from making it happen.

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Coming back down to Transition Heathrow

My favourite grooove lingers and rolls, batting away the overgrowth in a cave, Dead Can Dance soaring through a number. It’s the call of the wild on a Tuesday evening, and then you know it’s coming. What is keeping this foggy relationship alive? It must be the noxious tentacles wrapping themselves around our limbs and entwining us from the edges of the floor boards. It’s all in the unravelling. Somehow I have a feeling that the past is also the future, well at least part of it.

If I had to stop living in a flat on my own and I wanted to be free to travel, I might appreciate a tent on a site occupied by eco-warriors. I might learn about the land and how to grow food. But how to let go of creature comforts of being coccooned in a dwelling in this society, my own income, my own time. Choice about how I use my space and time, some of which would go if one joined a commune. Yet I might be on a plane more frequently to far away outposts, learn to live with others again, and how to share more. Know that I was off-grid, making it work outside of housing benefit and at a remove from the big conglomorates controlling our direct debits. I don’t think I want it, but at some point I may need it, to shed a layer I don’t even know I can do without.

This year I am shunning bigger opportunities, but I am grabbing wholeheartedly what calls to my soul. As expressed at the beginning of the year (or end of last), I am called to let go of people with interests outside of my own. I am to return to the essence, whatever it takes. I love my autonomy, not being told what to do or fitting in. Then the magic can flourish with abandon when no one else is looking, except the others at the gathering.

As a teen I was drawn to Industrial music, because it encapsulated the horrific sense of being immersed in the grit. Thrown up, left crawling till you fight back. It deconstructed the bullshit with dancefloors pulsing instead of text books. Hormones and endorphines racing and a tribal pounding felt like a sort of initiation when I’d broken away from normality. I was rising in sublime fashion, not without falling first.

Each Spirited Bodies event is a meeting of new models with their inscribers, the people who see them and commit the memory to paper. We hear what drives those on both sides of the platform. Why is this activity so compelling? Being a witness to transformation in an intimate act, in a spiritual, non-judgmental fashion which makes no intrusion, just allows the naked expression to flow. We know this act is helping to unravel individuals from the tight bind they find themselves in. When it’s ready to let go of the knots then the journey is glorious, unblemished and bountiful, the unlocked doors to self-knowledge. I recommend a life time course to get the best results.

For the next Spirited Bodies event in Leytonstone September 18th, see here

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

Outside a climate camp, Grow Heathrow

 

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

Ursula leads the way to an out of the way spot protecting land from becoming another runway

 

Gypsy in Roehampton

Gypsy in Roehampton

 

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

series of quick poses I think in Sidcup

 

A double pose at The Mall

A double pose at The Mall

 

with Alexandru

with Alexandru

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Blood on my Thighs

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

Slime at the Farr Bay

 

Summer sunset over Torresdale Bay, Bettyhill

Summer sunset over Torresdale Bay, Bettyhill

 

Borrogeo inlet

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

So underpopulated is the village that at the Farr Bay Inn a german shepherd sometimes serves behind the bar

 

My last evening

My last evening

 

Cliffs at Holburn Head, Scrabster

Cliffs at Holburn Head, Scrabster

 

 

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Life Art & Therapy in Highbury

I had been busy working on my play – Girl in Suitcase – in recent weeks, and left editing new interviews a bit last minute. I wanted to hear how they would flow with the material from March which was being reused, so naturally I gave each model’s interview a listen. Getting to Mum’s on Thursday afternoon left me with a heavy impression. The power in her voice is so disarming, to appreciate life so readily when one’s experience has been shockingly limited. I was reminded of the caged bird. My heart moved, and when I arrived for work in the evening, they knew something was up. Luckily they’d requested a Tank Girl look, so I was wearing stompy boots (and stockings) without anything else. They took a while to prepare their easels but some hiphop was playing and I just had to dance in my performance space. My way to release, to express, to flow back into a safer, happy place from where I can observe my emotions without being too caught up. The boots helped to ground me, as well as swing me around.

I just about managed to organise the interviews in time, but I was nervous. Every little thing – replenishing art materials, briefing models, instructions for how to maintain the pristine haven of a venue, biscuits, suitcases full of kit to charge across town by bus… and why had so few artists booked places? Would there be more models than artists? Turned out I had sent out a faulty link to the online booking  in my invitations and on the flier! Well it is the first time I have sold tickets that way, and now I know.

People showed up regardless. The right people. Not too many, but enough, definitely enough.

The planning for this event happened just before I was set to look after Mum a few days back in May. I planned the Girl in Suitcase performance then too. I needed a focus to make my days as a carer ok. Sounds terrible when some people like Dad do that all the time, but nevertheless, so it is. So there was a little urgency in the planning, which is great for making things happen, though bound to be a few hiccups.

One of the main models I had planned this event with, had dropped out last minute, due to a very important court case she was involved in out of town. Couldn’t be helped, but I guess it threw me a bit, seeing as she’d been a driving force previously. But hey, she helped get the ball rolling, and, I am so pleased with the outcome. For sure there are improvements to be made; interviews which need more editing mainly, and the possibility of some models doing a longer pose, while others move more often. What worked really nicely was Niomi’s (the absent model) idea of having a post-event debriefing session for all who cared to stay. There had been considerable discussions a while back about how we would ensure that the right people stayed, but in the end, it just happened organically. By that time, with the intensity of all the interviews fresh in the air, the people who can and want to stay on know who they are.

I tried to make sure everyone who wanted to, contributed to the discussion, and it was rewarding for me to discover how much people enjoyed hearing the interviews. As they played I had felt painfully aware of background noise, and parts of interviews which made the model in question (and me too) squirm inwardly as s/he heard her/himself. It was remarked that it was refreshing that it was not overly edited. Made it more authentic, genuine, to hear that I’d caught them at teatime, and this must have been my only opportunity to interview them, so I had just pressed record whilst kettles were boiling, cutlery chinking, or people shouting across a hall in the background. Not all the noises could be edited out, if the words were very important.

There was a difference in the way some interviews were received at Southbank Centre in March, and then at Skylight Centre now. In March at WOW the room was packed to bursting, and women at the festival had spent much of the weekend building the feminist momentum listening to talks, taking part in discussions about the female slave trade, getting more women in top positions, and getting rights for women in the middle east. By the time they got to us at the end of Sunday, they were ripe for each and every woman’s voice at our women only event.

I only invited one male model to Highbury as I was playing it very safe. I knew others would come to draw anyway and they would have a chance later in the session to pose, but I wanted to be extra picky at this stage, for this event. I won’t explain who he is or why I chose him here, as that might compromise his privacy, as with other models. But he stood out in a few ways, and I knew he wouldn’t come otherwise. My main objective might be to offer the Spirited Bodies experience to people who would otherwise not find it, and who may gain the most, as well as contributing most meaningfully to the ensuing dialogue and others’ experience.

One artist mentioned that he was amazed to hear how the interviewees expressed such hatred towards their own bodies, and that it made him realise there were likely a lot of people going round with those negative thoughts in their heads. Tragic. It was news to him (he’d been brought by a friend) that the model might be experiencing therapy whilst modelling. He wondered if all models gained in this way. I explained that for most regular models, after a while one is relatively free of body hang-ups, but that modelling may continue to offer valuable insights due to its meditative energy sharing nature, even for the seasoned model, and that’s part of what can keep its appeal. Another artist who tried the posing stated that modelling raised his energy in a trance-like way, took him to a higher place. I totally agree.

I am aware of a block I might have towards applying for funding. I guess that (funding) has never been a reason for doing the project, as my drive is born more directly of passion, a need to create and to share. I mean, funding might be great, but I would not wait for it. When I need to make Spirited Bodies or a piece of theatre happen, I just do it. I loathe the idea of fitting my plans into boxes for others to judge if my intentions and methods fit with their criteria. On the other hand, at some point I may cross that threshold as I know this is worthy of funding. It just has to happen before I get the itch to be doing the event, because then I have no time for forms.

On Friday evening there were 8 interviews, including one from an artist. There was going to be music too, but due to a technical hitch early on we only got the sound started a bit later, so no extra time available. At least 5 of the artists tried the posing. Mum received a round of applause after her interview! Revealing her identity is a little controversial as she is shy about people she knows knowing that she modelled nude. But I have this feeling it’s like worrying that someone from work will see you at a fetish club. If they are there too, surely you’re in it together? Moreover Mum’s voice is too powerful and my connection to her too strong for me to present this less personally. A middle-aged woman with advanced MS who is paralysed from the neck down poses and tells you about how in her dreams she is in her 20s and can walk, but in waking life she requires anti-depressants in order to feel ok about everything. She would hate it if the people on her street knew about the modelling (but some of them do as she’s proud enough to have some of the pictures from her previous sessions up in the kitchen). Her voice is slow, and would be quiet without volume control. Normally it’s lucky if one person can hear her, let alone an audience. She tells it like it is, and she almost has nothing to lose. Women in the audience who may be too worried about the size of their behind to pose, or think they have a big nose, rethink their concerns when they hear what Mum has to contend with. It puts everything into perspective to have an elder (63, but in a condition more like a 90 year old) like that. She hadn’t thought she could be a role model, but it dawns on her during the interview. By the end we are all extremely grateful to be able to move independently, to pick up a piece of charcoal or remove our own clothes unassisted. Life takes on new meaning.

model Liliana

 

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All pictures taken from the event. There were many more good ones I missed, but hadn’t got that far in my planning. All the same, brilliant memories.

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Spirited Bodies in Highbury

When I think of you my heart grows stronger.

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Come on out for Spirited Bodies in Highbury on 27 June, Friday evening. It will be magical. In a beautiful centre for therapy the peace will welcome the powerful performances of our models.

An image of the venue:

The Skylight Centre

Collecting interviews. From models and artists. Backdrop for a stunning scene.

 

Images from our WOW event in March this year.

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To buy tickets and for much more information go here.

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Excellent Women – Life Drawing at the Women of the World Festival

spiritedbodies:

Fond memories received just as I am thinking about where to go for our next event.

Originally posted on makingthemarrow:

Here are some sketches from when my darling friend Clare dragged along for a life-drawing class at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival– but this wasn’t just your average life drawing class. It was an incredible tribute to the female body and mind.

The women posing in the group were a wonderful mix to draw – tall, short, heavy, slim, black, white, asian, and they created one dynamic group pose after another. What made the event even more meaningful is that whilst the women posed, a recording of them being interviewed about the idea of putting their bodies on display to be drawn was played.

The session was for women only, and was a safe space for shedding clothing without the worry of being judged or evaluated in a sexual manner. It was a space for understanding, and also a space for some very emotional and empowering interviews from…

View original 133 more words

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‘Girl in Suitcase’ ~ a one woman life modelling story with musicians

Before I get back to Spirited Bodies I am rebirthing my theatre. On Friday will be the first time my new performance will be watched.

It is a one woman life modelling spectacular. I will be with 4 musicians; a string ensemble as well as a percussionist, and the audience may draw the show if they wish. It is not entirely nude, there are a few flimsy costumes; a skip-raided set, and a soundtrack for the first scene which I created before I had met the musicians. Actually that scene is recycled from previous shows I have put on because I like it so much. The opening suitcase sequence sets the tone for a fucked up inversion of life drawing set-up. The model is immediately on edge, likened to a trafficked slave, and itching to escape. She makes her come-back, reverses roles with the ‘other character’ – a sinister older woman, and starts to take back her power.

When I started writing this show I thought it would be a snapshot of myself, amplified for the timebank. That’s what it says in the blurb which I wrote before I got to the script. While I was sketching out new scenes, stuff was happening with Mum. Each time I visited seemed more pertinent. Dad was struggling, and my last version of ‘Girl in Suitcase’ from Edinburgh ’11 kept creeping back into my awareness, the importance of telling that story. In a new way. With one actor. Mum was holding on to life as powerfully as ever, but sustaining her life was costing Dad on every plane.

The play is not exactly what it says it is, but it is where I am now, and I have no doubt it will evolve over time.

Working with ‘The Next Room’ has been a revelation. Suddenly there are others involved and they are not exactly in my space, though they share it. They bring new enthusiasm, and are the first people to respond to my script. I realise I need to focus on what their role is and be clearer in my direction, but luckily they instinctively understand and I feel most privileged to have them on board.

Here are some rehearsal shots by Chris Hermon.

During rehearsal I am not nude

During rehearsal I am not nude

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Roddy Skeaping leads 'The Next Room' collective of musicians

Roddy Skeaping leads ‘The Next Room’ collective of musicians

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Ines

Ines

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Tobias

Tobias

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Damaged a calf in this rehearsal, hope it's healed in time!

Damaged a calf in this rehearsal, hope it’s healed in time!

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My violin is making a come-back!

My violin is making a come-back!

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The show is on at The Telegraph at The Earl of Derby pub at 87 Dennett’s Road, SE14 5LW 

on this Friday 28th March at 8pm. Tickets are £3 (£1 concession) and can be bought here or on the door most likely.

If you are keen on drawing you are welcome to bring an easel. There are tables and we have some boards at the venue, and drawing materials. I will encourage everyone to draw, but you may simply watch if that’s more your bag. The poses are not very long if you are familiar with life drawing, and some are movement scenes, but if life art is new to you, then 5 minutes of stillness may feel like a long time. On the other hand, when there is no dialogue, there is music.

 

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Women of the World and Beyond

Our event at ‘Women of the World’ last Sunday has moved me profoundly. Having recordings of interviews with models was very powerful, as some of those women would have been too nervous to say those things live or even turn up. I am copying a message I received from one of the models, Niomi, as it expresses well some of the passion felt by those involved. I am also posting images from the event.

To summarise; ten women with varying levels of experience started the posing. They were aged about 30 – 63 and had a wide range of body types between them, as well as reasons for participating. From being an experienced professional model disillusioned with it all and wanting a different more empowering space in which to model again; embracing a new body post-op transgender; to stop feeling invisible as an older woman with MS and mostly paralysed; or wanting to engage with a wider discussion about body and sexual politics as we consider how best to move forward with Spirited Bodies.

Whilst the models posed I played the recordings of four of them as well as two others by women who did not pose on the day. Each testimony told a different story – from the relatively light-hearted journey of embracing one’s body in a new way through life modelling, to the more intense reality of wishing that one day you might be able to move your limbs again and your degenerative disease go into reverse. Where I could, I asked the model who was talking in the recording to be in the centre of that pose. One bit of feedback I got from one of the women drawing, was that hearing the models’ thoughts whilst drawing them, affected the way she drew. The model instead of relatively silent was expressing her innermost thoughts, fears and ambitions.

About half way through the session I started asking members of the ‘audience’ if they would like to try posing, and some of them did, so that was lovely to have some total newcomers.

When I was interviewing models, the conversation sometimes moved towards the future. When and how will we invite men back again? Could we have a post-event discussion session to allow models to process together as a group their thoughts, to make an event more complete, and beyond the act of modelling itself? How open can we be towards men when we have had a few tricky experiences with male models being involved in the past? Would we just work with the ones we know and trust? After all, the safety of vulnerable women must be our priority.

Here is some of the artwork from Sunday; the poses lasted from about 6 to 17 minutes.

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Here is Niomi’s letter;

HI ESTHER.

 
I was very touched with the experience that I had yesterday – the way you facilitated the event – went I thought very well – with the life models you knew starting off – then the new girls who wanted to have a go – then back to the Spirited Bodies life models – and your Mum was just amazing at the centre piece of it all.
 
I was very touched by your interview with her – she is a brave amazing person – and I can see that she has had some deep emotional issues to work through in her life – it touched me so much when she was talking about how she would love to get her active and functioning body back. 
 
It was a nice surprise for me when you called me up to do my 17 minutes life model pose – I found listening to my interview with you deeply touching – I was able to hold my pose regardless of being emotional and tears streaming down my face.
 
I hope that we will be able to carry on this dialogue within an open minded and safe space together – feeling free to explore all sides of the debate from the female side – and being open to listening to and hearing the men’s side of the story too – in connection with exploring and being together in Spirited Bodies Life Modelling.
 
Thank You again for this amazing opportunity to explore My Life – My Journey – My Body – Within the context of being in a safe and comfortable environment – in the way of working together as a group and team work – to share together in our body form and presence in connection with each other – to embrace – be open – and enjoy the bodies that we have been given and feel comfortable in our own skin.
 
This of course would not be possible without the artists – and I saw a lot of art work on the floor at the end – so I hope that the photographs will go on the Spirited Bodies website for us all to see.
 
If you find any of me I would be so grateful if you could send it to me.
 
I also do not know if it is possible for you to give me a copy of the recording the girl gave to you – I have an elderly couple I am friendly with – I would like to play it to them one day – as I think it is so touching.
 
With My Best Wishes To You.
NIOMI GABRIELLE
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With thanks to all the artists and the models, and as well Jude Kelly and Domino Pateman and all the staff who helped at Southbank Centre
Posted in Events, Feedback from Participants, Images, Intimacy, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Return to the Womb of Winter Hibernation before Rising for Justice

I was grateful for a good year, and ready for a rest. The rest came early when complications arose with the final event so it was cancelled. During the two weeks preceding my holiday in Spain I raised my voice to artists drawing me on two separate occasions. The holiday was well overdue! It was the continual objectliness of the role of life model, being referred to not as a person, but as their (the artists’) object, so that they could get their picture how they wanted it. I cannot remain passive, and at this point in the term, my level of politeness was challenged also. The part of me that has missed making theatre rose up spying an opportunity for a natural drama. My voice shifted to histrionic tones, without quite shouting I did project! I let them know I am much more than an object and they ought to honour my presence, for without me, they would not have a model. They may have many other models, but right here and now, they have me, with the shape and form that I am. If I need to alter the pose because I have damaged my shoulder in the position it was in (whilst doing the pose), then that is what I will do. No questions. And if I know which poses my body can make on a Monday evening at the end of a term when I have been modelling almost every day, and I am a professional model and have been for 7 years, then I know. Not them, however long they have been drawing for, does not make them master of my body ever. They may have trained in the ’50s or ’60s when the model really was often regarded as little more than an object – and when I say model, you can place ‘woman’ in that sentence in most contexts, especially for the type of antiquated artist I refer to – but we are now in the 21st Century. Get with it. Or get lost I say, because I will not tolerate this.

I returned to Barcelona where I had lived briefly 10 years ago, only this time my home was 5 minutes from the sea. Each morning I walked to the beach, and most days the sun shone very bright, the sky brilliantly blue even if the temperature fairly cool. I did not have internet and barely used my phone. I noticed the quality of my sleep improve, as well as my breathing. I kept a journal – hand written – meticulously. I unpicked thoughts over and over, and lingered on memories of my old self bumbling around the city a decade ago in a cloud of hashish smoke. Nice to feel the changes. It felt like a pilgrimage as I revisited favourite spots, and remembered the particular state of play in 2003. My sister visiting me, spending time with my classmates which helped to prep her for the audition to drama school. She got in, and we spent a year living together while we studied at the same college, reconnecting since I had left home. The massive anti-war demonstration which was the biggest of its kind around the world, must have been all the more satisfying for the leaders who ignored it to feel their supreme power. I had gone with my flatmates all day in the packed streets of the centre, then watched the next day as scenes from every city everywhere doing the same thing were shown on television. You can raise a massive outcry like that and know that you are all doing it, feeling it, but you cannot sway the powers that be, the way things are. Stupid white men Bush, Blair and Aznar were the butt of our jokes but who had the last laugh? Well war one place or another continues. To rise above that we have some way to go.

This holiday felt like the greatest gift, and it came via a friend who offered me a room in her tranquil apartment. I knew I never wanted to return to the way Spirited Bodies had been, but at some point I would take the best of what it had been and develop that. It felt like SB had drifted too far from its core. I had let other people’s wishes take over, and now I was pulling my baby back. I longed to reignite my creativity apart from this direction too, so that drive will be honoured from now on.

I came in touch with a female shaman (shamanka) at the beginning of 2014 and with her transcendental insight she had strong advice for me (she gave me a good telling off!) Not to let others take over ever again. Keep nursing this child of mine as it is a calling and to be given the utmost care. I didn’t skip school, waste my youth in mindless chemical abuse, sell my body and give up all pretensions of wanting a ‘normal’ life, mortgage, academic success and 2.4 children to let people who had some of these things take over. Moreover my grand parents and great grand parents did not give up promising careers in the West to live and work underground in the impoverished East or start the South African communist party, in order that their bloodline would give up the fight for justice. Because when you have made big decisions about your future that mark you forever like an alien, you have the power to change things, but only if you use it. It is a unique and divine power and it comes from the passion of youth. You never knew as well as you did when you were 16, 18 pounding the beats on the dancefloor what was wrong with the world, and also what felt right.

It would be vital for me to nurture my own sacred masculine who had gotten lost amidst my celebration of the feminine. That would help me to avoid leaning on others or being led by them. The shamanka pointed out my inappropriate openness left me vulnerable to others hoping to make money, further a career or even meet women through SB, which ultimately was at my expense, undermining my efforts. The good news is, I feel in such a place now, that there is no turning back; I exhausted other pathways. I am left figuring out the direction for myself and have faith in the perfect unfolding of this beautiful phenomenon, with a bit more experience behind me. In the beginning there were so many questions that I was grappling with – whether to have men model with women, whether to make events more theatrical, whether to organise every element of an event myself or combine with organisations of artists, whether to target ‘vulnerable’ women or to create a financially viable operation aimed at wealthier women, whether to stay attuned to the shamanistic 5 Rhythms community or go more political with the women at Southbank, whether to include professional models or create a franchise. I know a lot more now where my heart wants to go with this, and experience has taught me much about what keeps the essence pure.

I aim to bring Spirited Bodies to the Southbank Centre on Sunday March 9th as part of Women of the World festival, late in the afternoon. This will be more of an installation rather than last year’s presentation. It will be a women only space, where women who have modelled with us before will lead the way, before newcomers are welcome to give modelling a try as well. I will invite the experienced women to read out testimonies from women who may prefer not to tell their own story or cannot be there, though live accounts of the transformational experience of life modelling are also welcome. As a healing space for women, it will be totally cool to simply be present, sit on a cushion and listen. Naturally I would love lots of women to come and draw as well as model, but you are also welcome to just be there. Please get in touch if you think you would like to take part; for the most part a day ticket to the festival will be necessary (£12), but if you have modelled with us before I would like to offer free entry to our session at least.

Apart from this my energies are going into a one woman show I am creating, ‘Girl in Suitcase’, which will first be aired in late March (28th) in South East London as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival. It is a follow on from the two woman show I put on in Edinburgh 2011, though now I have decided to simplify matters and concentrate on one performer – myself. Well one performer plus one or more live musicians accompanying me. I will likely start a new website for the show which may provide a new outlet for my more personal ramblings, allowing Spirited Bodies to be entirely for itself and the participants’ stories.

Bringing me right out of the womb will be One Billion Rising for Justice on Valentines’ Day (V or Vagina Day), Friday 14th February. I am simply going to link to Facebook as all the blurb is there – https://www.facebook.com/events/1445985895616396/. Basically Eve Ensler, creator of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and a healing city for women in the rape capital of the world, Democratic Republic of Congo – leads a host of prominent feminists from MP Stella Creasy, QC Helena Kennedy, actress Thandie Newton, performance artist Skin and many others in campaigning to end all violence against all women everywhere (one billion women in the world it is estimated will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes). Between 12 and 2pm in London, Trafalgar Square there will be speeches, performances and dancing. But wherever you may be in the world, there may be an event near you, or you can start your own. A ‘One Billion Rising’ panel discussion at the start of January got my feminist senses buzzing again, and most of the room dancing by the end; it was electrifying. Hosted by Jude Kelly of Southbank Centre and much of the WOW team, it really helps get the momentum going for V Day. Returning to the idea of balance however, The Southbank this weekend is holding a festival to honour men, Being a Man.

That’s all for now, look forward to crossing paths in the upcoming Year of the Horse.

a Barcelona beach in December

a Barcelona beach in December

sleeping on the job

sleeping on the job

my Oriental double?

my Oriental double?

Posted in Events, Life, Performance, Spirited Bodies Mission, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment