The Ages of Woman at WOW ’16

12823261_1084405361582138_6241684857695847929_o
by Kathleen Dutton

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.

16982

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).

12828376_1084952551527419_2789867827089698993_o
by Irene Lafferty

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.

1040090_1084949238194417_1245032190928454758_o
by Irene Lafferty

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.

12828521_1226156867395174_3890214933522554443_o
Sabine dancing with wings, by Kathleen Dutton

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.

11154845_1084415734914434_434318536346358175_o
Witches tied to the stake, by Dorothea Bohlius

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.

12496494_1084415491581125_7006355321306930938_o
by Dorothea Bohlius

Spirited Bodies follow-ups: Part 1, a model from the Summer event speaks of the changes in her since modelling

I never had any expectations of life modelling – I didn’t know if I’d love it or hate it; whether I’d feel shy or be unable to stay still for any amount of time. I had no idea of what to expect. I sort of just closed my eyes and dived in.

I began to look in to life modelling a little more than 6 months ago. I was beginning to explore my own creativity and love for the arts. I have a deep respect for artists and, though I doubt my ability to hold a pencil, I wanted to be artistic in my own right, in a way I thought I could.

I used to be a gymnast, I have an awareness of my own body and how my body expresses my emotions – through illness when I’m stressed, in my expressive or closed body language in different situations – but that awareness did not automatically equate to a consciousness, and rarely to control.

Coincidentally, at the same time as I was beginning my own creative journey and recognition of my body’s expressive capabilities, I was feeling dissociated from the way my body looked. I felt unattractive, my body had changed since being a teenager – I was beginning to look more like a woman and I felt betrayed. What do you mean I won’t have abs of steel unless I exercise! Why do my curves have to wobble?! And where did that bottom come from?! I knew I was still petite, I just am that build but there was no denying my body was new to me and some how I ‘d have to learn to love it, or I’d be in for years of hell trying to regain my teenage physique.

Meanwhile, I had been in touch with an artist and tutor from Kingston University who put me in touch with you, Lucy. I decided, what better way to reconnect with my body, to regain control and accept my new body than to take my clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers! I jumped in.

From my warm welcome at Spirited Bodies and my initial meet with Esther, I was immediately put at ease. Now all I’d have to do was undo my robe…

Any trepidation I felt before stripping off disappeared the moment my robe hit the floor. This was something I could do and damn it, I would work and concentrate as hard as I can to let these artists know a story about me.

This idea of modelling being an opportunity to tell a story about me is something I keep coming back to. Each session I model I find a theme emerges from the first pose. That then dictates what kind of pose will follow and so on, until I have re-enacted (or just acted) frozen images from previous (or fantasy*) experiences. A whole session allows the kind of freedom of expression I rarely get verbally. I use the language of my body to reconnect with my own thoughts, feelings, memories and try to send those stories out to any artist who might be ‘listening’.

There are times I leave a session feeling, though exhausted, rejuvenated. It is a cathartic, cleansing experience.

I seek to connect with an artist in a non-verbal way where they hear my story and it stirs something in them and they draw accordingly. A synching of experience.

I am a singer and this same ‘synching’ can happen at times musically too. This is when you get the ‘buzz’ and you can feel it coming off all the musicians performing too. There have been times where I’ve come close to this experience through modelling and it is that feeling that I continue to seek. That drives me to concentrate and work hard at each session and to hope for a commission with an artist I connect with in such a way. I would love to be part of a working-relationship to achieve a picture which is an insight into both the artist and the model. Achieved by collaboration.

My preferred length of pose is about 20-30 minutes – at this time I ache enough to have to fight for it, not so much I begin to hate it! I find it is long enough to both test and train my concentration on that ‘tableaux’ that is in my head.

*I want to make a point about life modelling being very removed from a sexual nature for me. I try to express my inner ‘Gaia’ rather than, well you know. I feel nakedness has an innocence about it that is too often forgotten and yes sometimes in nakedness we are sexual beings but I try to avoid being provocative as it’s not something I’m comfortable with. I feel the need to raise this because so many friends (even artists!) think that it is of a sexual nature. So far the one with the greatest understanding, who I told of my ambitions most fearfully, has been my Mum! She is even considering having a go herself.