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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After this magical sequence, the models relaxed for the remainder of Sarah’s sounds. Time for some longer poses and more developed drawings.
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.
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
A pretty picture of humanity
A loving humanity
An embrace, respect, and attention
Draw your own conclusion
Draw bodies, reaching out
To Sisters in Syria in Spirit
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
In the art of love
And the art of art
To reach out to refugees
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.
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.