Bodykind, Celebrating Grandmother Wisdom & WOW Perth

Maybe it’s because I don’t particularly have an issue with fat, body hair or food… but I AM getting older that my favourite speaker at Bodykind Festival was Suzanne Fearnside. She really tapped into my emotions regarding ageing and the invisibility of older women. I was so eager for what she had to say, for me it was the most radical politics – I felt tingles when she spoke! Her point was made more poignant because unlike many (generally younger) speakers, she does not seem to have a social media presence, and is (therefore) not popular in the relatively mainstream way that they are. So she was not billed as highly, yet I hung on her every word and did not tune out. She exuded years of experience, knowledge, humility, resiliance and strength. I am not a natural with social media myself, I tune a lot of it out though of course it’s a great connecter, the means for many positive actions, and worth harnessing.

Suzanne Fearnside

Harnaam Kaur is very sweet and impressively strong and heroic, as well as being a powerful speaker. Still in her 20s yet so experienced, she has a unique voice. An activist who has chosen to grow her full beard and not hide it, after years of being bullied as a teenager. She also mentioned the damaging effects of social media and the need to unfollow accounts that we internally respond negatively to. Whether they are famous people’s, or friends’/acquaintances’, it’s how we respond to them that counts.

Regarding my own sensitivity to social media – the insecure feeling I get when seeing particular posts – I am reminded that I may have a similar effect on others. It’s a chain reaction and I want to sort out my end of it. I know it’s not necessarily that posts I am seeing are projecting anything negative or unhealthy on to the web, simply that their content is not what I need to see now. I need to unpick triggering elements – images usually – that make me feel less than good enough, in order to get stronger and gain more control over my vulnerabilities. I know it is not individuals’ fault that their posts trigger me, but perhaps that their online presence reminds me too much of mainstream beauty ideals that I do my best to ignore and avoid in other areas. I mean I rarely watch TV, films, play online games or read women’s magazines, nor do I have a more conventional job where the majority of people judge themselves and each other according to mainstream values. The most mainstream my job gets is when I occasionally lead hen parties, and the bride to be has a chance to pose (clothed) with the male model. So often I hear her say to her friends, “Draw me with bigger tits”, unless she already has the fashionable size.

It can come down to those in my social media field to expose me to these elements of society – even in a relatively alternative style. I may be overly sensitive but I cannot help the way I am, I must learn to work with it. I don’t want to constantly be reminded that women posting sexy images of themselves is much more popular than my body image activism! I find it demoralizing. I know it may be great for the women – owning the images of themselves – but nevertheless they often can’t help propagating a certain kind of commercial norm, and that’s sometimes the point – it’s their livelihood so it’s in their interests. And I am not entirely separate from this behaviour – I am a model too, and love opportunities to dress up, make theatre, and pose in extraordinary situations! It’s like doing some feng shui in my living space, clearing the things I don’t need, and organising better what I do. It can make me a bit more mindful of what I post.

Some of the other acts I really enjoyed are…

Harnaam Kaur, Megan – Bodyposipanda, and Glory Pearl

Glory Pearl rocking it something massive – real woman style! I thought she had the tone just right. She says it best in her own words – see a clip of her here.

Chris Paradox directing with wit, charm and lyrical insight, really grooving us through the weekend (as his backing singers!) And Pina Salvaje too.

Chris and Nicky of Not Just Behaviour described passionately their work in schools educating children about body image. Their positive enthusiasm was felt by all and also their many years experience.

Bodykind Festival at St Mary’s Church, Totnes, 14th October ’17

Zoe McNulty whose Strutology got us all flaunting it at the festival opening ceremony on Friday evening at the Royal Seven Stars. She wrote a lovely blog about the festival here, and it focuses a lot more on some of the other speakers than I have.

At our session on Saturday at Bodykind at The Mansion, we had 8 participants plus me and Steve, and 3 of them wanted to try modelling. They were not completely nude when posing, rather kept their bottom half covered or wore pants. They were a bit older as it happened, and one woman did not want photos of the drawings of her shared, which I don’t think has ever happened (at Spirited Bodies) before but of course we respect her wishes. There is something powerful about having a space that is totally separate to the online world.

The other participants were just drawing, as were all the models when not posing. We started with a warm up pose by Steve, standing for 5 minutes. Then one woman volunteered to model next though she hadn’t been sure before (in the presence of 2 men within the group). She enjoyed it and did two 5 minute poses; one lying and one standing. She preferred the standing because she said it made her feel more empowered. It’s true – when she stood she looked bold, facing outwardly, in control; but reclining she had been more inward and vulnerable looking. It really highlighted the difference a stance can make to how we feel.

Then Andrew Stacey who runs a group in Totnes at Birdwood House on Thursday evening at 7:30pm, gave modelling a go after many years break and had an insightful experience. He wanted to remind himself of the model’s position as he works so much with models – it helps him to understand them better. He assumed interesting positions naturally, standing leaning, and then lying on his back, each for 10 minutes. Then another woman had a go, doing poses of 5 and 10 minutes; the first sitting on a stool, the second in child’s pose. She was also more usually on the other side of the easel, and really valued this opportunity to understand the model’s perspective in a safe, sensitively held space.

Finally me and Steve did a duo for 15 minutes with him sitting at my standing feet. It was a very relaxing workshop, with plenty of time between poses discussing them, models getting changed, and looking at each others’ drawings. At least one person was a first time drawer! She did very well, especially by the child’s pose. Some lovely work produced and I think all the models benefitted and took something very uplifting from the experience (at least I hope so!), and the artists too who were so supportive and generous, well everyone was – it was the spirit of the festival! One artist said she hadn’t drawn for ages and couldn’t miss the chance, though she also would have liked to model. She took inspiration from the idea saying she may suggest all the artists take turns at posing at her local group.

It was quite novel for us at Spirited Bodies to have the models posing individually rather than as a group. It worked well because of the small group size, and reminded me how special it is when I/we can focus on one model at a time. It is a more personal workshop!

child’s pose

I felt so happy and calm afterwards, such a pleasant and powerful modelling sharing with new people in Totnes. Wonderful memories and we very much hope to return. With special thanks to Dinah Gibbons – who is the Creative Director of Bodykind Festival – for exquisite organising, massive generosity and warm open heartedness! It was such an honour and a pleasure to share in the groundbreaking body acceptance vibes at the festival. It was also amazing to experience the boost from being around so many awesome people, where you meet lots of people on the same page. It didn’t feel competitive, just supportive and nurturing to connect with and witness one another.

Totnes welcomed us with a friendly embrace too – we stayed at a friend of Dinah’s. The beautiful home was a comfortable nest to settle in each night, and our hosts most engaging. There is a strong ethic of sustainability in the town, as well as new age/hippie leanings in a pretty prosperous, independently minded area of natural beauty and many listed buildings.

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I am really looking forward to welcoming Hana at Stories of Women on Monday at the Feminist Library – she is an exciting speaker with many years’ experience to draw upon. She was around when life models in London first began to get organised, through the Barefacts magazine and RAM, and even held several early RAM gatherings at her home in North West London. We invite *you to speak with her, draw and maybe model too (*women only).

Hana Schlesinger

Older women are even more invisible in the digital era – like Hana and Suzanne. The internet/social media are not as inclusive as they might be, inevitably they are a bit ageist, which makes older people’s voices all the more precious.

At the end of the month, on Saturday 28th October I will be in Perth for the first WOW in Scotland, facilitating a workshop for women – life modelling and drawing – called ‘I am Perfect as me.’ I will be joined by two of the women who posed with us at All The Young Nudes in Edinburgh in August. They will begin the modelling whilst telling the group what it feels like to pose. Then in the second half, women are invited to try modelling alongside them. The conversation may continue – usually about all manner of body politics issues – in the supportive space. Finally everyone looks at the drawings and takes time to debrief, let some feelings from the session settle with informal chat.

It will be great to see the speakers we can get to, and it’s also wonderful to build a relationship with models, sharing in their development. One of the models first posed with us last year, and now has quite a bit of experience, and the other tried for the first time this Summer. Likewise it’s amazing to continue being part of WOW, and I am so thrilled that the idea of empowering women about their body image through life modelling, which I presented at the very first WOW, has been taken up again and again.

Enjoying this busy month!

Spirited Bodies with All The Young Nudes, Edinburgh

On the eve of my travelling to the Highlands in late July, arrived an email from Joanna of All The Young Nudes – the Scottish life drawing organisation that runs groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. I was invited to bring Spirited Bodies to the Edinburgh Fringe festival again, as one of ATYN 4 special events there. I was offered dates and was immediately keen; August generally being quiet meant I had time, and it had been such a fun gig last year.

I first worked with Joanna in 2013 when Lucy, Thelma and I had driven to Scotland and created 3 separate Spirited Bodies events – one in Glasgow at The Flying Duck with ATYN; and two in Edinburgh – one at Marchmont St Giles Church hall, and one at St Margaret’s House (formerly Arts Complex).

Time was short as the next day I was travelling North, and for all I knew might well have poor connectivity once in the Highlands. So we quickly arranged a date, and I made the necessary bookings for transport and a room. I also put out a call on social media to let people know that I was coming – and was looking for people to try modelling for the first time, as well as for experienced models keen to join in. Steve would unfortunately not be able to join me this time due to work commitments, which he was very sorry about, partly because he likes joining in the modelling, also the social aspect of meeting all the models. And then there’s visiting stunning Edinburgh!

I had about a month to prepare, and gradually a mix of newcomers, familiar faces and experienced models got in touch, interested in taking part. A lovely variety and refreshingly all seemed most genuine. In plenty of time before the event there was a group of 10 models emerging, and I had to turn several others away. I then set to sending them as detailed instructions as possible on what to expect, especially for the total newcomers. I described a couple of poses that we would recreate from last year, and in a later email outlined the full pose schedule. There would be 4 poses in the first half, then a break, followed by 5 poses in the second half. Our venue was the light and spacious Whitespace at Norloch House.

We would begin with the chain of movement pose where the models are positioned in a circle and take turns to move a little until they touch the model next to them. At that point they freeze in a new pose, and the next model is released into motion, so that at any one time, one model is moving and the rest are still. I advised them not to leave themselves in too awkward a position at the moment of freezing, as it could be a while till they could move again. I also said they could modify a tricky position to deal with that very predicament, so there was flexibility, and the models’ comfort was paramount. This is meant to be a positive and empowering experience of being part of the creation of nude art as models, and is not the same as modelling alone for a job. The models are not being paid, so they are doing it to gain experience, whether towards getting work, for personal reasons or because it’s something they enjoy.

The second pose was a 5 minute dynamic pose where they would balance the space, which means spreading out across it evenly, rather than the relatively tight circle they had just been in.

I abandoned the pose I originally had in mind to go next. This was because the session was half an hour shorter than I had thought! So I trimmed a few poses by several minutes and scapped an idea for a court scene. I considered that this tableau would be the least simple to put across with 10 nude figures. Plus in the interests of gender equality I would have to insist on some of the women standing for the roles of judge and lawyers, but I didn’t really want to do that as they’d all been stretching themselves considerably in the previous poses.

The following pose on the agenda was a recreation of Gericault’s famous Raft of the Medusa, which we have done before at Spirited Bodies, most notably in 2012 at a Christmas event in Mortlake. This suits a longer pose, and 25 minutes was scheduled. With a more coherent tableau, artists may hopefully be inclined to draw the whole scene, however challenging in the relatively short time. Several figures are lying down as either dying or dead, on what remains of a shipwreck off the coast of Africa (the scene is based on a real life event that happened 200 years ago). Some upright figures are looking out scanning the horizon for help. There is a sense of urgency and poor weather conditions heightening the drama. Overall the picture has a diagonal trajectory which informs the gaze and gives it direction.

I asked if anyone was by chance prepared to stand the duration. I encouraged by pointing out that standing figures are often more likely to be drawn, and it’s good practice for any budding new models. A willing participant came forward and I suggested distributing his weight between both legs to make it easier, and in any case that would lend an appearance of strenth since his role was as a leading figure in the ensemble, perhaps even mimicking the position of the mast of a ship. Another new model sat by him on a chair, also looking out to the horizon. Several models were strewn across the raft, less than alert if maintaining interesting angular forms, while two experienced models took on the most challenging roles centrally. Jude from Cumbria kneeled in the poise of a desperate prayer to the heavens, holding an expression of fear and dread throughout. Behind her a male model was upright on his knees, mainly on his right knee and twisting his body to the head of the raft. Our picture was complete and a very fine recreation it was.

As the pose drew to a close, we had 10 more minutes until the break, so I brought forward a pose from the second half. This was another revisiting of a favourite pose from last year – the models imagine that someone they weren’t expecting to be there, walks in the room! Someone whom they might not wish to be seen by when nude, or who might themselves be embarressed to witness the nudity. It makes for a potentailly expressive gesture, whether the shyness of a new model, or the out there brazenness of a seasoned professional.

The break arrived and the models were most ready for it. They checked out the drawings of them, chatted excitedly, and we made use of a nice evening light outdoors to capture a group pose in robes. It was just a 10 minute break as we wanted to maximise the modelling and drawing time which already requires more time between poses than a usual session, with so many models including novices to arrange.

We began the second half with three x 3 minute poses. My direction to the models was simply concerned with their connection with each other; for the first pose they would be huddled together, the second they would break away a bit, and for the third they were to be completely separate and more individually engaged with the artists. Within that they could find whichever poses felt right for them.

After this burst of dynamism they settled into the final long pose of about half an hour. The scene was paradise, with strawberries! They could find more comfortable positions, holding strawberries which I handed out once they were in pose, and some of them were relating to each other. All The Young Nudes had brought some pillows and pieces of fabric which were made use of, as well as two large arm chairs which belonged to the venue.

It was lovely to see how the artists had risen to the challenge of drawing ten models! Some beautiful works I am sure you will agree. The models themselves had given a lot, many of them trying something completely new and very much embracing the chance. I hope they find many more opportunities to pose for art, feel comfortable nude, as well as share the joy of this liberation. It was wonderful to meet them, and also spend a bit of time afterwards together over a drink in a nearby pub. We were lucky to find enough space in a bar in central Edinburgh during festival time to accommodate our large group. Fortunately Keira from All The Young Nudes guided us towards The Red Squirrel where we quickly found a couple of tables together.

Finding out what motivates people to get involved, and how they found the experience makes the occasion more whole. A few artists joined us too, so some drawings were being shown.

This event was a lot of fun and most enriching. I hope to return sometime.

by Stephen Najda

 

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!

Returning to Scotland

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© Tatiana Moressoni, from Spirited Sound, November ’15

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.

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by Alex B, with The Drawing Theatre, 2012

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 info.spiritedbodies@gmail.com

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© Tatiana Moressoni, from Spirited Sound, November ’15

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.

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© Tatiana Moressoni, at Spirited Sound, November 2015