Spirited Loving Bodies

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All photographs of models at the Loving Bodies event by Lidia; www.lidialidia.com

After my initial conversation with Rebecca Thurgood in January, about co-creating this event in aid of Loving Humanity UK, she had mentioned two possible dates in April. These were when Amy Peake (founder of Loving Humanity UK) would be in the UK and able to attend. I was available for both and Rebecca would get back to me when she had a venue lined up.

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I thought to make a few suggestions – like Tanner Street run by Ugly Duck who are often looking to host arts events in their large spaces, and where I put on Spirited Bodies at the end of last year. Also Electrowerkz whom I had noticed on Facebook had recently held a very successful fundraising event for Syrian refugees. Finally I remembered St John’s Church, Waterloo, which is a very impressive and central space where back in 2013 I staged A Human Orchestration with The Drawing Theatre.

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While I waited to hear back from Rebecca I got busy preparing for the events happening in March at WOW and Telegraph Hill festivals. Rebecca had set herself an enormous task: to get 200 women to come and draw, and 40 to model, as well as Amy giving a presentation, and ideally finding some larger scale donors for the fundraising aspect; this would all take time. One of my earliest intentions with Spirited Bodies had been to achieve such a channelling of funds towards women with greater need in developing countries, but it had proved more difficult than anticipated due to the high costs (time, energy and money) of putting on these events.

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Very shortly after WOW at Southbank Centre, Rebecca contacted me again to tell me we were going ahead with 16th April, at St John’s Church. I was really excited that she had opted for this venue as it is incredibly inspiring, with the highest ceiling and most natural light of all three suggestions I had made. I was also pleased to have a new focus that would build on the momentum already recently created with Spirited Bodies, however I was aware that with just a month, this would be the tightest run-up I had ever had with such a large scale operation. I was daunted, particularly as during the last year I have really noticed how there is much more competition for artists. The life drawing scene in London has exploded; multi-model and theatrical sessions are more commonplace. It makes me appreciate how, in the earlier years, I enjoyed a relatively unrivalled market for my unique type of event. Not unrelated, it has become more controversial in life drawing, to hold events where models are not paid. I feel there really has to be a strong political, empowerment or charitable fundraising element to carry this off ethically. Well, that is both good for models and not something I would have to worry about with Loving Bodies. This was in aid of a very fine cause – the buying of sanitary towel and nappy making machines for women in a Syrian refugee camp, where such basic needs have been going unmet.

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My main contribution towards the creation of Loving Bodies, was to be finding, guiding and directing the models. That wasn’t too difficult, and I naturally helped to promote the event to my artist network as well.

I had noticed that my old friend Julia Katarina was performing her music more and more at refugee camps in Europe, and I got thinking about musical contributions to Loving Bodies. With such a glorious space, my recent collaborator Sarah Kent would be ideal with her gongs etc. I put this to Rebecca, and before long musicians were being brought into the programme, adding greatly to its richness, including both Julia and Sarah.

I didn’t have opportunity to hold a preparatory women’s workshop in advance, but arranged a couple of meetings with new models in order to prepare them. These went very well, and as ever, all those who attended went on to model at the big event. Such meetings help to demystify life modelling for those new to it, who may find a larger event a bit daunting for their ‘first time’.

As 16th April approached, I did get a bit nervous about us having enough artists in attendance. The large space may feel empty in their absence, especially after I had recently posted several photographs from my event there in 2013, in which the church was well filled. Also as a fundraising event it felt important with getting all the models and musicians as well as artists involved, that we actually raise money, for all their combined efforts. In order to override a bit of an internal panic, my breakthrough moment was realising that the most important thing of all, above having lots of people there, was that everyone present had a very good time. That sounds simple, but it too can be quite a responsibility. Anyway, what was easy, was once I knew what my most pertinent intention was, I just focused on it solidly and didn’t worry about the rest. We had done everything we could in the time, and I knew we had an amazing group of models. There were eight really experienced models in the mix, I appreciate that immensely, together with six total newcomers, and two women who have just modelled before at Spirited Bodies once or twice.

While there had originally been the idea to find 40 models, I didn’t want the balance to be out of whack in relation to the number of artists. It’s important for the models present, that they are not competing too much with each other to be drawn. Plus it’s quite normal with targets like that, that they are far higher than what you actually need or get. Like when we first put on Spirited Bodies in November 2010, Morimda asked us to aim for 20 models. We got nine, and it was fine.

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We had a very special line-up of musicians arranged for 16th, with Sarah’s friends Ereni and Maggy now also on board. I asked each musician what she was going to play so that I could prepare the pose schedule. I wanted a good variety of short, longer and also movement poses. As I have worked with Sarah a couple of times, I know that her set in particular lends itself well to more abstract pose sequences, as she creates a soundscape to accompany the themes. She may respond to the models in the moment, so it really is a symbiosis.

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On the morning of 16th, setting up the church with Rebecca, it felt most natural to prepare the space for models on the central red carpet, and position musicians in front of the altar. Originally I had thought we might occupy different parts of the space throughout the day, but due to the rolling nature of Loving Bodies, with just short breaks between musical sets, plus all the complication of arranging long cables and heaters, and the artists set up with their chairs… it was simpler to keep things the same all day.

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We began with some shorter poses to Julia’s set of Arabic folk songs, mostly accompanying her singing playing her oud, and with one song – words by Khalil Gibran – playing her cello. When I asked Julia what these songs were about I wasn’t expecting the description I got. Quite a few were on the theme of love, or loss, some more existential, spiritual… but perhaps most memorably – ‘a five minute song about rain and lots of people with umbrellas, being forgotten, waiting to be noticed and finally being remembered’! Considering the forecast, I felt that was very apt. I might not have guessed the subject of that particular song, but what really stood out was the power of Julia’s voice, the heights and depths of emotion reached. It carried through the church, transmitted through the bodies in pose, conveyed in lines and shadows on paper.

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For Sarah’s set, I relished the opportunity to create a movement sequence with the models. This was the most directed phase of the posing, building up quick poses from a state of isolation, towards gradually bringing the models together into unity. Through 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 minute poses they evolved into an enhanced state of connection with one another. It felt like a good exercise for bonding the group, moving past their individualness, following the opening set of more separate poses. They got closer and closer, and to take this then to another level further, for the next pose we recreated this progression, but this time in continuous and extremely slow movement, over a duration of 10 minutes.

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To witness the joy on these models faces, captured well in these photographs was awe inspiring! As the women got closer towards touching one another, and there were still several minutes to go, they found creative ways to keep up the momentum of flowing into each other, around the other bodies. There was laughter from their circle of circles at the centre of the church, and we on the outside were transfixed. A secret joke was being felt, experienced by the inner circle, perhaps a few laughing words exchanged, and the mood was ecstatic. I was overjoyed to watch. I knew it was a lot for the artists to capture so quickly on paper, but more than a warm up exercise it really broke the ice. We had arrived on another level at Loving Bodies, as an embodied state, and a very bright state of mind, indeed full of love and acceptance.

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After this magical sequence, the models relaxed for the remainder of Sarah’s sounds. Time for some longer poses and more developed drawings.

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A short break gave everyone a chance to relax and chat, and then it was time for Ursula Troche. Ursula has modelled at Spirited Bodies many times, since I met her in 2012. She has performed her poetry here and again she did today; three poems about migration, drawing, peace, and loving bodies. This was her specially composed Loving Bodies poem.

Loving Bodies

Do you love yourself?

Do you love your body?

Do you love everybody?

Please do, because every body

Needs love, not war!

Love is all we needed

To paint

A pretty picture of humanity

A loving humanity

An embrace, respect, and attention

So draw

Draw your own conclusion

Draw bodies, reaching out

To Sisters in Syria in Spirit

Spirited Bodies

So draw

Draw a line under hatred

And paint love

Take your line that you draw for a walk

It’s a long walk to provision

(of sanitary pads for women)

But each journey of over 2000 miles

Might start with a single line

To draw a body to

Love humanity at risk of despair

We’ll get there

A line at a time

Take refuge

In the art of love

And the art of art

To reach out to refugees

Take refuge

From indifference or indoctrination

And draw, a line, a body, another one

And more, and more

Make Art, Not War! © Ursula Troche, 4.16

I asked the models to pose as if in the actual process of migrating, like refugees, walking a long road, along the narrow carpet in the centre, in quite challenged circumstances. It was for 10 minutes. Ursula’s words were felt and resonated.

A longer free form pose followed, accompanied by Maggy Burrowes singing, and Sarah sounding some of her instruments. For half an hour the models changed pose at will, as they felt or needed according to comfort, but mostly they seemed transfixed by Maggy’s voice.

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Amy Peake had arrived a while earlier and we thought it would be perfect for her to address the women in the church about what she does with Loving Humanity UK, how she founded it, and where it’s at now. The money raised from the event was going towards this cause which Amy brought news of, from the front line. She has spent a great deal of time in the refugee camp in Jordan amongst other far flung places in order to make the project happen. We raised £700 in the end, which was a wonderful result, no doubt inspired by her rousing words. If you would like to donate to the cause, please do so at this link.

Our final set was again a long pose, this time of 45 minutes to Ereni Mendrinos’ singing and guitar playing. A deeply soulful way to complete the Loving Bodies event. The models responded by posing while listening intently, both engaged and relaxed, again at liberty to move at will, yet for the most part incredibly still.

We ended on a big round of applause for the models, musicians and poet. What a celebration of women getting together for art, and for a higher love of reaching out to far away women who may appreciate a little help from their sisters at Loving Bodies. Any big event can and ought to make me nervous before, as this one did, but finally it was extraordinary, exceeding my expectations. We could have had more time to plan it, but what magic of just going for it, making it happen! The outstanding contributions of all the women involved moved me endlessly, still does. Nothing like it, and many would like this to happen again. I am positive it will, such a good feeling of flowing with sisterly love.

Loving Bodies

Following a very successful run of women’s events, and one mixed one, I am happy to announce that our largest event to date is on the horizon, coming up in a few weeks. This mass model event is just for women – both drawing and modelling, and will be a fundraiser to buy sanitary towels and nappies, for women in a Syrian refugee camp.

Rebecca Thurgood, an architect, contacted me in January about her idea to put on this event to support Loving Humanity UK – a charity who provide sanitary towel making machines (and the know-how to operate them) to women in Za’atari refugee camp. She came across the Spirited Bodies site while researching her idea. It was apparent that our missions could harmoniously and fruitfully dovetail. Indeed my original idea for Spirited Bodies back in early 2011, was to raise money from the events, to channel towards women in less developed countries who are not privileged enough to be so concerned with their body image. In this way I envisaged Western women connecting with their sisters around the world, to heal each other in a way, and bring greater solidarity to all womankind.

I didn’t find it so easy to implement this idea. The logistics of putting on the larger events involved other organisations of artists, who needed them to be commercially viable. Smaller events which I ran myself tended to hardly cover their own costs. There was in tandem with this, the slightly out of kilter idea, that I as perhaps an impoverished artists’ model, could help women elsewhere to find a sustainable and independent lifestyle. It hardly made sense when I hadn’t exactly achieved that for myself. It seemed enough that I was helping people here to find greater peace and acceptance with their own bodies. That is, apart from an event I did with Life Drawing in Leytonstone in September 2014, which benefitted an orphanage in India. So I am extremely excited to now have this opportunity to collaborate with Rebecca, to further realise my dream, as well as hers.

Since I began Spirited Bodies I have developed my networks, built a community, and gained a lot of experience in running various types of these events working with different people. Now is an ideal time to embrace the new challenge.

Here is Rebecca’s flyer for our collaboration, which is called Loving Bodies;

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I am looking for about 40 female life models (experienced as well as new) to each pose for 2 or 3 hours. This is unpaid for all involved as all money raised goes to the cause. Let me know if you are interested & please spread the word!
We are also looking for many many women to come and draw – it will only be £15, tickets available here.

Here is a picture of the venue from a mixed event I held there in 2013 with The Drawing Theatre –

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It is a large space with good natural light, and on the occasion in the photograph, we did several poses in different parts of the space.

Here are some drawings from recent women’s events I held ealier this month;

From the women’s session at Telegraph Hill Festival on Saturday 5th March

From the older women’s session at WOW on Friday 11th March

From WOW on Saturday 12th March

Spirited Sound, Love and Life

I want to begin a while back, because this road has been a long journey. This year has been more challenging, but also finally a turning point – in my art, with Spirited Bodies, and in my love life. It all happens at once, yet in stages. I get challenged about why I am sharing the personal, in an art project which is supposedly more for the benefit of others, and I respond, because when I was a younger woman I missed an older female role model, who had the appropriate life experience. I struggled with that, until things gradually fell more into place. I wouldn’t have listened to anyone who purported to understand, and I’d know if they really did. Any more privileged woman who thought she knew best, definitely didn’t. Now of course, I may be the more privileged woman for many, but I am happy to share that it hasn’t always felt thus, and if in some way my message can reach distant others, that is what was in my heart all along.

In short since late May, this year has included several frustrated attempts at connections with venues and individuals with whom I seemingly failed to build a rapport. Trans activists (who were not actually trans themselves) with whom it was impossible to have a sensible discussion about trans issues and how they intersect with the needs of cis women rape survivors in some cases. Competitive women with similar projects to mine, who either viewed me with suspicion, or just thought they knew better. Community collectives who were not open enough to host Spirited Bodies! What could be more appropriate for a community…?

Earlier in the Summer I met Sarah Kent at Brockley Open Studios, in my neighbourhood. We got chatting in artist Gill Hickman’s studio, and something resonated. I attended Sarah’s soundbath and experienced the healing sounds on the floor of her living room. I felt at ease with her, as well as moved by the intense yet soothing vibes. She said expect changes in the next few days, and ideally make space for them.

What I hadn’t known was that my old friend Michael, had died that day or the day before… and I found out a few hours after the soundbath. Michael’s death, for me marked a turning point, a shift of focus. In the middle of Summer this news penetrated layers of the fabric of my being. It took me back to the late 90s when I knew him best, the times and the company we shared. Though I had not been so in touch with Michael in recent years, his strong uncompromising world view sank into me as I relooked at the world through his imagined eyes and the filtered lens of the girl I used to be. Somehow both introvert and extrovert, rebellious, even fearless. The power of youth! While most of us had mellowed, to be fair including Michael in his own minor way, really he had sustained a strikingly similar mentality to what we all remembered. I instantly felt tougher, unaffected by petty crises previously around me. For a while I was invincible! Untouchable. I thought of Michael a lot.

With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s
With Michael (centre) and friends at an anti-criminal justice bill demo, mid 90s

My erstwhile longterm relationship that had been faltering, now felt briefly healing again. My partner, connected to the old tribe including Michael, understood intimately my feelings, but the ending of our relationship was imminent. We had drifted apart, and I craved cohesion in my life. A nervous breakdown at one of my modelling jobs alerted me that something had to give. I could not visualise a future that felt fitting, under my current circumstances. The breakdown involved intense feelings of being violated by the artists sculpting me, when in fact I was also aware that neither they nor the tutor (who is one of my favourites) was responsible. The conditions of my life were so disadvantaging me, that I could not see light in my routine. To make a success of my art projects I needed all energies and people in my life to point decidedly the same way, otherwise it was dissipating. I needed freedom. We technically had an open relationship, so when I did find closeness with a new partner, it took me a little while to realise that I could not be so intimate with two men simultaneously. The new relationship rapidly came to mean so much more to me than I could have anticipated. So intense is this new connection that it felt prudent to break up with Aaron. Simple is better; and freshly blossoming love deserves the richest, most fertile ground in which to take root.

In my new partner I found a fellow life model and writer, as well as an enthusiast of all my projects, sharing much passion in nude art adventures, and travel, something I had missed in the past. I also found so much love I hadn’t dreamed of, expected, in one with apparently such different background. His openness, sensitivity, intelligence and understanding take my breath away. As the Autumn took hold, this new excitement grew, and grows. I am in love.

Spirited Bodies again feels in a good place. I have resolved some issues, and feel confident about the involvement of men modelling again. For Spirited Sound I didn’t take any chances with male models. I knew all of the chosen ones personally and felt 100% safe with them. With the help of my partner and other trusted male models, we are creating an exceedingly safe space for everyone. That’s not to exclude the trusted women models from this equation, or the artists, but it was mainly an issue with deceptively inappropriate male models, so feels apt to be solved first, by male models.

All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15
All artwork from Spirited Sound, 8/11/15, at the Bargehouse, Oxo Building, Southbank

The healing power of Spirited Bodies is very important to me. I have explored this a few ways; in more intimate workshops, through interviewing models (and artists) about their experience and playing their recorded voices during sessions. Now with Spirited Sound, a new, more direct, less personal but more universal model has been born. The sound instantly seemed to free up the format, necessarily instigating greater experimentation. Traditional life drawing standards according to the wants of some artists are thrown out. This is all about the Spirited Bodies, and this time we tried some movement poses which was a beautiful way to discover even greater harmony as a group. Three minutes of very slowly opening up from a closed posture into something more expansive, and five minutes of flickering gently together, moving as flames of a fire burning brighter and closer.

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The session was divided into 4 sections, each representing an element – Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Shorter and movement poses in the first 2 parts, then longer poses for Water and Earth. The models connected with each other when they felt drawn to, as they collectively expressed themselves elementally. Dynamic and expansive for Fire, including a slightly longer Scene from Hell – the fallen among the devils. Light and floaty for Air, as well as being blown together in a very strong gust of wind. Flowing waves for Water where the models lay variously in a row, some interconnecting; and pure grounded connection for Earth, each model occupying their own comfortable (I hope!) space. It was a big pleasure to work with the group of models, several I have gotten to know over time with Spirited Bodies, including professionals who enjoy the deepening experience a lot. They create a warm atmosphere for any newcomer.

5 minutes blowing in the wind
5 minutes blowing in the wind

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Spirited Sound happened because I had connected with Sarah, and she was interested and happy to bring her sound art to Spirited Bodies. It was her idea to work with the elements as a theme, and she created sounds to fit each mood, to accompany and inspire the models (and artists), and weave a layer of vibrational texture into the space. There were bells, singing bowls (including one large one containing water), large gongs, a rainstick, a jingly instrument which when shaken lightly produces an array of gently tingling bell sounds of different notes.

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Spirited Bodies becomes something more layered with the inclusion of sound art; another type of art is intersecting with the life modelling and drawing. A new relationship emerges between musician and models (and artists). Is the sound influencing the models, or vice versa? A bit of an exchange for sure. At one end of the room Sarah laid out her instruments, from where she could see all the action (and stillness) of the models. Had we been in the larger attic space as originally planned, she may have arranged herself in more spread out fashion around the room in order to move about and be among artists and models, so that sounds would emerge from different areas and directions, possibly moving too. Sarah and her instruments could have been linked to the visual aspect of the artists’ attention, perhaps appearing in the art, as positioned within the scenes of poses. The attic also had a particular atmosphere which would have lent itself well to the gravitas of gongs, however it turned out that heating and lighting that space was a task beyond the electricity supply. It was great as it was, but it would also have been fantastic for Sarah to have been slightly more integrated with artists and models. Nevertheless, her presence and sound creation were deeply felt and appreciated by all. This was a joyful collaboration which I hope we may explore again.

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I feel more comfortable with the trans inclusion (to women’s sessions) now. This is very delicate, but it’s important to be open. I sometimes feel that a separate group for women only – excluding non-transitioned trans women – will be helpful (particularly for cis women rape survivors, of whom there are probably more than the entire population of non-transitioned trans women). I will tread carefully. One thought is that, if women’s events are open to all trans women regardless of transition, that gesture is what is important. Possibly those trans women themselves are not interested to come along, and may well realise that their inclusion can be tricky; without wanting to be divisive, there are very different needs at play.

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The issue of competitive women is being resolved too. I am not taking this personally, but see it as symptomatic of us women, learning how to share our power. This might seem odd to be so gendered, but I do think we are not so familiar as men are, with having power in the first place, and often if we do, we are encouraged to beat off the competition. This doesn’t make sense when our projects are about liberation and empowerment, for all, not just some elite. These higher principles must filter through otherwise projects will die.

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Leaving you with a few more pictures of artwork from Spirited Sound. We were very fortunate to have a lovely photographer with us at the event too, so there will be photos of the group of models to follow at some stage. Also, I am just planning an event for December, so keep looking out! And a blog post about the women’s event at Bargehouse will also come soon.

Watery bodies
Watery bodies

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With much gratitude to all the models, artists, and Sarah, as well as Kathy, Angie and Jenny from the Southbank Festival of Creativity at the Bargehouse

Spirited Bodies in Highbury

When I think of you my heart grows stronger.

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Come on out for Spirited Bodies in Highbury on 27 June, Friday evening. It will be magical. In a beautiful centre for therapy the peace will welcome the powerful performances of our models.

An image of the venue:

The Skylight Centre

Collecting interviews. From models and artists. Backdrop for a stunning scene.

 

Images from our WOW event in March this year.

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To buy tickets and for much more information go here.

Excellent Women – Life Drawing at the Women of the World Festival

Fond memories received just as I am thinking about where to go for our next event.

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Here are some sketches from when my darling friend Clare dragged along for a life-drawing class at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival– but this wasn’t just your average life drawing class. It was an incredible tribute to the female body and mind.

The women posing in the group were a wonderful mix to draw – tall, short, heavy, slim, black, white, asian, and they created one dynamic group pose after another. What made the event even more meaningful is that whilst the women posed, a recording of them being interviewed about the idea of putting their bodies on display to be drawn was played.

The session was for women only, and was a safe space for shedding clothing without the worry of being judged or evaluated in a sexual manner. It was a space for understanding, and also a space for some very emotional and empowering interviews from…

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