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.
A pregnant woman and a midwife pose together.
A large paper everyone draws on
Outlines of women on top of each other, coloured in.
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.
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.”
We are returning to Scotland as part of the Edinburgh festival, for one evening with All The Young Nudes on Tuesday 23 August, 8pm to 10pm, at the legendary Studio 24.
We invite those who would like to try life modelling but who wouldn’t ordinarily have the chance, as well as seasoned professional models who would enjoy creating group tableaux with us. This is unpaid but we are neither making a profit, nor even covering all expenses. We do this as a one-off because we love it, and want to share that passion in many exciting places.
Modelling as a group is different to solo, with its own dynamics and challenges. We will be there to offer support and guidance for those new to modelling, and to connect with like-minded professionals. This is a liberating practice with many benefits for all involved.
There are limited places for models so we would ask you to email us well in advance if you are interested, telling us a little about your reasons for wanting to join in. Email Esther at firstname.lastname@example.org
We were last in Scotland 3 years ago and it was an absolute treat. On that occasion we worked with 3 different groups between Glasgow and Edinburgh over a few days. This is much shorter, as it was ATYN who got in touch to see if we might be about, and it’s all been arranged in the last few days.
ATYN are unique for being ‘life drawing set to music’, and not background either. It’s a bit like being in a nightclub, in fact it was last time in Glasgow, and it will be again this time in Edinburgh. Studio 24 is an alternative music venue that has been around since 1995 – a very special year for me as far as clubbing goes!
Really looking forward to taking Spirited Bodies outside London again, and reconnecting with our Scottish brothers and sisters, especially in this post-referendum madness.
On Saturday 23rd July there will be Sound, Movement & Life Drawing in New Cross, South East London; for women, as well as mixed. Follow link for details.
I get really nervous about (life) drawing and it’s because I am uncomfortable doing things I am not confident at. I overly criticise my marks and that harsh voice in my head surely inhibits my ease of flow when I put marker to paper. It’s there before I have even started! Worrying how the drawing will look relative to how the model actually looks, and how other (better) artists fare in their efforts. I am especially anxious if the group is busy and/or there is likely to be a tutor peering over my shoulder telling me how it ought to work. I will freeze, ashamed of my attempts and be unable to take in their advice. I feel even more out of sorts considering I am so often on the other side, pulling the most contorted angles I can muster – yet can I cope with a talented model giving that right back to me?
I exaggerate. I have been leading modelling and drawing workshops for long enough for my own advice to have penetrated my nervous system. Sometimes I relax and am unbothered by the outcome. It very much is about state of mind. Sometimes I even like what I produce.
I felt extra awful on occasion trying to draw my partner (who is a professional life model). I think I felt like I of all people ought to know his body and be able to capture it well, I mean I’ve looked at it long enough! But it doesn’t translate so easily, and most of all it takes practice, and worrying less!
Kathy Dutton is going to lead the drawing side of things at our next workshops on 23rd July. Her style is very accessible to newcomers who don’t want to be bombarded with technical wizardry, but more gently guided towards expressing their reaction and interpretation of the unfolding tableaux. Having the confidence to draw is liberating, and confidence-enhancing, just as being able to pose nude can be.
The modelling side of things has an emphasis on movement this time, as in very slow movement that allows us to respond more fluidly to Sarah Kent‘s soundwaves. Lewisham Arthouse is on a busy road and I have posed there many times. The sound of the traffic can be heavy, however with powerful gongs vibrating, and other more delicate sounds from Sarah’s collection, we will be transported elsewhere!
This is a 3 way collaboration where we each bring our unique talents. I am a life model who specialises in (slow) movement poses and many of my bookings are focused that way. I think it’s a facility I have always had, developed on dancefloors in my teens, and in drama studios later on. I will be guiding, within participants’ capabilities and inclinations, very much working with individuals’ intentions.
Models may take a turn at drawing, and artists may swap too, which is the best way to understand each others’ roles. There may even be a chance to try making some sounds, whether voice or borrowing Sarah’s instruments.
Poses are likely to last around 20 minutes and involve some slow movement, as well as stillness. Drawings may be collaborative, on large pieces of paper on the floor or wall as is Kathy’s way, and models will move together also, relating to one another more closely as the session evolves. Sometimes they may respond more to the sounds than each other.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.