Body Reflections

The power of life modelling to elevate us from our body image concerns is challenged by the pervasive tendency of mainstream beauty standards to permeate our life drawing bubble.

Before social media, life models largely existed in isolation, rarely knowing one another, merely passing each other during a break perhaps at an art school. Now our contemporary world is fixated with all things visual, and connecting us with each other too. Life drawing and modelling are in fashion again, and images of life drawings as well as photographs of models in pose, amongst other nude art shots proliferate.

Where life modelling was once the preserve of eccentrics, circus performers, sex workers, actors and other less ordinary freaks, it is now much more acceptable in society. While this is progress that may help towards gaining rights such as improving pay and working conditions, it also has a less desirable outcome, I think. The transference of mainstream concerns of the body, to this hitherto removed sphere. When it was taboo to undress for work, life models had to be immune to a certain amount of society’s judgement. Now these worlds are less separate, they are able to affect each other in new ways.

Some models have always been more conventionally attractive, with a look similar to a movie star, for example. The real beauty of the scene itself however is diversity, something we must never forget in the face of potential flooding of glamorised strains of life modelling. There is certainly a place for glamour, as another form of expression with a celebration of design and style, but if that niche dominates visually, there is a danger of a more unwholesome impact. We can’t help but compare ourselves with each other, and never more so visually. So many of us delight in displaying our prettiest selfies, making sure the light is flattering and make-up in place. We hold in our bellies and wear padded bras as we strive to be seen as attractive by others. We imagine we may be liked more if we can get our look “right”, and we are probably correct, at least in the superficial sense that a Facebook ‘like’ has.

A few years ago I observed more of the people drawing me considering trying the modelling, spurred on by my project. Lately I noticed a shift. The artists perceive that it is now more imperative for models to be immaculate, impeccable in appearance, and they sense they cannot compete.

This is not the whole story of course. Much diversity is being celebrated happily in our scene. I just want to push more of that, and personally I am keen to see fewer of the more affected, stylised images of life models. The scene lends itself well to being a site for celebrating a wide variety of beauty – including as it is not usually seen. That for me is the magic.

The merchants of body hatred – the diet, beauty, and cosmetic surgery   industries – are so extremely powerful globally, that they have even resulted in affecting government legislation in some countries, and the direction of scientific research. In Brazil, the state routinely pays for breast implant surgery for young women who profess to be anxious about their lack of mammarian prowess. This solution is considered cheaper than paying for the psychoanalysis that might be needed to truly address the problem. So a plaster is applied, but the underlying epidemic is left unresolved. People become less in touch with their actual bodies, and are reinforced by the government in their thinking that their bodies are a project to be cured, altered and perfected. They are not ok as they are. Body hatred is experienced as the natural status quo; yet somehow beyond Hollywood, South America and Essex(!) many of us do manage very well without such tampering.

Long may that remain, as a society where everyone is fixing their “imperfections” in the lunch break via the surgeon’s knife, is not one I want to be part of. Let’s be proud of what authenticity we have held on to, and celebrate our uniqueness.

As I write I have just arrived at lodgings in Inverness. Across from where I write, a large mirror shows all of me as I am nude now (warm day!) Before opening my notebook I delighted a while in posturing in front of my reflection, checking the chub of my belly. I know that sounds ridiculous to people who know me, as I am slim by anyone’s definition, but also I am premenstrually bloated. When you have a narrow physique, a little extra on your belly really makes a difference, may even be mistaken for pregnancy. But, I am trying to get out of the habit of constantly holding it in. Just let it be. I still can appreciate my form, the more so in front of this revealing mirror!

I check out backviews of my bits, which artists from particular angles would doubtless have seen countless times. I see what they have stared at! Or what men see who I have had sex with. I am awash with curiosity and fascination for my own form as it moves, from different points of view. A boob on top of a tummy above a massive thigh or buttock. Combinations that alone show only part of me, but the eye fills in the rest. I am proud of and grateful for my body which is pretty healthy. Today I feel childlike joy at returning to the beloved Highlands. The constant smile on my face reminds me that what is most beautiful about me is the joy I radiate, not the tummy I hold in.

At Lauderdale House, Clare’s class
In the Highlands: view from Inverness Castle of the River Ness

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Two books I recently read inspired parts of this piece. ‘Bodies’ by Susie Orbach describes body hatred in today’s society, and specifically (in relation to this piece) the situation experienced in South America. ‘Animal’ by Sara Pascoe also discusses the problem, and mentions the high rate of cosmetic surgery operations in Essex.

The Stories of Women

After a long break we are back with a new series of events at The Feminist Library. These will be for women only, though I would like to make a mixed event soon too, elsewhere. Also an event in Sheffield is in discussion! It is very special to be at The Feminist Library as naturally we share a lot of values. I have found it a very calm haven with so much richness stored in so many books and other archive material. There are publications you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and an incredible variety of female writing, from the cult to the little known.

I wanted to continue sharing the models’ voices with artists, and as well to celebrate the incredible breadth and diversity of female models. The idea of models expressing themselves whilst posing interests me, and not just with their bodies. Speaking of the nuances of feeling generated in pose, the different connections with people drawing, and how the practice or job sends ripples into their wider lives. Through sharing their thoughts we will spark some discussion about any issues or responses raised.

This introduction into a professional model’s interior world may warm participants up for trying some modelling themselves I hope! Naturally we welcome women who just want to draw as well. If cost is an issue please get in touch as it needn’t be. Some drawing materials and boards will be provided but by all means bring your own.

I am really excited to be presenting some wonderfully gifted and unusual women in this series. It is a chance to hear new stories in ways they perhaps haven’t been told before. Each session, the model will pose for the first 45 minutes, creating a sequence of poses to help with her presentation. She may not speak all the time. Her voice might have been pre-recorded if she prefers. She will sit, stand and elaborate for you, using her platform to engage you with particular matters pertaining to her experience. She may deliver poetry or make music. There may be a little movement. She will decide!

Our first model for the series will be Leo.

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Leo will be modelling at The Stories of Women on 17th July

Leo says, “I consider being a fat model a public service 😉. I hope other fat people are inspired to love their own bodies more.
body positivity and diversity is the key.”

Couldn’t agree more. It is very exciting to have Leo with us. She has a lot of experience and is a powerful figure with a strong mind. Please join us! Further dates and presenting models will be announced soon.

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“The Feminist Library is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s.”

Tickets available here.

Spirit of Women Changemakers

Spirited Bodies is really proud and honoured to be part of The Fawcett Society’s Spirit of Women Changemakers conferences in November, in London and Manchester. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. They want to see a society in which individuals can fulfil their potential regardless of their sex, and are bringing “individual community activists and organisers together with those who have driven change at the highest level to identify the most powerful ways to create change.”

I have been invited to create women’s workshops to complement the programme, by offering a practical session where delegates may try their hand at life drawing, perhaps even some life modelling. Spirited Bodies wants all women (and all people in fact) to feel comfortable in their bodies and fulfil the potential of their whole self. By working to eliminate body image and confidence issues, we want people to be free to embrace all of life, without being constrained by limiting beliefs often imposed by the media.

Similar to when we are at Women of the World Festival at Southbank Centre, these workshops will include demonstrations by prearranged models – some will be professional life models and others may be first-timers. To accompany their poses, recorded interviews of previous Spirited Bodies models will play, and in these voices may be heard the complex reasons that women come to try modelling with us, and what they gain from it.

Many find this a moving spectacle that reaches far into the interior of some models, going beyond familiar and traditional life drawing standards. The artist is halted in their sketching, arrested by unexpected revelations of peculiar intensity. They had a set out to draw a body – in itself, not simple – but are suddenly forced to confront a deeper reality. The model they are drawing is completely still… but had they considered that perhaps she is always so? She may not be a professional life model, though you might not realise it if you just walked in the room and found her in pose. At other times her paralysis is more evident as she is only without her wheelchair when reclining.

This is just one example of myriad stories behind the women who have posed at Spirited Bodies. The aim is to reach women who would otherwise not have the opportunity to model. They might be ill, very shy, anxious or somehow disabled, and this is a chance to experience their bodies as part of the creation of art, to be appreciated by drawing artists in a safe and guided environment where there is no pressure except their own desire to challenge themselves.

The atmosphere is totally supportive and respectful and every effort is made to accommodate different and unusual needs where appropriate and possible.

The London event is on Saturday 12th November and takes place at St Thomas’ Hospital.

The Manchester event is on Saturday 19th November and takes place at The Studio.

Our workshops will be from 2:30pm – 3:30pm.

If you identify as female and would like to take part in one of the events as a model, please email me at info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com stating your reasons – there are limited places. This is not paid modelling, but nor would you need to pay to come to the event. Similarly if you are a female life drawing artist in or near Manchester who would like to come and draw at that event, please get in touch. It is great to have some experienced drawers present! It looks like we may not have space to accommodate the same in London unfortunately, however if that changes I shall put the word out. In any case, you can always buy a ticket to the conference and join us that way, as well as seeing lots of inspiring talks. I will be bringing drawing boards and materials.

During the morning at each conference there will be talks and panel discussions that address the subject of improving women’s lives in a range of ways. After lunch there will be practical workshops for attendees to experience some grassroots approaches to enhancing women’s lives. Spirited Bodies naturally fits in here, on the matter of body image, part of our health and well being. There is lots more information here, including how to buy tickets.

Key speakers include Dame Jenni Murray, Journalist, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour; Baroness Jane Campbell, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group; Stella Creasy, MP; Caroline Criado Perez, Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner; Gail HeathManchester Women’s Aid; and Becky Olaniyi, Sisters of Frida. I am humbled to be among their number, and very happy to return Spirited Bodies to a more political sphere.

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© Spirited Bodies 2016, photograph by www.lidialidia.com at Loving Bodies event, April ’16

NB I am not intending to photograph the event at Spirit of Women Changemakers conference.

A few paintings and drawings from one of our recent women’s events, in July at Lewisham Art House – called ‘Sound & Movement with Life Drawing’

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© Irene Lafferty
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© Irene Lafferty
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© Kathy Dutton
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© Kathy Dutton

 

 

 

All the Spirited Nudes, in Edinburgh

FAO Esther: an email arrived from Scotland on 22nd July. All The Young Nudes wondered if I might be about in Edinburgh in August, to hold an event with them for the festival. We hadn’t been thinking of it but it was within the scope of my schedule and I didn’t hesitate to book it in. It had been 3 years since my last trip there, with Lucy and Thelma. We had done 3 events across Glasgow (with ATYN) and Edinburgh (with Edinburgh Drawing School at Marchmont St Giles parish church centre, and at Arts Complex, St Margaret’s House).

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At the end of the evening, Steve and I clearing away. Taken by a model

The event would be held at Studio 24, an alternative nightclub in the heart of the city, and a festival venue. Joanna, director of ATYN, reckoned we could comfortably fit about 10 models in the space. Last time we’d collaborated and I’d put a call out, just 3 models had come forward and all were professional. We had found first-timers for the church gig, but I considered that perhaps ATYN was more daunting at the time, for a newbie. The full-on music and nightclub atmosphere might not suit the more nervous types we were appealing to. It required a certain amount of confidence just to step up to that opportunity in the first place. In addition back then we weren’t so well known, especially in Scotland. It was the first time that such an occasion had been presented and the response was more tentative.

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Models in situ, all ready for their audience

By contrast, this time the people properly groomed by social media no doubt, were ready for us. I was inundated with interest from potential and professional models alike. In the interim years ATYN have expanded and not only operate in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also with regular weekly sessions in Dundee and Aberdeen. Joanna is furthermore preparing to export her brand of life drawing abroad to beyond the UK and even Europe, such is the popularity and accessibility of her unique set-up.

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All artworks & photos in this post are from the event on 23/08/’16 at Studio 24

It seems in many parts of the UK life drawing (and modelling) have expanded, gone mainstream; so it was lovely to feel the increased appetite and enthusiasm. It in fact felt greater than presently in London where ever more similar opportunities are available and there has possibly been a saturation.

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I quickly signed up 10 models – a good mixture of experienced and not, male and female. ATYN are famous for their music playlists and as I constructed a pose schedule including a couple of (now familiar to the scheme) movement poses, I liaised remotely with the music man. I remembered the wonderful eclecticism of the score last time, and while I wouldn’t attempt to unduly affect Pete’s choices, I was really keen to align the movement poses accordingly. A few days before the gig he sent over his Spotify setlist for our session and I spotted Clark’s Upward Evaporation; a suitably timed and ambient piece that lent itself perfectly to the seeds slowly growing into full bloom pose. Also catching my ear was Oneohtrix Point Never’s Ships Without Meaning, perfect for the models in a circle making a chain of movement pose. Just one moves very slowly at a time, until s/he touches the next, and hence the chain of movement.

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Models as seeds about to grow

Having emailed the models with extensive instructions and notes on what to expect, they were already well briefed and we easily got into our groove during the bonus hour before the event in which to practise. We physically ran through the tableaux and I outlined some practicalities. Despite a few last minute cast changes and at one point having a total of 12 models arranged, when the time actually came, there were as originally planned 10 models including my partner Steve. Steve wasn’t in all the poses particularly the shorter ones, rather helping me to photograph them, but he joined in 4.

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Steve joins in this scene of a Roman bacchanale

After a beautiful day climbing Arthur’s seat and the nearby hills, we arrived early and met Charli who was managing for ATYN, as well as Keira who was also involved. We set up a space against a brightly painted wall of the rectangular space, opposite the bar. There was strong (blinding) lighting directed on the model space, and a separate corner allocated for models’ belongings. The DJ booth was in another corner and Charli was happy to manage the music so that it was quiet when I needed to address models between poses, for the set-up and let the artists know the pose length.

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The first pose

I was really pleased with how smoothly everything ran, all the models working so well together (mostly strangers to each other) and good vibes all round. Here is the pose schedule as it finally flowed on the night (some poses were shorter than planned as the break was longer, and set-up each time had to be factored in too);

5 minutes dynamic pose with all models connecting just minimally
10 minutes models in a circle, chain of movement with one model slowly moving at a time until s/he touches the next
10 minutes models pose as if family or anyone from their lives who may be shocked to see them life modelling walks in (if there is no one to be shocked that’s fine too!)
15 minutes models create gangster poses, think Reservoir Dogs
15 minutes a scene of a Roman bacchanale
15 minutes break
5 minutes slow movement growing from a compact to an expansive pose
10 minutes scene of witches ceremony
25 minutes scene at the beach

 

Here are some more images from the session.

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Caught unexpectedly nude!
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Confident expressions
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Laidback
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Bewitched

And here is a little feedback from one of the models I want to share;

“So glad I got to take part in this and can’t thank you enough for the opportunity! Modelling together for the first time was definitely the best way, I as a new comer to life modelling could get inspiration of others and also connecting with people in such a vunerable setting is inspirational and phenomenal! The moving poses were one of my favourites both the short growing pose and the group connecting and moving with one touch was so unique and inspiring! I really hope to take this experience and use it as inspiration if I ever get another chance to do this again! Thank you again and hope to see you again!” Aimee.

So sweet, makes me feel very warm 🙂

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We look forward to taking Spirited Bodies to Scotland again sometime, as well as to other destinations. With gratitude for this beautiful calling.

Steve will also be documenting the event shortly on his blog, with quite a few more of the superb photos!

Collaborative Sound, Draw & Pose

 

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by Irene Lafferty
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by Kathy Dutton

A fusion of art forms, experimental creativity, and a healing space.

Meditation circle to begin; focus and calm.

Slowly moving as a group, in a circle

Like flowers growing towards the sun.

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by Kathy Dutton
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by Steve Carey
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by Philip Copestake
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by Irene Lafferty
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by Irene Lafferty
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by Kathy Dutton

A pregnant woman and a midwife pose together.

A large paper everyone draws on

Outlines of women on top of each other, coloured in.

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by Kathy Dutton
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by Kathy Dutton
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Women’s collaborative drawing led by Kathy Dutton
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Men and women collaborative drawing led by Kathy Dutton

Playing instruments we didn’t know the names of

Spread out on a picnic rug to sample.

A group symphony of sound, and a tableau of nudity.

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by Philip Copestake
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Women making soundscape

Here is the women’s collaborative soundscape, led by Sarah Kent.

 

Some feedback from the women’s session

“I can see retrospectively that my belief and trust in myself got totally wrapped up into the dynamic of my relationship with my ex. And I had lost my faith in myself. I didn’t think my body was mine anymore. When shit hit the fan it was my body that I blamed and victimised. When I gave myself permission to process what had happened, I had the revelation that I don’t exist to please anyone else. When I posed for Spirited Bodies I felt liberated. To be naked, without sexual purpose, was the ultimate declaration of self. This is ME. This body is mine.” Ellie.

“I really enjoyed the day, key thoughts:
– very alternative
– open and welcoming
– a bit experimental which is probably not for everyone e.g. Joint drawing was a bit 1960s art ‘happening’.
– the music and movement component was interesting and Challenging to draw.
– I enjoyed the modelling experience and felt very comfortable. I guess I also realised how comfortable and at home i felt in my body and pregnant. it felt therapeutic in some ways.” Philippa.

Here is the mixed collaborative soundscape, again led by Sarah Kent.

Kathy Dutton writes of the day

“#drawing #live capturing the essence of continuous movement #observing each second and putting it onto paper #softly drifting into sound and seeing only. #spiritedbodies

1 minute #drawing capturing the #curve of the body and a #moments #movement #spiritedbodies

During the event ….I felt our minds connected in a way that made it easy to work in silence…with only the sound and our intention. The circle at the start and the spiral within the meditation rippled into our consciousness subtle yet present… it surprised me how a few people drew the spiral we connected with in the visualisation
The soundscapes reached into us and made us melt into energy… connected by the sound into each moment, and the intense heat of that day.”
And here is Steve Ritter’s blog post about the mixed session (for a more accurate description of what happened!)