After a long break we are back with a new series of events at The Feminist Library. These will be for women only, though I would like to make a mixed event soon too, elsewhere. Also an event in Sheffield is in discussion! It is very special to be at The Feminist Library as naturally we share a lot of values. I have found it a very calm haven with so much richness stored in so many books and other archive material. There are publications you are unlikely to find anywhere else, and an incredible variety of female writing, from the cult to the little known.
I wanted to continue sharing the models’ voices with artists, and as well to celebrate the incredible breadth and diversity of female models. The idea of models expressing themselves whilst posing interests me, and not just with their bodies. Speaking of the nuances of feeling generated in pose, the different connections with people drawing, and how the practice or job sends ripples into their wider lives. Through sharing their thoughts we will spark some discussion about any issues or responses raised.
This introduction into a professional model’s interior world may warm participants up for trying some modelling themselves I hope! Naturally we welcome women who just want to draw as well. If cost is an issue please get in touch as it needn’t be. Some drawing materials and boards will be provided but by all means bring your own.
I am really excited to be presenting some wonderfully gifted and unusual women in this series. It is a chance to hear new stories in ways they perhaps haven’t been told before. Each session, the model will pose for the first 45 minutes, creating a sequence of poses to help with her presentation. She may not speak all the time. Her voice might have been pre-recorded if she prefers. She will sit, stand and elaborate for you, using her platform to engage you with particular matters pertaining to her experience. She may deliver poetry or make music. There may be a little movement. She will decide!
Leo says, “I consider being a fat model a public service . I hope other fat people are inspired to love their own bodies more.
body positivity and diversity is the key.”
Couldn’t agree more. It is very exciting to have Leo with us. She has a lot of experience and is a powerful figure with a strong mind. Please join us! Further dates and presenting models will be announced soon.
“The Feminist Library is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s.”
Spirited Bodies is really proud and honoured to be part of The Fawcett Society’s Spirit of Women Changemakers conferences in November, in London and Manchester. The Fawcett Society is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights. They want to see a society in which individuals can fulfil their potential regardless of their sex, and are bringing “individual community activists and organisers together with those who have driven change at the highest level to identify the most powerful ways to create change.”
I have been invited to create women’s workshops to complement the programme, by offering a practical session where delegates may try their hand at life drawing, perhaps even some life modelling. Spirited Bodies wants all women (and all people in fact) to feel comfortable in their bodies and fulfil the potential of their whole self. By working to eliminate body image and confidence issues, we want people to be free to embrace all of life, without being constrained by limiting beliefs often imposed by the media.
Similar to when we are at Women of the World Festival at Southbank Centre, these workshops will include demonstrations by prearranged models – some will be professional life models and others may be first-timers. To accompany their poses, recorded interviews of previous Spirited Bodies models will play, and in these voices may be heard the complex reasons that women come to try modelling with us, and what they gain from it.
Many find this a moving spectacle that reaches far into the interior of some models, going beyond familiar and traditional life drawing standards. The artist is halted in their sketching, arrested by unexpected revelations of peculiar intensity. They had a set out to draw a body – in itself, not simple – but are suddenly forced to confront a deeper reality. The model they are drawing is completely still… but had they considered that perhaps she is always so? She may not be a professional life model, though you might not realise it if you just walked in the room and found her in pose. At other times her paralysis is more evident as she is only without her wheelchair when reclining.
This is just one example of myriad stories behind the women who have posed at Spirited Bodies. The aim is to reach women who would otherwise not have the opportunity to model. They might be ill, very shy, anxious or somehow disabled, and this is a chance to experience their bodies as part of the creation of art, to be appreciated by drawing artists in a safe and guided environment where there is no pressure except their own desire to challenge themselves.
The atmosphere is totally supportive and respectful and every effort is made to accommodate different and unusual needs where appropriate and possible.
The Manchester event is on Saturday 19th November and takes place at The Studio.
Our workshops will be from 2:30pm – 3:30pm.
If you identify as female and would like to take part in one of the events as a model, please email me at email@example.com stating your reasons – there are limited places. This is not paid modelling, but nor would you need to pay to come to the event. Similarly if you are a female life drawing artist in or near Manchester who would like to come and draw at that event, please get in touch. It is great to have some experienced drawers present! It looks like we may not have space to accommodate the same in London unfortunately, however if that changes I shall put the word out. In any case, you can always buy a ticket to the conference and join us that way, as well as seeing lots of inspiring talks. I will be bringing drawing boards and materials.
During the morning at each conference there will be talks and panel discussions that address the subject of improving women’s lives in a range of ways. After lunch there will be practical workshops for attendees to experience some grassroots approaches to enhancing women’s lives. Spirited Bodies naturally fits in here, on the matter of body image, part of our health and well being. There is lots more information here, including how to buy tickets.
Key speakers include Dame Jenni Murray, Journalist, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour; Baroness Jane Campbell, Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group; Stella Creasy, MP; Caroline Criado Perez, Journalist, broadcaster and campaigner; Gail Heath, Manchester Women’s Aid; and Becky Olaniyi, Sisters of Frida. I am humbled to be among their number, and very happy to return Spirited Bodies to a more political sphere.
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.”
On Saturday 23rd July there will be Sound, Movement & Life Drawing in New Cross, South East London; for women, as well as mixed. Follow link for details.
I get really nervous about (life) drawing and it’s because I am uncomfortable doing things I am not confident at. I overly criticise my marks and that harsh voice in my head surely inhibits my ease of flow when I put marker to paper. It’s there before I have even started! Worrying how the drawing will look relative to how the model actually looks, and how other (better) artists fare in their efforts. I am especially anxious if the group is busy and/or there is likely to be a tutor peering over my shoulder telling me how it ought to work. I will freeze, ashamed of my attempts and be unable to take in their advice. I feel even more out of sorts considering I am so often on the other side, pulling the most contorted angles I can muster – yet can I cope with a talented model giving that right back to me?
I exaggerate. I have been leading modelling and drawing workshops for long enough for my own advice to have penetrated my nervous system. Sometimes I relax and am unbothered by the outcome. It very much is about state of mind. Sometimes I even like what I produce.
I felt extra awful on occasion trying to draw my partner (who is a professional life model). I think I felt like I of all people ought to know his body and be able to capture it well, I mean I’ve looked at it long enough! But it doesn’t translate so easily, and most of all it takes practice, and worrying less!
Kathy Dutton is going to lead the drawing side of things at our next workshops on 23rd July. Her style is very accessible to newcomers who don’t want to be bombarded with technical wizardry, but more gently guided towards expressing their reaction and interpretation of the unfolding tableaux. Having the confidence to draw is liberating, and confidence-enhancing, just as being able to pose nude can be.
The modelling side of things has an emphasis on movement this time, as in very slow movement that allows us to respond more fluidly to Sarah Kent‘s soundwaves. Lewisham Arthouse is on a busy road and I have posed there many times. The sound of the traffic can be heavy, however with powerful gongs vibrating, and other more delicate sounds from Sarah’s collection, we will be transported elsewhere!
This is a 3 way collaboration where we each bring our unique talents. I am a life model who specialises in (slow) movement poses and many of my bookings are focused that way. I think it’s a facility I have always had, developed on dancefloors in my teens, and in drama studios later on. I will be guiding, within participants’ capabilities and inclinations, very much working with individuals’ intentions.
Models may take a turn at drawing, and artists may swap too, which is the best way to understand each others’ roles. There may even be a chance to try making some sounds, whether voice or borrowing Sarah’s instruments.
Poses are likely to last around 20 minutes and involve some slow movement, as well as stillness. Drawings may be collaborative, on large pieces of paper on the floor or wall as is Kathy’s way, and models will move together also, relating to one another more closely as the session evolves. Sometimes they may respond more to the sounds than each other.
This was the blending of two projects of mine – Girl in Suitcase meets Spirited Bodies, and it was the first such encounter. It was not wholly successful for me, and for record’s sake, I will elucidate here the clearest positives and flaws that emerged.
It was born of a desire in me to perform the play – Girl in Suitcase – somewhere new, as well as to enhance the familiar format of Spirited Bodies at WOW. WOW is the Women of the World festival, annually held at Southbank Centre, London in March, around International Women’s Day. It celebrates women and girls, and looks at the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. I went to the very first WOW in 2011, and pitched my idea of Spirited Bodies as a means to help women to feel more embodied, to an audience in the Royal Festival Hall as well as a celebrity panel including Annie Lennox and Sandi Toksvig. Jude Kelly, the artistic director of Southbank Centre offered to host one of my events there. It took a further 2 years to bring the actual event to the festival, and it has been a fixture ever since.
I had not put on Girl in Suitcase since May ’15, and was itching to do so. It has in recent years been aired annually at Telegraph Hill festival, which is local to me, and I craved a new and interesting venue. I had put a lot of energy into creating the show with various friends in 2015, and then found their individual circumstances unable to commit further. Certainly that had been the case with Lidia, yet after working with her, I instinctively wanted to continue that sort of collaboration so didn’t attempt another. To add to that my personal life had undergone considerable turns in the last year; splitting up with a long term partner, and getting together with someone else. I was very keen to get back to the performance by the beginning of 2016, and as WOW has been the most high profile event I do in either project, I felt drawn to infuse that more with my own work. In previous years I had recorded interviews with models and artists in advance of the event, and edited them to play back during the session. For one thing my ex partner had the technical equipment for this aspect, and not unrelatedly, I wanted to ring the changes. Aside from this, during the last year I really noticed how others in the life model scene may have overtaken me perhaps – some that I helped to start out. I was losing the motivation to simply exist in order to ignite other women’s careers. I mean, I wanted to help them, but not at my own expense. I essentially needed to feel at that moment, that Spirited Bodies at WOW was also for me, not just the benefit of others (it’s not a high earner either).
A considerable flaw was I tried to fit in too much of the play; in the event there wasn’t time for it all, I had to cut big chunks whilst thinking on my feet. I had given myself too many details to focus on, and during the preceeding week I had gotten an inkling that this would be the case; it dawned on me that not all the parts of the play were so apt for the occasion. At the same time, since other performers were engaged I felt obliged to consider their needs, and not mess unduly with their already tight programme of learning the show. I was unable to perform my acting role with conviction as felt too plainly that the part did not fit; also my mind was elsewhere. I’d had three Spirited Bodies workshops during the past week and supplies of drawing materials were suddenly low – I’d been a bit caught out it became apparent as the audience flowed in at WOW, and paper seemed scarce. Too many details! I knew that really my priority and responsibility was to the models, especially the new ones, but I had made it harder for myself to focus on them.
On the plus side, the return to live interviews was a revelation. I had done away with this after our first WOW event in 2013, deeming the format unlikely to attract the truly nervous and hence some of the most magical and transformative experiences. In the meantime however, Spirited Bodies’ reputation has grown, and there is a bigger pool of people known to me for creating such a live event. Certainly at WOW, where the inherent safety factor is well understood, many more women are now willing to share their feelings live, whilst modelling. It probably helps that in the interim years, as Jude Kelly put it in one of her welcome to WOW speeches this year, “feminism has gone mainstream”. Live interviews means, genuine responses in the moment to the audience. There was some rehearsal involved, but it’s always fresh with an eager audience, and some parts have not been planned or scripted; they just catch you by surprise.
The themed sections of the event came directly from the play, and represented the stages in woman’s life. This worked very well and provided ample pose ideas for the chorus, who were a pre-arranged group of models, ranging from some with much experience to total newcomers. The chorus created tableaux for each section (the Virgin, the Mother, the Enchantress, and the Matriarch), and these were being accompanied by other interacting action, like Sabine’s belly dance and Ursula‘s Gaia poem. The three of us – Sabine Zollner, Ursula Troche and I reading facts/statistics about violence against women, during a pose representing torture and witches burning, was very effective, making for a strong dramatic arc that deepened the experience. Everyone was reminded of the unfortunate plights of far too many women around the world. Cast in this light, any of our own bodily anxieties were hopefully more ready to fall away, if only temporarily.
Regardless of any background noise in my own mind, the event was very successful. Having a well prepared chorus was powerful, and there were lots of new models trying out posing on the day from the audience. We had not had the room set out with an end-on stage before, more usually in the round, and this new lay-out actually worked well, elevating the chorus and action, so it felt more like a show. The event was well attended and well received, and I really appreciated the chance to add some theatre to Spirited Bodies. It was wonderful to revive the version from a year before, of Girl in Suitcase, that I had created with my two friends Sabine and Ursula. As ever, we were blessed with the support of regular women artists at this event, which I am especially grateful for, as well as the freedom to try new things, granted by the WOW team in support of my work.