The Ages of Woman at WOW ’16

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by Kathleen Dutton

This was the blending of two projects of mine – Girl in Suitcase meets Spirited Bodies, and it was the first such encounter. It was not wholly successful for me, and for record’s sake, I will elucidate here the clearest positives and flaws that emerged.

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It was born of a desire in me to perform the play – Girl in Suitcase – somewhere new, as well as to enhance the familiar format of Spirited Bodies at WOW. WOW is the Women of the World festival, annually held at Southbank Centre, London in March, around International Women’s Day. It celebrates women and girls, and looks at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. I went to the very first WOW in 2011, and pitched my idea of Spirited Bodies as a means to help women to feel more embodied, to an audience in the Royal Festival Hall as well as a celebrity panel including Annie Lennox and Sandi Toksvig. Jude Kelly, the artistic director of Southbank Centre offered to host one of my events there. It took a further 2 years to bring the actual event to the festival, and it has been a fixture ever since.

I had not put on Girl in Suitcase since May ’15, and was itching to do so. It has in recent years been aired annually at Telegraph Hill festival, which is local to me, and I craved a new and interesting venue. I had put a lot of energy into creating the show with various friends in 2015, and then found their individual circumstances unable to commit further. Certainly that had been the case with Lidia, yet after working with her, I instinctively wanted to continue that sort of collaboration so didn’t attempt another. To add to that my personal life had undergone considerable turns in the last year; splitting up with a long term partner, and getting together with someone else. I was very keen to get back to the performance by the beginning of 2016, and as WOW has been the most high profile event I do in either project, I felt drawn to infuse that more with my own work. In previous years I had recorded interviews with models and artists in advance of the event, and edited them to play back during the session. For one thing my ex partner had the technical equipment for this aspect, and not unrelatedly, I wanted to ring the changes. Aside from this, during the last year I really noticed how others in the life model scene may have overtaken me perhaps – some that I helped to start out. I was losing the motivation to simply exist in order to ignite other women’s careers. I mean, I wanted to help them, but not at my own expense. I essentially needed to feel at that moment, that Spirited Bodies at WOW was also for me, not just the benefit of others (it’s not a high earner either).

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by Irene Lafferty

A considerable flaw was I tried to fit in too much of the play; in the event there wasn’t time for it all, I had to cut big chunks whilst thinking on my feet. I had given myself too many details to focus on, and during the preceeding week I had gotten an inkling that this would be the case; it dawned on me that not all the parts of the play were so apt for the occasion. At the same time, since other performers were engaged I felt obliged to consider their needs, and not mess unduly with their already tight programme of learning the show. I was unable to perform my acting role with conviction as felt too plainly that the part did not fit; also my mind was elsewhere. I’d had three Spirited Bodies workshops during the past week and supplies of drawing materials were suddenly low – I’d been a bit caught out it became apparent as the audience flowed in at WOW, and paper seemed scarce. Too many details! I knew that really my priority and responsibility was to the models, especially the new ones, but I had made it harder for myself to focus on them.

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by Irene Lafferty

On the plus side, the return to live interviews was a revelation. I had done away with this after our first WOW event in 2013, deeming the format unlikely to attract the truly nervous and hence some of the most magical and transformative experiences. In the meantime however, Spirited Bodies’ reputation has grown, and there is a bigger pool of people known to me for creating such a live event. Certainly at WOW, where the inherent safety factor is well understood, many more women are now willing to share their feelings live, whilst modelling. It probably helps that in the interim years, as Jude Kelly put it in one of her welcome to WOW speeches this year, “feminism has gone mainstream”. Live interviews means, genuine responses in the moment to the audience. There was some rehearsal involved, but it’s always fresh with an eager audience, and some parts have not been planned or scripted; they just catch you by surprise.

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Sabine dancing with wings, by Kathleen Dutton

The themed sections of the event came directly from the play, and represented the stages in woman’s life. This worked very well and provided ample pose ideas for the chorus, who were a pre-arranged group of models, ranging from some with much experience to total newcomers. The chorus created tableaux for each section (the Virgin, the Mother, the Enchantress, and the Matriarch), and these were being accompanied by other interacting action, like Sabine’s belly dance and Ursula‘s Gaia poem. The three of us – Sabine Zollner, Ursula Troche and I reading facts/statistics about violence against women, during a pose representing torture and witches burning, was very effective, making for a strong dramatic arc that deepened the experience. Everyone was reminded of the unfortunate plights of far too many women around the world. Cast in this light, any of our own bodily anxieties were hopefully more ready to fall away, if only temporarily.

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Witches tied to the stake, by Dorothea Bohlius

Regardless of any background noise in my own mind, the event was very successful. Having a well prepared chorus was powerful, and there were lots of new models trying out posing on the day from the audience. We had not had the room set out with an end-on stage before, more usually in the round, and this new lay-out actually worked well, elevating the chorus and action, so it felt more like a show. The event was well attended and well received, and I really appreciated the chance to add some theatre to Spirited Bodies. It was wonderful to revive the version from a year before, of Girl in Suitcase, that I had created with my two friends Sabine and Ursula. As ever, we were blessed with the support of regular women artists at this event, which I am especially grateful for, as well as the freedom to try new things, granted by the WOW team in support of my work.

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by Dorothea Bohlius

Spirited Loving Bodies

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All photographs of models at the Loving Bodies event by Lidia; www.lidialidia.com

After my initial conversation with Rebecca Thurgood in January, about co-creating this event in aid of Loving Humanity UK, she had mentioned two possible dates in April. These were when Amy Peake (founder of Loving Humanity UK) would be in the UK and able to attend. I was available for both and Rebecca would get back to me when she had a venue lined up.

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I thought to make a few suggestions – like Tanner Street run by Ugly Duck who are often looking to host arts events in their large spaces, and where I put on Spirited Bodies at the end of last year. Also Electrowerkz whom I had noticed on Facebook had recently held a very successful fundraising event for Syrian refugees. Finally I remembered St John’s Church, Waterloo, which is a very impressive and central space where back in 2013 I staged A Human Orchestration with The Drawing Theatre.

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While I waited to hear back from Rebecca I got busy preparing for the events happening in March at WOW and Telegraph Hill festivals. Rebecca had set herself an enormous task: to get 200 women to come and draw, and 40 to model, as well as Amy giving a presentation, and ideally finding some larger scale donors for the fundraising aspect; this would all take time. One of my earliest intentions with Spirited Bodies had been to achieve such a channelling of funds towards women with greater need in developing countries, but it had proved more difficult than anticipated due to the high costs (time, energy and money) of putting on these events.

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Very shortly after WOW at Southbank Centre, Rebecca contacted me again to tell me we were going ahead with 16th April, at St John’s Church. I was really excited that she had opted for this venue as it is incredibly inspiring, with the highest ceiling and most natural light of all three suggestions I had made. I was also pleased to have a new focus that would build on the momentum already recently created with Spirited Bodies, however I was aware that with just a month, this would be the tightest run-up I had ever had with such a large scale operation. I was daunted, particularly as during the last year I have really noticed how there is much more competition for artists. The life drawing scene in London has exploded; multi-model and theatrical sessions are more commonplace. It makes me appreciate how, in the earlier years, I enjoyed a relatively unrivalled market for my unique type of event. Not unrelated, it has become more controversial in life drawing, to hold events where models are not paid. I feel there really has to be a strong political, empowerment or charitable fundraising element to carry this off ethically. Well, that is both good for models and not something I would have to worry about with Loving Bodies. This was in aid of a very fine cause – the buying of sanitary towel and nappy making machines for women in a Syrian refugee camp, where such basic needs have been going unmet.

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My main contribution towards the creation of Loving Bodies, was to be finding, guiding and directing the models. That wasn’t too difficult, and I naturally helped to promote the event to my artist network as well.

I had noticed that my old friend Julia Katarina was performing her music more and more at refugee camps in Europe, and I got thinking about musical contributions to Loving Bodies. With such a glorious space, my recent collaborator Sarah Kent would be ideal with her gongs etc. I put this to Rebecca, and before long musicians were being brought into the programme, adding greatly to its richness, including both Julia and Sarah.

I didn’t have opportunity to hold a preparatory women’s workshop in advance, but arranged a couple of meetings with new models in order to prepare them. These went very well, and as ever, all those who attended went on to model at the big event. Such meetings help to demystify life modelling for those new to it, who may find a larger event a bit daunting for their ‘first time’.

As 16th April approached, I did get a bit nervous about us having enough artists in attendance. The large space may feel empty in their absence, especially after I had recently posted several photographs from my event there in 2013, in which the church was well filled. Also as a fundraising event it felt important with getting all the models and musicians as well as artists involved, that we actually raise money, for all their combined efforts. In order to override a bit of an internal panic, my breakthrough moment was realising that the most important thing of all, above having lots of people there, was that everyone present had a very good time. That sounds simple, but it too can be quite a responsibility. Anyway, what was easy, was once I knew what my most pertinent intention was, I just focused on it solidly and didn’t worry about the rest. We had done everything we could in the time, and I knew we had an amazing group of models. There were eight really experienced models in the mix, I appreciate that immensely, together with six total newcomers, and two women who have just modelled before at Spirited Bodies once or twice.

While there had originally been the idea to find 40 models, I didn’t want the balance to be out of whack in relation to the number of artists. It’s important for the models present, that they are not competing too much with each other to be drawn. Plus it’s quite normal with targets like that, that they are far higher than what you actually need or get. Like when we first put on Spirited Bodies in November 2010, Morimda asked us to aim for 20 models. We got nine, and it was fine.

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We had a very special line-up of musicians arranged for 16th, with Sarah’s friends Ereni and Maggy now also on board. I asked each musician what she was going to play so that I could prepare the pose schedule. I wanted a good variety of short, longer and also movement poses. As I have worked with Sarah a couple of times, I know that her set in particular lends itself well to more abstract pose sequences, as she creates a soundscape to accompany the themes. She may respond to the models in the moment, so it really is a symbiosis.

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On the morning of 16th, setting up the church with Rebecca, it felt most natural to prepare the space for models on the central red carpet, and position musicians in front of the altar. Originally I had thought we might occupy different parts of the space throughout the day, but due to the rolling nature of Loving Bodies, with just short breaks between musical sets, plus all the complication of arranging long cables and heaters, and the artists set up with their chairs… it was simpler to keep things the same all day.

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We began with some shorter poses to Julia’s set of Arabic folk songs, mostly accompanying her singing playing her oud, and with one song – words by Khalil Gibran – playing her cello. When I asked Julia what these songs were about I wasn’t expecting the description I got. Quite a few were on the theme of love, or loss, some more existential, spiritual… but perhaps most memorably – ‘a five minute song about rain and lots of people with umbrellas, being forgotten, waiting to be noticed and finally being remembered’! Considering the forecast, I felt that was very apt. I might not have guessed the subject of that particular song, but what really stood out was the power of Julia’s voice, the heights and depths of emotion reached. It carried through the church, transmitted through the bodies in pose, conveyed in lines and shadows on paper.

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For Sarah’s set, I relished the opportunity to create a movement sequence with the models. This was the most directed phase of the posing, building up quick poses from a state of isolation, towards gradually bringing the models together into unity. Through 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 minute poses they evolved into an enhanced state of connection with one another. It felt like a good exercise for bonding the group, moving past their individualness, following the opening set of more separate poses. They got closer and closer, and to take this then to another level further, for the next pose we recreated this progression, but this time in continuous and extremely slow movement, over a duration of 10 minutes.

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To witness the joy on these models faces, captured well in these photographs was awe inspiring! As the women got closer towards touching one another, and there were still several minutes to go, they found creative ways to keep up the momentum of flowing into each other, around the other bodies. There was laughter from their circle of circles at the centre of the church, and we on the outside were transfixed. A secret joke was being felt, experienced by the inner circle, perhaps a few laughing words exchanged, and the mood was ecstatic. I was overjoyed to watch. I knew it was a lot for the artists to capture so quickly on paper, but more than a warm up exercise it really broke the ice. We had arrived on another level at Loving Bodies, as an embodied state, and a very bright state of mind, indeed full of love and acceptance.

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After this magical sequence, the models relaxed for the remainder of Sarah’s sounds. Time for some longer poses and more developed drawings.

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A short break gave everyone a chance to relax and chat, and then it was time for Ursula Troche. Ursula has modelled at Spirited Bodies many times, since I met her in 2012. She has performed her poetry here and again she did today; three poems about migration, drawing, peace, and loving bodies. This was her specially composed Loving Bodies poem.

Loving Bodies

Do you love yourself?

Do you love your body?

Do you love everybody?

Please do, because every body

Needs love, not war!

Love is all we needed

To paint

A pretty picture of humanity

A loving humanity

An embrace, respect, and attention

So draw

Draw your own conclusion

Draw bodies, reaching out

To Sisters in Syria in Spirit

Spirited Bodies

So draw

Draw a line under hatred

And paint love

Take your line that you draw for a walk

It’s a long walk to provision

(of sanitary pads for women)

But each journey of over 2000 miles

Might start with a single line

To draw a body to

Love humanity at risk of despair

We’ll get there

A line at a time

Take refuge

In the art of love

And the art of art

To reach out to refugees

Take refuge

From indifference or indoctrination

And draw, a line, a body, another one

And more, and more

Make Art, Not War! © Ursula Troche, 4.16

I asked the models to pose as if in the actual process of migrating, like refugees, walking a long road, along the narrow carpet in the centre, in quite challenged circumstances. It was for 10 minutes. Ursula’s words were felt and resonated.

A longer free form pose followed, accompanied by Maggy Burrowes singing, and Sarah sounding some of her instruments. For half an hour the models changed pose at will, as they felt or needed according to comfort, but mostly they seemed transfixed by Maggy’s voice.

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Amy Peake had arrived a while earlier and we thought it would be perfect for her to address the women in the church about what she does with Loving Humanity UK, how she founded it, and where it’s at now. The money raised from the event was going towards this cause which Amy brought news of, from the front line. She has spent a great deal of time in the refugee camp in Jordan amongst other far flung places in order to make the project happen. We raised £700 in the end, which was a wonderful result, no doubt inspired by her rousing words. If you would like to donate to the cause, please do so at this link.

Our final set was again a long pose, this time of 45 minutes to Ereni Mendrinos’ singing and guitar playing. A deeply soulful way to complete the Loving Bodies event. The models responded by posing while listening intently, both engaged and relaxed, again at liberty to move at will, yet for the most part incredibly still.

We ended on a big round of applause for the models, musicians and poet. What a celebration of women getting together for art, and for a higher love of reaching out to far away women who may appreciate a little help from their sisters at Loving Bodies. Any big event can and ought to make me nervous before, as this one did, but finally it was extraordinary, exceeding my expectations. We could have had more time to plan it, but what magic of just going for it, making it happen! The outstanding contributions of all the women involved moved me endlessly, still does. Nothing like it, and many would like this to happen again. I am positive it will, such a good feeling of flowing with sisterly love.

Loving Bodies

Following a very successful run of women’s events, and one mixed one, I am happy to announce that our largest event to date is on the horizon, coming up in a few weeks. This mass model event is just for women – both drawing and modelling, and will be a fundraiser to buy sanitary towels and nappies, for women in a Syrian refugee camp.

Rebecca Thurgood, an architect, contacted me in January about her idea to put on this event to support Loving Humanity UK – a charity who provide sanitary towel making machines (and the know-how to operate them) to women in Za’atari refugee camp. She came across the Spirited Bodies site while researching her idea. It was apparent that our missions could harmoniously and fruitfully dovetail. Indeed my original idea for Spirited Bodies back in early 2011, was to raise money from the events, to channel towards women in less developed countries who are not privileged enough to be so concerned with their body image. In this way I envisaged Western women connecting with their sisters around the world, to heal each other in a way, and bring greater solidarity to all womankind.

I didn’t find it so easy to implement this idea. The logistics of putting on the larger events involved other organisations of artists, who needed them to be commercially viable. Smaller events which I ran myself tended to hardly cover their own costs. There was in tandem with this, the slightly out of kilter idea, that I as perhaps an impoverished artists’ model, could help women elsewhere to find a sustainable and independent lifestyle. It hardly made sense when I hadn’t exactly achieved that for myself. It seemed enough that I was helping people here to find greater peace and acceptance with their own bodies. That is, apart from an event I did with Life Drawing in Leytonstone in September 2014, which benefitted an orphanage in India. So I am extremely excited to now have this opportunity to collaborate with Rebecca, to further realise my dream, as well as hers.

Since I began Spirited Bodies I have developed my networks, built a community, and gained a lot of experience in running various types of these events working with different people. Now is an ideal time to embrace the new challenge.

Here is Rebecca’s flyer for our collaboration, which is called Loving Bodies;

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I am looking for about 40 female life models (experienced as well as new) to each pose for 2 or 3 hours. This is unpaid for all involved as all money raised goes to the cause. Let me know if you are interested & please spread the word!
We are also looking for many many women to come and draw – it will only be £15, tickets available here.

Here is a picture of the venue from a mixed event I held there in 2013 with The Drawing Theatre –

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It is a large space with good natural light, and on the occasion in the photograph, we did several poses in different parts of the space.

Here are some drawings from recent women’s events I held ealier this month;

From the women’s session at Telegraph Hill Festival on Saturday 5th March

From the older women’s session at WOW on Friday 11th March

From WOW on Saturday 12th March

Calling Women of All Ages, for WOW @Southbank Centre

We are very happily returning to the Women of the World Festival for our 4th year there, on Saturday 12th March at 3:45pm. This year we are bringing exciting new elements to the event, by including parts of my performance project, Girl in Suitcase.

A theatrical ensemble of professional models will lead a chorus of women, young and old, through the inspirational Ages of Woman. You are invited to try life modelling as part of the chorus, or turn your artistic hand to drawing scenes of the Virgin, Mother, Enchantress and Matriarch. Throughout the session, chorus models within this supportive environment will be invited to share insights from their life modelling, motherhood and menopause experiences. No previous drawing or modelling experience necessary. This is a women-only session where models will work in a group with poses lasting up to 15 minutes. Art materials, robes, a changing area, and a warm comfortable space to pose in are provided.

You will need a WOW Pass to attend the session, though I do have limited free places available for women artists (email me at info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com). Donating a sketch to a model is highly appreciated, in return for their posing.

If you would like to be part of the chorus from the beginning (not as an audience member/artist joining in later) do get in touch. If selected you will not need a pass, and we may be able to cover some transport and assistance costs. I am particularly interested in hearing from older women. The venue is accessible and carers are welcome to join you – we especially welcome disabled women who may otherwise not have such an opportunity. Do spread the word if you think someone may appreciate being included. We are lucky to already have one confirmed chorus member who is 65, and completely paralysed. She has modelled with us several times and become something of a star at Spirited Bodies due to her incredibly powerful testimony given in recorded interviews. Another star who we hope to have joining us again is a model who is in her 80s and has had a mastectomy. Read transcripts of live interviews we made with models at our first WOW event in 2013, here – Part 1, and here – Part 2.

We will be in the Blue Room, which is on the Spirit Level of the Royal Festival Hall building, and the session lasts approximately 1 hour and a half.

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Women posing together at Tanner Street, December 2015

There will be a warm up Women’s Life Modelling session a week before as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Saturday 5th March, from 2:30pm – 4:30pm, in the Craft Room at Telegraph Hill Centre. This will be much smaller, and a straight forward life modelling and drawing workshop. You may book online or just turn up; there is a small charge but if money is tight, don’t let that stop you – get in touch, we may be able to work something out.

If you are concerned about menstruating whilst posing, well this is natural especially if you are new to life modelling. You are welcome to wear knickers, a tampon or mooncup, or even to bleed free. My previous blog post covers this subject somewhat; we all experience this differently.

Women posing at Bargehouse in November 2015;

There will also be a mixed life modelling workshop as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Thursday 10th March, 7:30pm – 9:30pm, also in the Craft Room. This is hosted by Frances Felgate as it is part of her regular life drawing group session. This is free to attend as it is a taster session for the festival.

 

 

Free Bleeding Life Modelling

The following is about a recent experience I had when life modelling and menstruating aligned for me. I am sharing it here as want to raise awareness about this issue, particularly for the benefit of women thinking of trying life modelling, as well as for artists booking models. It is not necessarily talked about much, but I think we all gain from freeing ourselves of this taboo. Female models may feel more comfortable, and artists better understand the issues involved. There is a lot of shame around menstruating, which some women experience more than others, whereby it is felt necessary to hide this biological process; the blood, smell, bodily and emotional changes. All of this concealing can further add to the psychological anguish of not fully realising our natural cyclical power, however unaware we may be of this.

I arrived early in Sidcup on a Thursday morning after no sleep. Despite a stressful night, somehow I remained upbeat in the morning, and on removing my garments in the changing room (this college has an actual changing room for the life model!) was amazed to discover my knickers and thighs smeared with blood. How unexpected, and how early. I am generally fairly regular, and this was about ten days premature. It did explain my difficult tormented night however, to a further degree than the stress I was experiencing alone could. With the full moon approaching in a few days, my cycle was realigning to bring my emotional and physical being, in keeping with the celestial sphere. I now found myself in jolly temperament, typical for me of coming on.

I was caught out, without mooncup or pad. There seemed more blood than usual for the beginning of the flow, which is often minor dribbles, and I actually felt excited by the idea of posing while free bleeding. In my robe I entered the posing space and addressed the tutor Nick. I said, “My period has unexpectedly just begun, and I am unprepared. So I will pose, and there will be some blood between my legs you understand.” He did, no problem. I have known this class for a rather long time and feel so comfortable with them, so appreciated always.

I had presented the predicament audibly so that all the class could hear too, and they were all on the same page. This post-menopausal bunch were relaxed and comfortable, as long as I was. While they were not able to offer me a tampon, they helped me feel far greater comfort than usual. Typically my dynamic and movement poses are stretched to the limit here, and several of the class members are nudged out of their comfort zone. How they must have rejoiced in my menstruation to be able to proffer the sofa loaded with as many cushions as reasonably stacked there. I did a few quick stretchy poses, and then was ushered into warmth and comfort. My tiredness was intense and I felt no resistance, just gratitude for my friendly class, who in their turn were equally gracious.

Nick was considering which of the clean sheets to cover the cushions with, and seeing none were red, I said I thought lying on my own robe would be most suitable. I can imagine in other similar situations that a tutor or class member might offer to go and buy a tampon. That didn’t arise here, and I think it was because of the exuberant manner in which I presented my predicament, more elated than troubled by my bleeding. Finally the staining of my legs was not so dramatic. The combination of long reclining poses and a large absorbant bush meant that most of this sticky mess didn’t travel so far.

When it happens, it happens. Go with the flow. Here are two earlier posts I have made, at least partly on the subject, one from a few years ago, and the other a year ago.

I will host events where free bleeding is encouraged, or if not so overt, then it will simply be acceptable. To promote menstrual health, awareness, and not hiding this vital part of our life blood. Celebrating our cycles and all the (hidden) power contained there, until we open it up and declare it ours. We shift with the weeks (if not blocked too drastically with hormones or lack of food for example), accessing different parts of ourselves at each time. Renewing, growing, blooming and shedding. When the blood comes, we are letting go of the old, what we no longer need; dead waste, old blood. To make way for the new.

Here are some photographs from my Girl in Suitcase performance, from the scene about menstrual rites, performed with Lidia at Dandifest, May 2015, Norwich. Lidia is pouring a syropy fake blood liquid over my already blackened body. The audience have been handed a cup of red wine each, in time for our menses communion ceremony.

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