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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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 🙂
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!
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.”
I wanted to cancel a week before; there just wasn’t enough interest. From models or artists. It was a very painful feeling, tinged with failure, just when I had felt like things were getting back on track. I’d quit smoking a couple of days earlier, and emotions were rising to the surface, after a year or so’s burial. Most of my ambition stifled in a dense cloud, while I stumbled vaguely forward. A sleepless night of crying in my lover’s arms. But I picked up the reins the next day and did some more emails.
A few days before and still not enough women to model, let alone artists to make it seem worth finding the women. All I could rely on was faith, and perhaps a few reliable supporters and friends. Meetings with Alessandra, who was helping to prepare the women’s session, and Sarah who was again bringing her healing sounds, got me fired up again. Sarah and I practised an exercise on her living room floor, lying connected soles to souls. We made our own sounds in rhythm with ourselves and each other, and I felt my face energised, vibrant, while our soles tingled together. Alessandra showed me the gestures connected to different organs, according to Chinese medicine, the basis of her instruction, and I knew that I could make a movement pose work from one of those.
Still I was sleepless in anticipation, but Saturday I completed all necessary tasks for preparation. Stocking up on art materials, checking in with people helping, finalising the pose schedule and booking the taxi. My last email done, I was ready to open some wine when a piece of news arrived which gravely triggered me. I plunged into an abyss of self-doubt and debilitating darkness.
One of the hardest things I have found with Spirited Bodies, is that I give opportunities to people who actually have a lot higher status than I do, say in their careers and earning power. They’ve ‘got it all’, except body confidence, confidence in dating and relationships, or a groovy artist’s lifestyle! And that’s where I come in. I have those things, yet not with qualifications to command a high fee for imparting my wisdom. So I give it away; they transform their lives for a few hours and a few quid, but can I have a piece of their success? It hasn’t happened yet. That’s ok though, because one thing Spirited Bodies has given me, is some really good friends. And that is more valuable to me than travelling the world, having children, a house etc.
There is something I do covet however. Not fame exactly, but recognition (a little more than I currently have), and so the possibility to expand, to relax a little and work less as a life model on a weekly basis.
When the morning came, I was in a state I had not yet experienced prior to doing one of my events. I was raw for sure, on edge in a way reminiscent of myself quite some years ago. It wasn’t a happy place to revisit, but I did remember how utterly wrecked and desolate I had once been more often in my life. Thank goodness it felt almost unfamiliar now. And I had the tools, the know-how, just about, to pick myself up, dust myself off, and muster some impression of togetherness. Just enough.
Sabine picked me up at 8:45am and we loaded the car full of cushions, paper, gowns, sheets, foam… She was perky and I was grateful for girl time. It was a miserable day on all counts, but she shared jolly tales of parties with flatmates, screaming rock tunes with her singing teacher, and learning guitar. We arrived early and found breakfast in Rope Street, before our venue was opened, and we could start setting up.
My rougher edges started to smooth over once we’d done the basics, turning on heaters, buying refreshments for models and artists, unpacking the gear, and, women started to arrive ahead of time. Alessandra was nowhere in sight, but there were women, and that really was all that mattered, apart from a warm room, almost compromised by yet again, dodgy electrics. Sabine and I were on the case, swapping cables, rearranging the room so that posing happened nearer the heat, handing out robes and making sure enough people were naked for the start time. Women artists were ready to draw, and they needed muses.
Alessandra joined us Italian time and took over the programme, in time for Sabine and I to once again, fix the electrics. Heating models in Winter in atmospheric buildings, always a challenge. Ursula was with us too now, and added oomph to the poses, which Aless was otherwise keeping strict Chinese style. Focused on the internal organs with meditation and specific sounds which models made together with each pose, this was a journey through the inner body. Instead of worrying about how big their bums looked, models tuned into their liver, spleen and lungs for several minutes each.
By now, my fear had faded, and at least this part of the day was going well. I could rejoice in that, though there was no time to spare. Not long after 1pm, we had to wrap up, and transfer everything to the larger space, because, however many people showed up for the mixed session, we would have to accommodate Sarah’s gongs and other instruments. There was no way they were going in the small room we had fitted the women’s session into.
Cliff was arriving with easels, and Steve with fuses as we had bust about four in the morning. Sarah was lifting singing bowls up the stairs with the help of her husband and daughter. I fetched a few easels in my dressing gown from the street. Artists were arriving, and I was aware of the sharp juxtaposition between the nutter I had been the night before, on the verge of some wayward collapse, longing to be sucked into the ground, and the switched on artiste now commandeering the Spirited Bodies ship with a brilliant smile!
2pm rocked on, and it was time to get some poses afoot. I called out for nakedness, and some of the usual suspects lurched towards the sheeted arena. A few new faces gladly glided forwards too. For the first 15 minutes we were doing dynamic poses inspired by the emotions of the Lungs – continuing from the morning’s lesson. Moving through sadness to joy, the models opened up in stages, from 1 minute of grief, then 2, 3, 4 and 5 minutes into exhilaration. Sarah crashed a cymbol, rang a few bells and blew on a flute.
Secondly it was the Kidneys for 25 minutes. I instructed models to either cower in fear, or stand tall and strong with courage.
It would have been Liver next, but that was going to involve a lot of gongs (anger), and we’d been asked to keep the noise down during that phase for an event downstairs. So I led a slow movement sequence to the rhythm of the Heart. Standing in formation, me at the front, they copied as I moved my arms extremely slowly (think tai chi slowed down a lot) from hands placed on the heart, to raised high in the air. And repeat, for 15 minutes, raising and lowering, while Sarah made her heartbeat drum noise. I knew I was going slow when Steve called out halfway through. We’d only opened up twice I think. I was conscious that while I regularly do slow movement poses for my work, am considered a specialist, the new models may be struggling with the pace. Nevertheless, they could probably work something out, and I’d suggested if it was a bit hard, to just rest their hands on their heart.
After that, it was teatime, and at this point there was no doubt about it. It was a success; I was a success. It was just a good feeling and such a massive relief. Mainly that people had showed up. I have confidence in my ability to perform and make sure people have a good time, I just need an audience or a class, or both. Marketing isn’t my strong point, and I am so bent on authenticity that social media eludes me quite a lot. It was time to collect dosh and Steve took some pictures of the pictures. Everyone else had tea and biscuits.
With a slight cast change, we returned to posing, now ready for half an hour of Liver. I told models they could change poses at will, but try to be moderate, afterall, we do want to get drawn. I was having a fight with Steve, our arms locked in an arch, under which I could look up at his face. He was pulling the most extraordinary fashion of expressions, and through my exhaustion and exhilaration, I found it hilarious! We’d come a long way in just over 2 months, and he was supporting me magnificently. Halfway through the pose, Sarah came crashing in from silence with gongs. My arms were aching trying to reach up to Steve’s even-bent-over posture so tall. I fell into him as if frustratedly attacking his towering frame. He kept me in place, leaning over and watching me.
For the Spleen, we did 20 minutes of each of us posing as if sympathising with, or blaming the artists, so a direct confrontation or connection. I sat tentatively at the back, looking sweetly at the guy who was shaping us all out of a long piece of wire. We haven’t had that before, he normally makes large floor drawings on a big roll. His wire constructions were genius and I was fascinated. Also I had had enough of being angry in one 12 hour period.
Sarah left her instruments to lead the next exercise. For the Triple Warmer, she had 2 pairs of models lying sole to sole as we had practised before. They were next to each other, and above them 2 other pairs, including me and Steve, formed arches, palms on palms. We were all sounding first ee sounds, and later ooh sounds, alternating, sometimes leaving spaces in order to feel the shifts in our bodies, between vibrations. The group of 8 models collectively created a human resonator. Sarah was the 8th model, and for the first time in her life, her second time in a life session (the first being Spirited Sound), she whipped off her dress after instructing us, to complete the nude composition. We hadn’t arranged this, I am not about putting pressure on newcomers, but it was a welcome surprise. I’d told her she could be dressed if she preferred. The mood had taken her not to be.
About halfway through (we’d asked an artist to time us), those of us standing were feeling the ache in our arms, and were grateful when Sarah decided to drop her arms, as if it had been planned. By mutual consensus we all followed suit.
The final pose was freestyle, and there were now 6 of us posing. Within the 6, there were 2 couples who naturally after the long session’s posing, fell into each others’ arms for some amorous duos. Alessandra grabbed the remaining male model and said, “Look, it’s all about the couples, so we should join up!” Everyone’s a winner!
We ended on a round of applause, and I couldn’t be happier with today’s result. It was totally unprecedented after my night of headfuckery. The hard work had paid off. We cleared up, models bonded, and artists laid their works on the floorboards. Artist Steve Carey hung his wire creations from coat hangers. I was still in my dressing gown, saying goodbye to people till just before our cab arrived. The teacups had been rinsed, drawing boards replaced downstairs, and every last piece of charcoal boxed and bagged. Off we trundled into Sunday evening traffic. Once home, the last few hours at home with Steve before he left again for Essex, were precious. Healing time, after a tumultuous night earlier. Now the love was strong again. I was sorry for having been so difficult, after all he had never known me before in such an anxious moment. It felt unfair to have unleashed myself rather unduly on him, especially when he has only been positive and loving towards me. The awkward emotions weren’t important now. Just the kindness and gratitude for all that we share. I may not be succeeding in every way that I would like to, yet, but there is time. We are still new together, and all the magic that we can create, has only just begun.
What a unique experience this was, and what deep treasures there were in sharing this. I’d had no idea what to expect, just I’d met Esther by chance at a local artists’ Open House and felt a strong resonance with her, and a sense in some (as yet unknown) way we were just who each other needed to meet, and an instant synergy pinged into existence. I was excited, intrigued, and hopeful we’d meet again (as we did soon after when Esther came to a Soundbath I ran.) So when Esther invited me to collaborate with her for Spirited Bodies at the Bargehouse, it was a wholehearted yes and Spirited Sound emerged effortlessly.
It felt a bit like jumping off a mountain beforehand into a completely new experience, however I completely trusted Esther’s vibe and knew we had the potential synergy for co-creation, though had little idea what form it would take. But what I felt in my bones was deep trust in our ability to hold a generative, emergent space together.
And so it came to be! I loved the collaboration. I loved the shared experience, all of us on the day in community co-creating in the moment, with each of our roles honoured and esteemed in our mutual unfolding of our next exploration and creation. The synergy felt nourishing and vitalising, a generative mutuality as we collectively emerged our next creation, and we all jumped off the mountain, again and again. I feel thoroughly initiated – into what I look forward to finding out…
Our recent women’s event was in a beautiful space at the Bargehouse (part of Oxo buildings, Southbank), well heated and well attended – with 5 models, and about 10 artists. Poses from 1 – 15 minutes, some with movement. We began dynamic and expansive, and perfected the art of very slowly opening up from an enclosed pose (3 and 5 minutes). In 3 minutes, they had moved so slowly, that when time was up, I found they had hardly opened at all! So I decided on a second round, longer to allow them to complete the movement.
The artists sat in a circle, some drawing in sketch pads, others leaning a board on a chair in front, one or two with their own mini easels set up. Within this circle, the models had a sheeted and cushioned area in which they created their own circles from time to time as they posed.
We created 5 minute poses for each element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Beautiful ensembles with flames, blowing in the wind, waves, and the solidity of Earth.
That was an impromtu inspiration as the singing model was clearly keen, and we have done that sort of thing before at A Human Orchestration a couple years back, so it felt enjoyable to revisit musical models. Really adds to their presence, and in this case, her voice was so powerful that the room shook. I’m not joking, and I wasn’t even next to her, touching her, so I can only imagine the vibrations in the inner circle. At least one artist was moved to tears, and several said they drew differently as touched by her tones.
Artists familiar, as well as some from the drawing symposium (we were a part of the Southbank Festival of Creativity) made their marks.
A real pleasure to return to my perhaps most passionate area of Spirited Bodies – the sacred women’s space! Though I don’t make much of any spiritual angle, keeping the session within life art/performance narrative, there is an extra element of care and consideration that is about feeling safe, to be all that we are. We are aware, as women together, some of us nude, that we could have body hang-ups, and maybe sometimes we do. But in that space, we are supporting each other to move past that, and enjoy the bodies we are in. We create solidarity, without judgement for ourselves or each other, embracing difference. And that is all that is needed, together with listening to each other, to make a very special warm, shared healing experience.
We don’t have to have been especially hung-up to benefit immensely; we all gain from the shared liberation, and witnessing each other being and blossoming. Creating a helpful, proactive, responsive community as well, as we connect more, building friendships. In the end, it is the love between us that grows our collective power, beauty, resonance and connection.
There is space within poses for individuals to practise their own spirituality possibly. Over years of modelling, I believe I have learnt how to very quickly access a meditative state, it is second nature. I smile automatically when discomfort prevails, as doing this alters my mind state to strengthen me, minimising pain. What is more tricky is the muscles reminding me subsequently, that it was not such an easy pose I had fooled myself so well of!
I also talk some of the time, during the session to point out how poses do or don’t work, to guide the models as well as instructing artists, in a different sort of life class! I played a bit of music too, but at the start, I instinctively wanted to let the silence take hold, bringing peace to all of us who had braced ourselves through the city to get there that evening.
I love circles of women. Last night I danced to the full moon with sisters in a church in Vauxhall. I vary in how much I am feeling it each month, but yesterday was very serene. The DJ, Sarah Davies, gave a little talk on body language which felt very pertinent, it spoke to me. How we hold ourselves affects the way we feel, and vice versa. So we can use this to make ourselves feel stronger, even when we are not necessarily there yet emotionally, or mentally. Create bold, confident shapes with our bodies to empower ourselves.
I have noticed over the years, that I had to let go of jobs where the artists were too proscriptive about poses, as if I am not in control of them, it can more likely damage my well-being emotionally (as well as physically).
I love how the full moon women’s dance is run by a bunch of women, tending to be about 10 – 12 years my senior I reckon. They and many of the dancers, are yoga, dance, alternative healing practitioners and artists, so a lot of strong energy in the space, and quite a few run their own women’s spaces. The chairs are cleared from the space and I set to hoovering crumbs, leaves and dust off the massive carpet. It takes a goodly amount of time, especially as I am enjoying being inspired by my moves with the vacuum cleaner! About two thirds of the way through the task, the sound system has been erected, and music begins to fill the church. Housework gets me into my first dance.
A pair of artists unravel and place items on an altar, immediately in front of the church’s own, which is behind decorated gates. After I have stocked up the toilets with paper, and put the moon pictures up, Sara hands me her palo santo to be burnt, and wafted about to cleanse or smudge the space.
Low-lit by highly hung chandeliers, the whole church resonates to the ska, hiphop, dance, world, ambient and darkly gothic music. We are moving through waves, rhythms of our feminine expression, of lyrical, flowing, chaotic, staccato and still bodies. I get a lot from this group. I take my friends there, and gradually get to know some of the women I meet there. It is a source of shared knowledge and deeper friendships.
For me, the instructions through the mic from the DJ about how to move (just suggestions), and what we may be feeling, are often jarring with my own inner journey. I am well habituated to getting into my groove. I discovered at 18 I think, on the dance floor at Slimelight among other venues, how to reach ecstacy through dance, and I wasn’t always on drugs believe it or not! It was a passion, and I knew movement (beyond the everyday) would always be part of my life. I trained in physical theatre at Rose Bruford drama school, in South East London in the early noughties. I wasn’t a great student, but I did appreciate the variety and intensity of some of the outlandish practitioners we immersed ourselves in.
Still, I do appreciate how having an MC helps to bind the group at times, as well as nurturing some of those who may be newer to dance or being part of such a group. It’s lovely to be in a group that is run by women, repurposing the church of a monthly evening, a church which in fact lends itself to a number of new age groups. At one particular phase of the evening, all the women start howling into the air, for a long long time. So happy to hear their voices, and to be taking up space as Sarah wanted.
I have naturally often thought, how good it would be if the full moon dance was also naked! I wasn’t thinking that yesterday though. The heating was blasting, and we were moving fast some of the time, but it is a big space, so didn’t feel cosy for nudity. Not that that’s really an option here… even in Summer. I also appreciate how it would be highly unlikely that you would get that many women at a naked dance, sadly at the moment. It is very cool to be with so many women dancing though.
My own next women’s event is on Sunday 13th December, at Tanner Street, close to Tower Bridge, from 11am – 1pm. For trying life modelling and/or drawing, with some gentle exercises to get comfortable with posing, as well as explore how the poses we choose may enhance ourselves and others. Nudity is optional. Naked, we may open up more to each other, face more of ourselves beneath the layers, and appreciate our natural beauty and body shapes. But it’s not for everyone. Artists are usually clothed, and sometimes, after a few years or so of coming to Spirited Bodies, artists pluck up the courage to bare all themselves!