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.”
Our event at ‘Women of the World’ last Sunday has moved me profoundly. Having recordings of interviews with models was very powerful, as some of those women would have been too nervous to say those things live or even turn up. I am copying a message I received from one of the models, Niomi, as it expresses well some of the passion felt by those involved. I am also posting images from the event.
To summarise; ten women with varying levels of experience started the posing. They were aged about 30 – 63 and had a wide range of body types between them, as well as reasons for participating. From being an experienced professional model disillusioned with it all and wanting a different more empowering space in which to model again; embracing a new body post-op transgender; to stop feeling invisible as an older woman with MS and mostly paralysed; or wanting to engage with a wider discussion about body and sexual politics as we consider how best to move forward with Spirited Bodies.
Whilst the models posed I played the recordings of four of them as well as two others by women who did not pose on the day. Each testimony told a different story – from the relatively light-hearted journey of embracing one’s body in a new way through life modelling, to the more intense reality of wishing that one day you might be able to move your limbs again and your degenerative disease go into reverse. Where I could, I asked the model who was talking in the recording to be in the centre of that pose. One bit of feedback I got from one of the women drawing, was that hearing the models’ thoughts whilst drawing them, affected the way she drew. The model instead of relatively silent was expressing her innermost thoughts, fears and ambitions.
About half way through the session I started asking members of the ‘audience’ if they would like to try posing, and some of them did, so that was lovely to have some total newcomers.
When I was interviewing models, the conversation sometimes moved towards the future. When and how will we invite men back again? Could we have a post-event discussion session to allow models to process together as a group their thoughts, to make an event more complete, and beyond the act of modelling itself? How open can we be towards men when we have had a few tricky experiences with male models being involved in the past? Would we just work with the ones we know and trust? After all, the safety of vulnerable women must be our priority.
Here is some of the artwork from Sunday; the poses lasted from about 6 to 17 minutes.
Here is Niomi’s letter;
I was very touched with the experience that I had yesterday – the way you facilitated the event – went I thought very well – with the life models you knew starting off – then the new girls who wanted to have a go – then back to the Spirited Bodies life models – and your Mum was just amazing at the centre piece of it all.
I was very touched by your interview with her – she is a brave amazing person – and I can see that she has had some deep emotional issues to work through in her life – it touched me so much when she was talking about how she would love to get her active and functioning body back.
It was a nice surprise for me when you called me up to do my 17 minutes life model pose – I found listening to my interview with you deeply touching – I was able to hold my pose regardless of being emotional and tears streaming down my face.
I hope that we will be able to carry on this dialogue within an open minded and safe space together – feeling free to explore all sides of the debate from the female side – and being open to listening to and hearing the men’s side of the story too – in connection with exploring and being together in Spirited Bodies Life Modelling.
Thank You again for this amazing opportunity to explore My Life – My Journey – My Body – Within the context of being in a safe and comfortable environment – in the way of working together as a group and team work – to share together in our body form and presence in connection with each other – to embrace – be open – and enjoy the bodies that we have been given and feel comfortable in our own skin.
This of course would not be possible without the artists – and I saw a lot of art work on the floor at the end – so I hope that the photographs will go on the Spirited Bodies website for us all to see.
If you find any of me I would be so grateful if you could send it to me.
I also do not know if it is possible for you to give me a copy of the recording the girl gave to you – I have an elderly couple I am friendly with – I would like to play it to them one day – as I think it is so touching.
With My Best Wishes To You.
With thanks to all the artists and the models, and as well Jude Kelly and Domino Pateman and all the staff who helped at Southbank Centre
In this second instalment Lucy speaks to LaDawn and Sabine, who have both modelled with us a few times and taken up some professional life modelling, as well as to Tansy who first life modelled with us at our first event when she was 17 (with parental consent). She is now 20 and a London based life and photographic model.
Lucy (FLS): LaDawn, you modelled for us at BAC (in October), and you came to several workshops beforehand. What brought you to modelling and what brought you to Spirited Bodies?
LaD: In July 2011 I was holding down a job – I was a high powered IT operations director for a really large FTSE company, and I had a nervous breakdown. By October I was unable to drive my car or leave the house, I had zero, zero confidence. I made two suicide attempts, I spent 6 months in a psychiatric clinic, and there was nothing of me left. Coming to Spirited Bodies was a way of… I thought it was just going to be one go, I thought it was going to be the October event at Battersea. I did the workshops and I found these to be very calm, very safe, very empowering. I felt like I could probably cope with this, and we went to Battersea Arts Centre and I think it probably changed the trajectory of the rest of my life. Because I started thinking of myself as a work of art, regardless of whatever shape my body is in, or whatever condition my mind was in, I completely changed my whole approach to life. So when I see you as artists out there drawing us and regardless of whether someone wants to stand up and say it’s a good drawing or a bad drawing, the fact is that it is art, and it’s of us women with all our flaws and breakages. We’re all broken in some respects and it was my experience with Spirited Bodies that propelled me on to a path of almost wellness where I felt I had the strength to move ahead with my life and to gain my confidence back.
FLS: I got into modelling because I’d been ill and I know for me one of the things that I like is the fact that I could help other people achieve their dreams, I could help the artists achieve some art and that got me out of the house and got me moving, made a big difference.
LaD: I was only thinking of me.
FLS: You’re supposed to only think of you.
LaD: But now it gives back in amazing ways because I did go onto the Registry of Artists’ Models, and I did register and I now have gotten to do some really amazing artwork with some artists in the Eel Pie Studios in Twickenham. I got to do some more with Dulwich Art Group… these artists are so amazingly talented… At first I wasn’t going to show any of my friends the artwork but because it was art I had to show them. One of the husbands of one of my good girlfriends – he just calls me juicy (which you know, there is nothing salacious in it), – he says it’s beautiful and my husband initially was horrified. He was so worried the first day when I went to the workshops, he was in tears, and when I got home he thought I had done something that was unsafe. Now he has seen what it’s done and how it’s changed me, and he just encourages me to go out. He’s offered to become my booking agent and everything, like my pimp!
FLS: [admin side of modelling, I can certainly do without]
LaD: As soon as he takes out the rubbish.
FLS: Sabine – you came to model with us at the BAC – we do model other places – in February and that was mostly before we started doing workshops, how did you find it?
Sabine: I found it really amazing, it was a great experience, I must say I’d never done this group modelling before. I have modelled before when I was about 20 and I was at university; I modelled for sculptures. I was doing architecture and we had some sculpture class as well. So that was a one on one thing. For some reason I didn’t do it in ages; I always did life drawing myself, so I was interested in posing, modelling. Then I came across Spirited Bodies because I went to London Drawing life drawing classes and (there was this chance) to get a bit of experience, and so I went there and it was a really amazing experience. First of all the group experience; there were artists and models and it’s not the usual one model and lots of people. It was also very desexualised I must say, which I really liked. It was a very relaxing atmosphere and yes, unfortunately in most of the other instances when I have modelled before there was a sexual aspect, between especially male artists and the models, so this classical ‘muse’ theme (of life models being courtesans etc) and that sort of put me off. It was a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, so I wanted to get rid of that, and with Spirited Bodies, I’m quite relaxed. That this is not the case and especially like today as well amongst women, it’s very nice and relaxing, and when I model … probably it’s a bit like Esther. I do like to think of poses, what I can do or when you set up the one with the queen (Arleen was our Queen with a courtof female subjects), I immediately thought, ‘what can I do here?’ so I quite enjoy that part.
FLS: Performance element?
Sabine: Performance element, because I’ve never done drama and I’ve never been involved in theatre plays so that’s my way of expressing myself.
FLS: Have you gone on to do a bit more (life modelling)?
Sabine: I did indeed yeah. Again very suspicious about some male artists who really it’s pretty obvious if they have a group and they only employ female models. I think it is not a very serious thing because if you teach people drawing, you want to give them different bodies, male and female, so I just wonder why is it just female? They always give some kind of excuses, but it is just for someone to see a naked woman.
FLS: At one group – they loved drawing me but they wanted their work to be commercial (hence they prefer young, slim women), which tends to be more the case when people have come out of the advertising industry. People are not always honest about what they like, and they may go for the norm because that’s acceptable, the pressure we’re all under.
Sabine: Also the other way round, so… some people see me as the norm; yes, I’m slim and that is attractive. I am being reduced to that as well. I’ve been told a few times in my life by a boyfriend, ‘I hope you don’t get fat’, so I kind of feel that my appearance is in the way of having a loving and fulfilled relationship in a way. Again I feel quite confident with my body so the modelling is an experience for me, especially of not being an object, not being objectified and that is very nice.
FLS: Is it kind of ironic to go pursuing not being an object and not being objectified by being an artist’s model, being an object for an artist?
Sabine: Yeah it is a bit of a contradiction but there is a certain distance that I feel…
FLS: One reason we wanted to share the modelling experience, share the good things in it, is to get a bit more respect (for artists’ models); not just the, ‘you get naked in public so you’ve got to be a bit dodgy’ attitude.”
LaD: In Dulwich, they hired me knowing I was a full sized model… full sized so I’m not miniature – and it was for a long pose, week after week. They were preparing artwork specifically for sale and they felt that everybody had paintings of thin naked women on their walls so they wanted something slightly different, so it does change, I think it really does change. Although someone put me in a bath tub.
FLS: I love that picture of you in the bath tub. Tansy, you’re young, thin – we’ve just been talking about that; how does modelling make you feel? How do you use it?
Tansy: Modelling helps me leave the house. I’ve had my own fairly severe mental health problems and I still can’t go to school. I’m 20 years old and I’m still doing my A levels because I lost about 2 years of education, and I’m home schooling because normal school is just way too stressful. Modelling forces me out of the house. Because I’m home schooling I live in this isolated bubble and modelling exposes me to the real world, it forces me to do things, because otherwise I can… just stay in my house and not leave for 3 or 4 days at a time, which is quite unhealthy. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been having quite a few negative days, where all I want to do is stay in bed. I feel incredibly apathetic and de-energised, and I don’t feel like I can cope with anything, but modelling forces me to challenge myself to get out of the house, to do something productive because its my part-time job now, I can’t be late, I can’t not show up, its work. I need to show up to do my job. And it gives me a space to have undirected thought. When I am posing, I just let my mind wander, it lets me see things in context, to help let go of things and stop stressing and gives me time to think through all of the stuff that’s going on in my life. And with my body, it’s made me think about my body more; less as a kind of object to fulfil other people’s desires and more as a collection of bones and tendons, muscles and nerves, which might sound negative but I feel like it’s positive because it’s given me admiration for my body as a kind of a piece of engineering, almost. I see it as much more than a vessel for sexuality. I think of it, I admire the shape of my hands, and I admire the way my feet can carry me around all day. I mean I weigh 72 kilos and my feet can carry me around all day. They’re not very big …and [they do the job] yeah and the way they can deal with any form of terrain or rough ground, go up hills and things… modelling has made me appreciate my body from that point of view.
FLS: We’ve had someone come and model in the same Spirited Bodies you did – which was SB 1 – and she came because she felt as a middle aged woman who had no children, she was invisible and that no one had anything to talk to her about. She wanted to come and model to, if you like, persuade herself that it was worthwhile taking care of her body and that her physical self still had value, because she could help other people with their art and she also found it a very liberating experience.
It’s interesting what you say because you do a lot of photographic work, don’t you, which is quicker – well, I assume its quicker but I’ve never done it, I don’t do any photographic work ever.
Tansy: My photographic bookings average about 4 hours, whereas life modelling are usually 2 or 3.
FLS: But the actual poses?
Tansy: Oh yeah they are definitely quicker, photographic modelling is a whole different set of challenges and photographic modelling is a lot of kind of body judging which can be quite tiresome at times.
FLS: I’d find that demoralising to be honest.
Tansy: I find it demoralising sometimes but most of the time, I don’t care.
FLS: It’s developing that resilience, not to care.
Tansy: Yeah, I mean a lot of photographers especially fashion photographers are, “Oh, she’s a bit fat, isn’t she, I don’t want to photograph her”. Well I’m like a size 12 and sometimes a size 14, I’ve got really wide hips, and in photographic land, that’s plus size, definitely plus size. But I don’t mind really, because some photographers want to photograph that, they are more inspired by old masters, by Renaissance work, by Rubens, by… they want to photograph that type of figure.
EB: Thank you, we are just about coming to the end of that pose.
At Southbank’s Women of the World Festival 2013 we had a Women Only event which was also a presentation. Some women who have modelled with us during the last two and a half years took part to model as well as talk about their experiences. In this first section we talk to Arleen, an 82 year old who has had a mastectomy and been a life model for the last 30 years, and also to Emma-Jane, a younger woman who joined us very recently. Whilst Lucy and I were talking to them on one half of the platform, 3 other models were posing and being drawn on the other half.
Esther (EB): When did you start life modelling?Arleen: In the 1980s EB: How did you get into it?Arleen: Oh well I met a young man who was an artist you see and he somehow detected that I would make quite a good model. EB: It’s amazing how they do that …Arleen: …and that was the very beginning really. It was Daniel of course. This was the early 1980s, and we’ve lived together, after a few years, for all that time, so our lives have developed. His parents have died, my daughter emigrated to New Zealand, I had cancer and a mastectomy and I’ve grown older – he has too but I mean, well he’s still under 60. But he didn’t paint until he knew me, until he lived with me. Because his mother, although she was an artist, both his parents were very artistic, she couldn’t stand the mess that painting made in the house you see, so although he drew there and she encouraged him to produce, but painting no, that was out of the question. And she had a wonderful sense of colour. EB: Is it Daniel that keeps you modelling or is it another reason?Arleen: No it’s Daniel, I’m sorry to say it. I was trained as a dancer but I had TB which I caught off my mother in my teens, my mid-teens, so I was in bed for 12 months then. That was the end, professionally anyway. I mean I always went to some sort of keep fit or exercise of some sort or pilates or … I can’t help but go to something like that. When I was quite young, I would see these glorious dancers, Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Pamela Mayne, and they’d got these wonderful figures, and they were older than me, and I thought well, so can i. I’ve never been the sort to over eat and I’ve always taken care of myself. But it was partly really about the TB that made me take care of myself, and I’ve never had a lot of energy, so I’ve had to conserve what energy I have had, and in point of fact, my modelling means I can just sit, instead. [One of the models posing, LaDawn, had chosen a very tricky pose on one knee and leaning somewhat, is sweating, and has to change pose]Arleen: So you say you’ve got to put up with pain? EB: Well, sometimes we choose to. We all pose for different reasons and something I get out of it is I like the challenge, so I’ll put myself into a difficult pose because I kind of get bored doing the same poses and when it’s painful, I like overriding that and you move beyond the pain, and you go into trance, but that’s something that is not going to appeal to everyone. Other people prefer to keep it simple and they’ll go into a meditative state in a more relaxed way. It can depend on which day of the week it is, what time of the month it is; sometimes I will be really pushing myself because that appeals to the part of me that likes to work out, that wants to feel my muscles aching afterwards, and other times I’ve had enough, I’ve been to 3 jobs already that day and travelled all over London, and I just want to flop and I’ll zone out that way. I just wanted to ask you Arleen about when you became a model, so it wasn’t like a big deal for you to pose nude, and did you pose for groups or did you just pose for Daniel?Arleen: Well, I started off just posing for Daniel, but that very quickly led to the classes that he went to. He introduced me and then we had a few people come to our house. EB: After your operation, were you at all concerned about posing again?Arleen: No I wasn’t, not at all. You see, by that time, I was very happy in my own skin. EB: So it was no issueArleen: No, no. I was working at a technical college where there were quite a lot of German students, and I did go back fairly quickly after my operation but the teachers used that as a catalyst to talk to these students …EB: What, about breast cancer?Arleen: Oh yes, so I was delighted that I could help them in that way. EB: Thank you.
Lucy Saunders (FLS): It’s very new to you, Emma-Jane; what made you think this would be an interesting thing to try?Emma-Jane: Well do you know what I’m going to say? Arleen talked about Daniel, and I feel really awkward at this wonderful feminist day to say that I probably wouldn’t have walked through the door on Tuesday if it wasn’t for my new partner Davide, who is this wonderful curious man not at all an artist who came along to an event that Spirited Bodies ran back in October. I think since Tuesday I’ve really been interrogating why I went and why now at this time in my life and I think it is about key events. I think this new relationship really has been a bit of a catalyst. When I came on Tuesday, I thought, I was there because I have this wonderful flatmate who is really into fashion and as I left she was flicking through Marie Claire and she said, “I think you’re mad going to this thing,” and I just looked at the content of her magazine and I thought that was mad. As a larger girl, probably a size 18, size 20 on a bad day – or a good day – … I feel like there are not enough images or connections for women to make to the real world of feminity because we are saturated with that kind of media image. There is a woman at work who weighs just under 6 stone. She’s really really really poorly with anorexia and I just feel like, for both of us, that is the idea that we’re supposed to aspire to and its making both of us unhappy and in some ways unwell. And so I think for me coming here – one – one reason for getting into it was a curiosity and to see real women, different shapes, different sizes, colours, and just to remember what a woman looks like, because you don’t get that opportunity, really, outside of the family to see these shapes. I think another – this is what I’ve been interrogating – another very personal element to it which is what connects really to the new relationship is that I had spent a number of years with somebody who was very abusive and had lost my relationship with my body beyond it being a sexual tool and so being here reminded me of its function, its biological function, and just connecting with it and other women in a completely non-sexual way was actually …. That was the after shock that I’ve come to realise now a few days later and I was only here to volunteer on the stall. I arrived this morning and Esther said, “Oh no a model’s dropped out,” and I said I’ve only got till half past four. My colleague said, “Are you going to get your kit off again today?” and I said “No no definitely not, I’ve got to be somewhere by 5pm” – here I am and there’s my boobs so … (pointing to a drawing on the floor in front).FLS: It’s interesting because we’ve had several functioning anorexics come and model with us, obviously anorexia gives the most dramatic difference between how someone sees themselves and how anybody else would see them in reality. We’d see the skeleton and they’d see a fat person. That can be a very interesting process when they come and work with us. There are also those who work very hard on their body. We had one woman once, a young woman, good job in the City, very lovely, as she said, “I spend a lot of time, energy and money on keeping my body perfect, and then I don’t share it with anybody. I’ve been celibate for the last seven years and I’m hoping that coming along to SB will help me relax that and maybe be more open to a new relationship in the future.” I don’t know whether she’s got a new relationship yet, but I thought it was an interesting reason for coming. LaDawn: Especially since I’ve got the perfect body.FLS: Absolutely and me too LaDawn, let’s face it, between the two of us, Helen of Troy’s way out the shop. Emma-Jane: This is the thing, this is I think what I learnt from Tuesday and here today and looking actually out at you as artists is – we’ve all got the perfect body. It functions, it carries you around your day, it allows you to do the things that you want to do even if it is physically very very limited, if you are wheel chair bound, it is a perfect body, it’s your perfect body, and I think owning it and appreciating that, this really facilitates that. EB: Right, very well said.Emma-Jane: You can have that on your business cards!FLS: Emma-Jane, any ideas how you are going to take this forward? & are you going to get your partner to start drawing?Emma-Jane: Well, actually we were having a chat when he popped in this afternoon and he was very jealous because I drew, I posed and drew, on Tuesday, and he was really jealous of the pictures. He said, when he went, he went mainly as a model. And so we had a little chat and we’ve just made an agreement that he’s going to practise, um, he’s going to practise drawing me, and we’ll see how long that lasts. FLS: Well hopefully you get to draw him.Emma-Jane: Yes, yes and we did actually talk about maybe sharing it together. So far I’ve only done it within a women only environment but he did a mixed session. FLS: We have had a few couples in the past who came to model together to get a remembrance of themselves as a couple at that time. EB: And you said that possibly having tried it in a safe environment of just women you might feel more comfortable to do it in a mixed one soon. Emma-Jane: Absolutely absolutely.
Sometimes you find yourself leaping impulsively into a project – and this was one of those times. I had answered an advertisement, asking for models who were prepared to be plaster cast for an artwork by “an international artist”. Not only have I never been plaster cast, a month or so ago, I hadn’t ever modelled! But taking part in Spirited Bodies & London Drawing’s day at the BAC, and joining in a number of SB’s workshops, I felt this was something I could step up to and sent off an email in response.
Within a day or so I’d been asked to submit photographs of myself and the date was set. The studio very kindly gave me a list of items they would provide for my use (robe, wipes, Vaseline, shower gel – though they apologised that there would be no running water!) and said that they would provide lunch… that was the clincher for me!
Our first date was cancelled… the artist had now decided I was to be cast wearing a corset and it would take the costumier a few days to have one ready (I was asked to submit my dress & up-to-date bra size measurements for this). Although they would not be casting the pubic area, I thought it would be useful to take an old pair of knickers which I wouldn’t care about throwing away, and also an old pair of slippers – both of which proved to be a good idea.
I arrived at the studio and, after meeting the three people involved in casting me, and being told that I could use their office as my private changing room, I undressed to have a very detailed schedule of my measurements drawn up. My eventual plaster cast figure would be clothed, in a costume from around the 1820s, so everything was written down for Angel’s costumiers to fit to. After that I was helped into my calico corset and tightened up, my waist being measured again.
As the corset needed to be returned to Angel’s in good order, the whole thing was covered in cling film, before I was coated in a layer of Vaseline, corset and all, from my jawline to my toes (my head is not being used in this piece). Vaseline helps the set plaster release from the body… believe me, you know the bits you forgot!
From there into the studio, where a table had been set up, covered in a blanket and with a tough plastic sheet on top. The guys had a sketch of the pose the artist wanted, and spent a considerable amount of time arranging me; I was to lie on my back with my right hand & arm above my head, my left hand clutching a bottle of Moet, my left leg out straight and my right leg bent, with the heel resting on the back of a chair. Rather like a murder victim, the position was drawn out around me (though the Vaseline made the marker smudge somewhat, so this was re-done with gaffer tape).
Over the next hour every possible dimension was measured and logged: from my left big toe to my right, from my elbow to my jaw… even from my left “half nipple” to my right “half nipple” – as I was now on my back, my chest was escaping from the corset, which was the effect the artist wanted. Although keeping the pose required concentration, I realized that the hard work had yet to begin; in the afternoon we’d start the plastering.
We took a break for lunch and moved to a different part of the building, out of the studio – and I was very grateful to have my slippers with me. Although it was a bit of a chilly day, the effect of being covered in Vaseline was similar to stepping out of a warm bath into cold air… I was freezing and found it very hard to keep warm in spite of standing in front of a heater for the next half hour.
Before too long we were back in the studio. I was helped back into position, the measurements were checked and checked again, and we were ready to begin. It’s a very fast and intense business, making up plaster and applying it (not so fast for the model!). There needed to be a constant flow of plaster at perfect consistency; it must be only just pourable, not too wet, but not likely to go off before it’s smoothed into place.
First my torso & upper arms were plastered, with a line being carved through from top to bottom, down my breastbone. This was to create two pieces so that they could get me out of it! If it had been in one piece, they would have had trouble lifting it off me (as it curved round my sides) and it would probably have broken when they tried to remove it. Then two further sections around my neck and collar bone (each side) were poured, plus the lower section of the arm above my head – this piece set too early, resulting in lots of bubbles, and had to be ditched, but the rest went well. The plaster is unbelievably cold when poured on, turning very warm after ten or fifteen minutes (which is when you know it is setting). Although the sections could be lifted at this point, it is less likely to snap if you wait until it is totally cold again, which takes quite a while.
Although I was now “set in stone”, I still had to work hard to keep my pose. My legs were free but, if I had changed their position, I would have compromised the curve of my spine (and possibly cracked the plaster) so it was important to stay absolutely still. My lower back, on my left side near my coccyx, had been in hard contact with the table for some hours and I was beginning to feel the pressure point there. The jokey atmosphere of the morning had gone; we were all there to get the best job done and it was no time to fidget or grumble.
Fortunately, the main pieces set well – it’s a rather strange but wonderful feeling to have the set plaster lifted off your body. If you have the tiniest space to move, you can help tremendously by maybe stretching your neck a little, or sucking in your rib cage, or twisting your elbow a tiny bit. Although the plaster does stick to the little hairs on your body, the Vaseline allows it to be eased off without pain!
We took another short break and then came back to cast my legs, which was the most difficult part for me. My back was now feeling quite sore, where I was in contact with the table, and as they applied more & more plaster, my legs became heavier and heavier with even more pressure on that contact point (one thick layer of plaster is applied, then skrimmed with pieces of hessian, then another layer is poured on top and smoothed). Now I couldn’t feel my legs and I was certain that my right heel was about to slip off its precarious ledge, on the back of the chair. The guys reassured me that my leg probably wouldn’t move if I did slip – but they propped me up with a piece of wood between my knees, for extra support. Again, this was being cast in two sections, right & left, to ease removal. After what seemed like forever, the pieces were lifted off – which took quite a bit of work as they were large, and encapsulated part of my feet as well.
Now the extremities. The previous cast of my hand had not worked terribly well (they’d lost one of my fingers!) so it was decided to cast my hands in silicone – a much faster, and more reliable, way… but much more expensive so not encouraged. The pink silicone was mixed quickly and slapped over my hands and feet – again the same process of cold, followed by very warm, then waiting until cold again. This was quite fun to see being peeled off… a little like removing gloves, it’s very rubbery and you can almost turn it inside out (it’s similar to the stuff used by dentists to take a cast of your teeth).
We suddenly remembered that we were short of a piece – the portion of my right arm, which hadn’t set properly earlier in the day. Plaster was quickly smoothed on and, as it was setting, I remembered that I hadn’t reapplied the Vaseline to that section – too late now, but I’ll never forget again! It was pretty miserable, lifting that section, and I was amazed to see that I was left with any top layer of skin, let alone hairs, on my arm. Very painful.
By now it was gone 7pm and we were all tired. It had been successful, and the guys were kindness itself, but the day had been much harder, physically, than I had imagined. My back was very sore and my skin in that area was numb to the touch… in fact it took two days for the sensation to completely return, and over three days for the bruising to subside. I climbed into an old tracksuit I’d brought, not having the energy to clean myself with the buckets of warm water I was given, and left – dreaming of a warm bath!
In retrospect it was a great experience to have had – and I’m now looking forward to next March, and a private view of the final artwork before it goes on display to the public!