Guestblog: ‘When Atlas Dropped the World’ by Lucy Saunders

It was just another day, nothing special, Atlas said.  After all these years, I’d got the job sussed – I could do it with my eyes closed, and frequently did.  It’s a matter of resting individual muscles, one after another, without losing position – if you look, you won’t see me do it, relaxing and then tensing.  The trick is to get all round the body, be fair, don’t miss one muscle group out, even ones that don’t seem obvious.  Just because a muscle isn’t telling you its in pain doesn’t mean it is capable of staying in the same place all the time.  Muscles are designed to be various, to change their state from extended to relaxed.  So I have to do that within a pose that requires my stillness.  Of course I do move a bit, but very slowly, you’d probably never notice.  Its not like I do big stuff – I never change the side my head is under the world, for instance.

The original pose was something that came naturally to me, I do wish now that I hadn’t left the toes on the foot on the extended leg touching the floor – because that’s where the vulnerabilities come in, where you stop the blood in its journey and create pain.  Its any point that bears weight eventually.  Even if you were standing straight up on the ground, normally, not carrying anything, eventually your feet would talk with pain until you moved.  We are naturally moving creatures – and the situation I was in was an unmoving one, for all time.

Meditation helps.  You send your mind elsewhere, detach yourself from your thoughts, feel the universe within, the inner darkness like the space between stars.  Time doesn’t have much of a meaning in a situation like that.  Walter Benjamin was right, boring tasks free the imagination.  I would divide time up, have times when I thought furiously about concrete things, like maths, statistics, science, even who said what to whom back in the day, and other times when I would shut down thinking, reaching for just existing, which was a hugely challenging skill, because once you’ve realised that you’ve achieved it, you are just existing, then you’re back thinking again aren’t you, its like some tricky fairground game.  Giants, like humans, need input – if it doesn’t exist, your mind creates it.  there’s me, kneeling in the eternal void, forever, carrying the world on my shoulders, and all I’ve got between me and madness is my brain.  Its an entertaining thing, a functioning brain.  This was in the days before headphones or iPods or audio books.  I rather envy anyone who gets in the same position now, they’d have all that entertainment on tap.

You ask the big questions, in such a situation.  Forget about the obvious, like why you are here – is it worth wondering about?  No, I thought more about what was specifically giant, human or god, what was the stuff of life.  What was death like.  As an immortal, I am never going to know, it’s a mystery, something that living things do so easily, they just stop breathing, they just stop the chemical factory going – well, the chemical factory keeps going, it breaks down the body into its atoms eventually – but that little strand of electricity, that spark, has gone.

Anyway, it was a day like any other, no better, no worse, and from deep down a yawn emerged – I tried to control it, I held my jaw together, but it was topped by a sneeze so I lost it, and once I’d started losing it, I lost it more and more and more.  It didn’t take much to knock the world off its place on my shoulders, it rolled away like a drunken marble, I just had time for a quick stretch and rubbed my eyes, then I was after it, like a dog after a rabbit.  It was damaged, once I’d caught it, of course it was, but its an enigmatic little thing, it is full of ingeniousness.  Once I’d parked it up again, a bit twisted round so Africa wasn’t in the same place anymore – well, once we’d got that far, a change of view for me seemed reasonable – I could get to thinking about how it would all turn out.  Just a few millennia and life will be buzzing around the planet.  I wonder what they’ll call this moment.  The Precambrian happening p’raps.

Mother love and a tutor called Karn – Lucy Saunders asked me some questions about creating the show ‘Girl In Suitcase’

The show is very autobiographical, and while it is not especially about my Mother being from a different time with different expectations, I guess it also is. It is about a cross-generational clash, and the mending of this. It is about a character with little or negative outlook in life, made worse by her disability. It is about the parallels in the daughter’s life, and how through the Mother’s need, their relationship is softened and made closer. The Mother is approaching death, and this throws a bold new light on their lives.

Another inspiration is life modelling, and a particular tutor I worked with at Heatherleys back at the beginning of ’09. She walked with a stick and was totally eccentric. Visually she was striking, and her character had presence. She slightly resembled my Mother as she was over 10 years ago walking with a stick. As I modelled and listened to her meanderings to the class, I conjured up a fictional character of her, an evil version who continually shifts between trying to be sinisterly kind to the model (who may also be a trafficked woman) and being downright nasty and torturing. I was playing with the idea of being a model and feeling trapped in one’s role, particularly as a woman. Unable to move and when you might have an issue with your predicament, often you silence it under the guise of thinking it through more thoroughly just to be sure you really do have a problem before you tell anyone about it.

There was a link with women in the sex industry where I also used to work, and how many of them feel trapped. The play only touches on that aspect, but for me it’s a big link with making a living out of my body’s natural propensity to be attractive to men. I may be a good model also, but being honest and what I’ve learnt from doing SB, many artists are not very kind, they want slim, pretty women, not too old, and if not someone more unusual. I sent an older friend who has done SB to cover me at the Mall one week, and a female artist said after she’d modelled, that she may not be good looking, but at least she could hold the pose. I suppose that was meant to be an honest compliment.

A specific inspiration was having to take over caring for my Mum when Dad was incapacitated for a while. It shocked the hell out of me, what was involved and how much of the carer’s life it takes up, and how little I felt I could give, given that my Mum had never shown me love when I was young. It wasn’t until she nearly died under a year before this time of caring for her, that she started to tell us, her family, that she loves us and is sorry about not being kinder before. Now she tells me every time I see her, it’s the first thing she says.

Another inspiration was modelling for London Drawing at Battersea Arts Centre when I had to be Emmeline Pankhurst hacking her own clothes off in a minor hysterical fit! It was so performative and an interesting way to hi-light the significance of clothes to us as humans. Nudity is foregrounded by the removal of clothes.

I would have used more physical theatre if working with Szilvi, but with Jaki, the possibility of performing the script about Mum became obvious and she is a trained actress, not so much physical theatre performer. There are still elements of physical work in the more surreal/dream scene sequence, as in a few movements and gestures we are hinting at the emotional and psychological development of a character over the course of 20 years of her life say. It becomes symbolic and is a visual metaphor. I don’t want to spoon feed the audience!

The show could indeed be performed by someone else if they so wanted, and it is mostly quite straight forward and text-based. The part where I life model and instigate the audience to draw could be made individual to whoever was doing it, as I intend to partly adlib that part according to the audience response.

The themes are personal and female emancipation, also caring for the sick and elderly, mother/daughter relationships, and our relationship with our bodies. Also as you say how the onset of impending death may alter our fundamental view of life and throw everything into a sharp focus.

Caring for the elderly is poignant with our aging population.

Embracing our nudity is quite a popular theme at least in the West currently, and continues to shake dominant cultural beliefs. Talking to Anita the other day who was brought up Muslim in Malaysia illuminated that cross-cultural realm of women – from places where showing much skin is punishable or at least frowned upon – who then lead a Western life and may move between worlds. The world is changing fast and even her friends in Malaysia who cannot express themselves fully in their life in public, do so more and more online.

The show is particularly about my experience of feeling disenchanted with a conventional way of doing things/growing up, so rebelling; and then coming out the other end a bit more grown up. So in that sense it speaks to possibly people like me, who could just be anyone who’s ever been disillusioned (ok let’s keep this broad!) It’s about finding a salvation through some sort of patience and endurance. It’s about a positive outcome of a once negative situation so it’s quite optimistic. It’s about facing death so it’s realistic too, i.e. not just idealistic.

How does my experience translated through art help others connect? Not sure. Mum likes it because she feels represented on stage, but that’s a bit specific; more generally a main character is heavily disabled and faces the possibility of assisted suicide. Just showing some hard stuff, can be a relief to people who live that and could do with not feeling alone. Having said that there’s a lot of humour there, even if dark.

By being naked on stage and juxtaposing that with a clothed character and their interactions, that points up our awkwardness as a society or humanity, with facing ourselves as we nakedly are as humans. Also I start talking directly to the audience (whilst nude), so that’s a bit weird!

As for the place, well the burlesque bar in Stoke Newington is meaningful because it’s through an old contact of my drugged-up sex industry past as she works there. And it’s in an area where lots of that old group of friends live and I once lived. Many of the girls in that group work in burlesque, domination, stripping… So I am revisiting my past with a new edge. The nice thing is this bar is run by women and they are right into promoting female-led performance.

As for Edinburgh, the origin of the contact is through the same group of friends, and the guy I have been introduced to there runs a programme to promote free education. He is quite inspirational, though far too academic for me, but he likes Spirited Bodies as it sort of covers a feminist/evolutionary development angle that he digs but cannot encompass in his own projects… or who knows, maybe he will! So the gig has come about through a desire to promote Spirited Bodies, and the enthusiasm that generates with like-minded, socially conscious (if that’s the word) people.

I sorted out a London show so I could practise on friends and anyone else who comes along.

Not working on any other projects currently. Would like to develop this show after I’ve seen how it works and doesn’t. Show could evolve dramatically according to cast, funding, will…

There will be charcoal, pencils, paper etc and boards for people to draw with at the show.

can’t buy love

Megan Morgan follows me as we cycle over the bridge to the Mall, I want to show her where it is. I tell her what it’s like to model naked all the time and why I love it. How the artists, some of them, know a part of me neither friends nor family do. How it’s a performance of self expression in the moment, and while you could get self absorbed, you also get beyond the self, and beneath layers. It may be hard sometimes, but when you enjoy it, it’s a pleasure to be drawn. After a difficult spell in another part of my life, modelling can take me back to a happier place in myself, what a treasure. I love sharing this knowledge with someone who wants to take it on too. Feels like something I ought to do.

Glyn Howard makes me look cooler than Top Cat!
Glyn's groovy cartoon style, i dig it

Creature of the Sea & a Spirited Body

Today I modelled at ‘The Poetry School’ in Lambeth and inspired poems instead of pictures, aided by the imaginative props of Pascale Petit, the poet facilitating.

I held a conch; lay on a sofa my body covered in star fish; created a dance to the rhythm of the sea as I waved sea fans, was dressed up as an owl woman (mask and owl faces stuck on me), and beheld a Chinese deer skull. All in all a bit different and delightful to hear the results. I am hoping that people from the class will get in touch with their poems so I may include them here.

Owl Woman by Juul Kraijer

This image was the original inspiration which Petit recreated with me.

Some poems & images have made their way to me, I’m really happy to share them 🙂

Donnal Dempsey's response to my sea fan dance
L'Etoile de la Mer ~ star fish pose
this was the 'owl' pose, but Donnal has not drawn the owl faces on me, just a suggestion of a mask, works very well
Janice Windle captured movement in the sea fan pavane
Janice's star fish scape
First pose with conch, by Janice

Earlier in the week I hooked up with Barbie AKA Wench who will be participating in Spirited Bodies 3. She is an appliance engineer at British Gas who is hoping to quit her job soon; art is calling her! She creates cartoon characters including one of herself.

Wench on crack

A tall plus-size woman, she thinks modelling may supplement her art career. She never had art classes when she was growing up, and her family were constantly on the move, across the US mainly. So she has taught herself from way back. As a child in Georgia, in the middle of nowhere, there were no art shops, and sometimes a scarcity of resources. She recalls shaving off her hair one time so that she had a place to draw.

I love this character called Keras, gonna go for that look sometime

Of Spirited Bodies, Wench says “I’m looking forward to it. It sounds absolutely bonkers.” I couldn’t agree more.

@wench is at http://wenchlatte.tumblr.com/

The Naked Date

A multi-life modelling event on Friday 5th August is open to men and women who would like to try it. This is being opened to men as well, as being comfortable with our bodies is something we may ideally share regardless of gender. If you are interested, please contact me, and if you think friends may be, then please post this message to them.

I don’t know how this will emerge until I find out who is interested – and the event will be tailored according to interest. So that if a couple wants to pose together, that’s fine, or a group of friends; and women may model in a separate space to men if preferred.

I prepare all new models in advance, and about 100 artists may be present to draw/paint. The actual session lasts 2 hours from 6pm in Central London, with a break in the middle. There are shorter poses to warm up from 5 minutes in duration, building up to half an hour, and models are encouraged to find the most comfortable and appropriate poses for themselves.

This is an opportunity to overcome body confidence issues, celebrate nudity, meditate in an artistic environment and be painted from life.

If you would like to participate but do not want to be entirely nude, that is fine.