Workshopping Stoke Newington

So long South West and we had been due North of the Thames. In Stoke Newington I mooch with my boyfriend and his pooch, and one of our breakfast spots offered an art space underneath. Spirited Bodies’ first date in N16 was Valentines Day and I had attended a talk on legal reform to improve the rights of women. It was part of Eve Ensler’s initiative – One Billion Women Rise to end violence against women. Jude Kelly, artistic director at Southbank Centre was speaking to Yvette Cooper, shadow minister for women and MP Stella Creasy who had both arrived hot from speaking in parliament about the need to push gender equality up the priority list. Violence against women is still too acceptable and needs to be addressed in schools, starting with the curriculum they argued.

I was not much of a Valentines date, rushing to my boyfriend’s then for a south Indian meal he had prepared before racing over to the workshop. Various hitches awaited – the furniture that had to be moved, the security camera to be covered up, the draft from the backdoor of the restaurant, and the heating which was not warm enough. Lucy was at a friend’s memorial service and most of the restaurant staff did not speak English. The space was good though, and regular participants were waiting for me upstairs and ready to help out. A couple of minutes after 7 we were ready for the first pose.

The theme was opposites; expansion & compression with 2 figures, each embodying one of these qualities. Then there was growing and dying, lightness and weight, falling and rescuing. This last match turned out to be 15 minutes of near agony for the models gripped as they were in a tight stretch so I felt more lenient for the next pose. The joy of connecting was the theme so that relaxed and happy expressions were evident. Finally a miniature recreation of Degas’ Young Spartans gave all the models a chance to try a 20 minute pose together. A thoroughly good evening, and as we wound down, the band was warming up in the restaurant above, surrounded by candle lit couples and unusually busy waiters.

Here are some pictures from the workshop;

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all i-pad pictures by Peter Mitchell
all i-pad pictures by Peter Mitchell

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Young Spartans by Pete Frohlick
Young Spartans by Pete Frohlick
and by Rade
and by Rade

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felt tip Spartans by Francis Wardale
felt tip Spartans by Francis Wardale

 

There are 2 more workshops scheduled at Cafe Most Art on Stoke Newington High Street for this month; Thursdays 21st and 28th, the latter of which will be women only. We explore different types of pose and the theatrical way they may connect with others, whether with the viewer or other models. We look at the practical considerations for holding the body in various states, as well as the aesthetic value of posture. Modelling is an individual practise which must be discovered by each model for her/himself and we are here to facilitate and support.

A Little Assymetry & a simple twist

Workshops are progressing smoothly and the machine rolls on steadily. I have decided to spend more time at my home (to centre my female energies!) and am reading a book about altars that women make at home. It is apparently a long tradition  that has helped to maintain women’s spirituality throughout masculinely charged times. Women from the oriental East, South America and Northern Europe have all arrived at similar practises as a means to survival of the soul. In church , mosque, temple or synangogue, only men have the divine connection (apart from a little leeway recently), women often being kept away from sacred rites. At home, however women are free to exercise their instinctive spirituality.

A collection of favourite objects, mementos of friends, loved ones and dead relatives; symbolic images both personal and universal, amassed and arranged to inspire deep connection. An entire room may be given up to being an altar, or there may be several altars in a house, each for a different purpose; or else a single altar may suffice. I started to realise that without being aware of it, I had the makings of a few altars in my home. On the mantle piece a framed photograph of my Mother on her wedding day, an old Chinese carved wooden box taken from my Grandfather’s office after he died, and lower down on the woodwork, art postcards from a Great-aunt, my Grandfather again, and by Klimt and Schiele – 2 of my Mother’s favourite artists. Then resting by the gas fire the walking stick from 2 of my plays, beads from (when I took over) my sister’s squat, and crystals and candle sticks on the hearth.

By the computer a postcard from my sister with a painting that my Grandmother embroidered and hangs in my parents’ home, a small plastic polar bear to remind me of someone I call ‘Bear’, and a chipped mug given to me by theatre directors of a show I starred in a few years back. Small shiney stones and pretty shells, a pressed sycamore wing and a found lamp from my first home away from home. Some people like to put the past completely behind them, get rid of the old and start afresh. That can be healthy too, but I see a value in all my experiences and relationships and want to cherish the love and warmth they have given me, may still give me through memory. In my bedroom another two altars await activation! The dressing table beckons, as does another fire place bedecked with choice memorabilia.

In this evening’s workshop I want to bring attention to the beauty of a little assymetry in poses, and as well the way a subtle twist can add the right amount of complexity.

Here are some images from last week’s workshop, by Rade, and further down are some memories from the beloved Mortlake Christmas experience courtesy of one of the models.

imaginary cards in a tense game to the left, and a woman in mourning (at a nude funeral)
imaginary cards in a tense game to the left, and a woman in mourning (at a nude funeral)
the artists are mirrored by the models in sketching poses!
the artists are mirrored by the models in sketching poses!
a selection of Mike's paintings in Mortlake
a selection of Mike’s paintings in Mortlake
a portion of The Raft of the Medusa
a portion of The Raft of the Medusa
more rafting
more rafting
the storm in pencil I think by Charles
the storm in pencil I think by Charles
The Last Supper
The Last Supper where some of the diners got to lounging

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Women Only Life Modelling Workshops

In response to an overwhelming majority of applications we receive to model coming from men (at last night’s workshop, 13 out of 15 new models were men), we are going to drive an initiative towards finding more women. To do this, we will programme some Women Only Life Modelling Workshops. The first 2 will lead up to International Womens’ Day – March 8th, and our event at Women of the World Festival, Southbank which will be on Saturday March 9th, 3 – 5pm in the Blue Room, Spirit Level! We can confirm that you will need a vagina to attend.

Possibly our most exciting event to date – it’s been 2 years in the making. At the 1st WoW festival I told the celebrity panel about Spirited Bodies in a bid to suggest the best way to improve womens’ lives (i.e. make them happy with and in their bodies). At this time in Spring 2011 Spirited Bodies was still just for women as it was when we started it. Jude Kelly, the artistic director responded immediately promising to host Spirited Bodies at Southbank. Annie Lennox however thought it ought to be for men too, as they had lots of pressure on them as well to look a certain way. Sandi Toksvig felt nervous about modelling herself, being in the public eye, and suggested other celebs would also. I had possibly confused the matter by stating that ideally we would find famous artists to draw so that we could auction their work to raise money for women in developing countries. Too many ideas all at once… I had 5 minutes to speak to some very influential people and I didn’t know how to contain myself.

So it’s finally happening. We are inviting some of our female Spirited Bodies who don’t mind talking about their experiences and demonstrating the modelling before we invite the audience to strip off too. We discussed the possibility of having men present and decided this is the one most appropriate place to try out just having women – and we mean artists as well this time. Men have become a big part of our events and we love it that way. But there needs to be a space to redress the imbalance. Lots of cultures segregate sexes at certain times, and sometimes this is empowering for each.

On Thursday 28th February in Stoke Newington will be our first Women Only evening (see Events) followed by a second in Brockley on Tuesday 5th March. You might want to have a go to practise in time for Southbank, or you may just fancy a friendly, comfortable place to explore femininity in all its glorious form without the distraction of the male gaze. Lucy and I cover a vast female landscape between us; please join with us to expand our womanly horizons with all your uniqueness. We welcome existing Spirited Bodies and especially new recruits. You don’t have to get your kit off, but you will be stuck with the task of drawing curve after curve, bump after buttock until your arm aches if not. Female artists are of course requested, and joking aside, posing with clothes on is fine too. We normally charge £10, but in Brockley as we are part of the Telegraph Hill Festival, we operate a ‘pay what you prefer’ system; in any case if money is a problem, do ask for an alternative. We will for example need assistance at the Women of the World Festival in (wo)manning a stall for the duration (this could actually be done by guys equally).

Here follow pictures of artwork created at yesterday’s workshop.

we spread the pictures on the floor at the end
we spread the pictures on the floor at the end

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I take the 1st pose to warm people up. Luckily the room is very warm as well
I take the 1st pose to warm people up. Luckily the room is very warm as well
Iain captures Gil's complexity
Iain captures Gil’s complexity

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group pose improvisation given theme of 'family', and using levels including one of Richard's cane's for Grand-ma
group pose improvisation on theme of ‘family’, and using levels including one of Richard’s cane’s for Grand-ma

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experimenting with form
experimenting with form

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connecting
connecting

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Francis' sketches
Francis’ sketches
the penultimate pose saw several of the guys creating this pose simultaneously, inspired by a Greek vase. With just a few minutes, it was very hard to capture, but looked impressive
the penultimate pose saw several of the guys creating this pose simultaneously, inspired by a Greek vase. With just a few minutes, it was very hard to capture, but looked impressive

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The final pose; the three Graces
The final pose; the three Graces

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it happened that the two female models were not dissimilar to me physically
it happened that the two female models were not dissimilar to me physically

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Models Drawing Models

This is what happens in the workshop: people try modelling. Before that they try drawing. They get addicted to both. Sometimes. That’s what happened to one couple who keep coming back for more. And more. Last event they came to draw (see results below). I wanted them to pose as a couple for our next gig at The Mall, but 5:30 on a Friday in Central London was unacceptable to them. We will get them on a long pose at some point this year!

The Last Supper from the other side, when Jesus is a woman
The Last Supper from the other side, when Jesus is a woman

Spirited Bodies 2Spirited Bodies 3

The masterpiece that is The Raft of the Medusa
The masterpiece that is The Raft of the Medusa

Spirited Bodies 5Possibly Jesus again

More rafting
More rafting
Dancers holding a bar
Dancers holding a bar

Developing in the Workshop

Having a smaller, more intimate group with whom to practise life modelling and instruction therein is a most gratifying bonus. It can be a safer place to start a journey towards more intense life modelling. There is even the possibility to practise posing without having removed clothes. There is not the usual atmosphere of focused concentration, since several participants are not primarily concerned with drawing even though they are giving it a go. Also Lucy and I are apt to cut in and mention during a pose something pertaining to it or ask the models how they are finding it. Between poses as well we bring up different matters relating to posing, and each new pose is introduced with an idea, for example, energetic connection between models rather than physical (models rarely pose alone) as well as a theme. We may try for a naturalistic pose or a more abstract one that is centred on form rather than gesture. Models sometimes come with their own ideas too, especially those with some experience. Indeed last time Richard Moon took part who has modelled for many years and he was most excited as this is his first time in 15 years of modelling that he has had an opportunity to pose with others. Like Lucy he shares a passion for recreating ‘The Raft of the Medusa’, amongst other classical images. He even brings several sheafs of laminated images of poses to present to artists he may work with to help them pick out ideas they are keen to try. Like a catalogue one artist observed!

Four of the models from the recent event in Battersea attended this last workshop and together with Richard, they outnumbered the entirely new models. This created an atmosphere of enhanced confidence. There was not the usual energy of nerves and anxiety present because the right kind of warm and excited (because it is mostly newly found) confidence is contagious. The new models looked less nervous than usual, but this may also have been down to their personalities. One is an artist I met when modelling at a group in Holborn, so he is quite familiar with the set up of a life drawing class. He wrote his own blog piece about the experience; http://repulsivemonkey.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/life-modelling.html

Another development was the presence of a few experienced artists who were not there to model but to appreciate a variety of short poses by a number of models as well as provide some generally better quality art work. I think they also appreciate the unusual insight into the model’s experience as we talk through the nature of poses and demands of modelling.

Lucy took some fabulous pictures of the art work and posted them on Facebook; http://www.facebook.com/media/set/ One particular picture of 4 models pretending to wait for a bus has become an instant favourite and I think it has been sold! Lily LeMaire the artist insisted it was just a sketch, but sometimes that is all it takes.

The next workshop will be on Wednesday 28th November at Battersea Library again, 7 – 9pm. We look forward to seeing a range of models and some artists hopefully.