Tampering with Nature, & the Making of Ritual

I knew that Leytonstone wasn’t so much about the people I don’t know. My focus is definitely concentrated on the artistic and therapeutic direction, while my marketting skills are falling behind. On that front I really miss Lucy, but I wish her all the ground-breaking success she deserves in overcoming the skeptics and the nay-sayers on her quest to become a teacher – with a life modelling past. I mean it’s not like she can erase her name from press quotes relating to Spirited Bodies, so better to be upfront. I have a lot of faith in her. She is a great teacher and showed me much on the path to growing this project. The English education system is missing out enormously if it discriminates against those who have been or are life models. If it won’t accept her on those grounds, it is because it is not worthy of or ready for her. A pox on those naked fearing bureaucrats. If they knew Lucy they’d rewrite that protocol. It is time that any anti-naked religion took a hike. Early Christians knew that nudity meant being closer to God, free of society’s masks. This lingering, prevailing Victorian attitude needs to be dropped in a country, well a city at any rate that is more multi-cultural and integrated perhaps than any other on the planet. Let’s adopt some more timeless values. We are human animals for Goodness sake! Living in fear of man’s savage behaviour denies our higher feminine principles.

Back to Thursday evening. It was largely about my friends. I have the privilege of interviewing them, after all some have taken part in numerous Spirited Bodies events, and being friends I might catch them at more opportune moments. Other participants I didn’t know so well before, but now I do. Maybe we are friends now after sharing so much, but regardless I am grateful for the personal intimacy shared and aired. This ritual is growing as I learn incrementally how to work it.

These people have landed in all kinds of uncommonly normal circumstances. Overdue on their credit card payment, reacting unfavorably to high blood pressure medication, stuck in a job with the NHS administration that gives just 30 minutes for a lunch break, unable to chew their food properly, broken stomach, sexually abusive family, didn’t face their biggest fears till their 40s/50s/60s, tall but can’t walk without a stoop, have always had just enough so never been pushed to challenge themselves more, know there is something massively missing in their lives but no clue how to remedy.

If you are stuck in a rut, there seems no way out, just a long waiting game. A series of expected hospital appointments, courses of medication, rounds of relatives paying their respects. A gradually diminishing diet, bank account, and circle of friends. A partner oscillating between losing interest and reaffirming her raison d’etre. Just a few things are constant, you really get to know what they are. Maybe there is never really a partner, just a Mother, reluctant, unavailable and always in absentia. She can’t moan about you because she can’t even remember your name.

But if you have a chance you may describe the rut, listen to your voice, and watch others listen as they try to draw you. Do they get it? Do you gain something by hearing your voice amplified in a hall with others listening? Does it make the words sound more real, or like you are watching it on Jeremy Kyle? You hear the silence, sometimes a laugh when your audible sincerity hits a mark of recognition. Perhaps you sound daft, insecure or indulgent; but if you didn’t you wouldn’t sound like anything at all, and from awkwardness, at least you emerge with a voice.

There is responsibility; are these people vulnerable? Being exploited by me for dramatic material? One model reveals an undiagnosed personality disorder on tape. He has a nervous stutter, and describes a most unfortunate, horrific life, but is in the later portion of it. He is candid and unbothered by the consequences of openness – what does he have to lose? Not a lot I think. And he may gain more people understanding his shy, reserved character. Not just looking past him, perhaps imagining him as a creep – so quiet and nude, more than a little awkward. His voice has been heard, not overly edited to be politically correct. It is borderline but perhaps we need that, and to hear about mental health as it really is instead of carefully packaged to avoid lawsuits.

He stands alone, but he is supported by the others who are more comfy characters on their respective journeys. They are either artist or model, gaining experience or utterly professional as Ursula is. We hear their insights – on colleagues discovering their life modelling life, on the horrifying prospect of trying life modelling themselves, on the idea that men cannot help but look at women as objects; we hear advice from one who has overcome her fears to become a respected professional life model involved in theatrical events.

At some point I long to return to having a big event of the scale we have had with London Drawing in the past. I just need to be utterly sure of how that could manifest. Now that I have rebuilt the event with a therapeutic model, combining that with a stronger view of artists’ interests may come next. My shaman friend who attended on Thursday was inspired to write as well as draw during the session. She started describing to me a vision of how this could grow into a big healing and art event, with different types of artists, poets and alternative therapists joining in. That is a very beautiful idea.

Something else which enhanced our Leytonstone gig, was a playlist of music tracks to accompany each interview. After all, the zone of life drawing is a meditation, and too many words could get in the way of that.

Some pictures from the event; poses were between 1 and 20 minutes long

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Many thanks to all who made this event possible. The other thing I realised about how to run Spirited Bodies is, no one should make a profit from it, it is a labour of love. All proceeds are going to an orphanage in South India called Goodwill Homes (it turned out not to be the right time for the charity in Guatemala we originally had in mind). This is because the models are posing for free, and this needs to be for a higher purpose. I gain plenty in other ways from making it happen.

Human Orchestration, an explosion of nudity and sound

Dear Blog, this event has moved me; or rather it has been a culmination of a series of drives to ascend ourselves. We have created a new standard, a higher level of our art as models with a way to give voice to our internal thoughts and feelings, in the same time that we pose, collectively as a group. We communicate as one, individually audible, and collectively uplifted, empowered to speak back, feedback in real time, more than just a look or building up a feeling inside. This is a way to channel ourselves further into the art through the people drawing us.

I speak as if I posed, but really I was an orchestrator, conducting from the side. I was not even naked, but in my skin coloured body suit which is like being naked but with less definition, and room for a muffin top which otherwise doesn’t exist, squeezed up from tight leggings. I helped to deliver instructions, and as well I was a negotiator. London Drawing had their idea of what would happen, and sometimes the models had theirs. The balance was fine, and beautiful too. Spontaneity necessary, the models’ prerogative more than an important gesture, and truly the soul of Spirited Bodies. We are not just mannekins to be ordered by artists! We are creators too, and well we understand our craft, and what it might be to step outside of a comfort zone and the value therein.

With Ursula atop a pyramid of models, who were as Matt put it, “semi-autonomous noise generators”. Not entirely autonomous as they had to adhere to a few cues from myself as well as work as a group, listening to each other, and letting the sound come naturally from within them, or about their body, whether a note, a hum, a tap or a click. And Ursula led; although notes were preferred by London Drawing, she had a feeling to sing snippets of words too. I did not want to block this idea – nor could I – which was very creative and powerful. Ursula is a pun-meister and creates new arrangements of popular songs to suit the moment, in this case the present time of being drawn by artists. ‘Big Spender’ began, “Let me get straight to the paint!” (or was it ‘pen’?) At times she was not singing known songs, but rather voicing an undercurrent in the room, almost as if furniture could speak. “How do you feel when we are posing for you?” or something like, yet in sonorous tones. This part with the words was unrehearsed, and undiscussed. But the other models got it straight off and chimed in with their part, especially Tom and Christine our other professional singers.

The Church, St Johns, was perfect and seemed to beg our performance. With chairs neatly rowed for the usual practice, this awesome space demanded to be shaken extraordinarily, furniture strewn and space transformed. A light, almost completely open space with organ gallery at opposite end to altar, the high ceiling called down to us to fill it with our sound. Not just singing. Not how it has been done before, but something stretching the congregation to make it really listen, and to make a music out of just our everyday breathing, sighing, laughing and uttering, because we are celebrating the joy and wonder of being human for all our flaws, we are extraordinary too.

The Reverend Giles praised our art in spite of its controversial nature in the eyes of some of his congregation. He at least can see that the naked human is at the heart of Christianity. I suddenly felt like he was blessing our work, giving us Christian approval and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But it was a compliment and he was right. At Spirited Bodies we are about allowing people to find their truest selves without fear, to be the best that they can, in such a way that they must face themselves truly. There may be something Christian about that, and it is certainly spiritual. I had a very good feeling about Giles, welcoming us thus. He knew that we belonged there too. We offer something that his church also needs, and I really enjoyed this event more than any other.

Surprise when our models posed as artists. Horror when they gradually stripped off next to their unknowing neighbours – “will it be me next? Do I have to take my clothes off too?” Quite a few models remarked that this part – the first part – was similar to an event I and several of us took part in during the Summer at Guerilla Galleries, called ‘Inversed Voyeurism’. Turning the tables on people’s, especially artists’ expectations of the model, the idea that the model is something separate, like an object.

These were not typical Spirited Bodies, and yet they were also very typical. And very experienced. People who we have gotten to know, through our events and others like them. These people love to be part of nude art. Some will travel the world for good opportunities. Maybe it is their religion. As well a couple who were very new to what we do. A very nervous woman who fared very well.

A success of working relationships. Our 3rd collaboration with London Drawing. We get better at knowing what to expect and how to navigate the sticking points. And a growing team of dedicated Spirited Bodies; our soul is thriving, we just want to keep growing and travelling further with our shared passion.

The following photos of artwork are courtesy of Steve Ritter, who also wrote about Saturday’s experience; http://charoigne.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/a-human-orchestration/ as did Matt Whyndham; http://repulsivemonkey.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/life-modelling-3-and-bit.html In many ways they each have outlined more clearly what actually happened than I have, but it would be boring if we all wrote the same.

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capturing the architecture with the figures
capturing the architecture with the figures
Models interspersed amongst artists
Models interspersed amongst artists

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View from the gallery, art work spread on the aisle
View from the gallery, art work spread on the aisle

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the sum of our parts
the sum of our parts

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models singing an echo in a line
models singing an echo in a line

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A finale of models on a platform in front of the altar
A finale of models on a platform in front of the altar

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a sort of human pyramid
a sort of human pyramid

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a flaming cross
a flaming cross

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And from our life model friend Santosh who also took several photos:

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aisle Anne & David talking to the artists

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Rehearsing the final pose
Rehearsing the final pose
Setting up the 'singing drum' pose
Setting up the ‘singing drum’ pose in the morning

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windows

Looking forward to more of such collaborations, with gratitude for a remarkable team effort on all sides, and the pleasure of enjoying some outstanding artwork.

Here is some more from artist Jess Miller; http://jessmillerart.com/2013/10/13/the-drawing-theatre-2013/

Favourite moments? (1) Seeing artists squirm as other ‘artists’ were given the nudge, and obliged by removing clothes. (2) Grinning fiendishly from the outside as the models raised their pitch and crossed into new territory empowered by voice. (3) Watching Morimda take the central standing position in the final piece, as the guy before needed a break. The symbolism of a black female replacing a white guy on the top spot gave me a big kick, and, after all, we wouldn’t be here without Morimda.

Will be sharing more pictures from London Drawing soon.

Nude modelling giving women confidence ~ my talk with Women on Fire

On Tuesday 23rd April I will address an audience of women at a Women on Fire event; it is part of their A Woman Cubed series. I will be speaking about how modelling nude may bring women confidence.

I will draw from my experience as well as that of some of our Spirited Bodies.

I will look at how nudity has changed in its status through history, how it has become incredibly sexualised where it used to represent purity. Indeed the naked body has been of the highest spiritual significance.  There is of course a political element; it may be convenient that a population ashamed of the natural human body is a society living in fear. In fear how easily are people subjugated and controlled? I may not have time in the talk to cover this element, but it is related.

I will discuss what is unique to life modelling; as well as the nudity, the usual silence and stillness. Shed of our daily trappings we have an opportunity to reexamine who we are.

This is a women only event.

About Women on Fire: “Women on Fire is designed to link up the women of the world who make brilliant things happen. It promotes women as decision makers, especially in the many areas that have a direct effect on the wellbeing of all life on earth. It aims to embolden, uplift, inform and inspire women in all circumstances to live their power – but without the loss of lovely, feminine tenderness.”

Women on Fire founder Judith Seelig is a shaman and change maker. She will be talking about women letting go of judging ourselves and comparing ourselves to others.

To book tickets for this free event, register here; it takes place at Kings College London, from 7 – 9pm.

Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy
Judith Seelig by Tracey Fahy
Judith by Tracey Fahy
Judith by Tracey Fahy
Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy
Judith poses beautifully, photographed by Tracey Fahy

I first came across Women on Fire at a women’s business networking conference a couple years ago. I was looking at ways to take Spirited Bodies further; we had done one event and I was preparing for the second, which was called ‘The Ages of Woman’. One of the speakers at the London Women Mean Business event mentioned Women on Fire, so I checked them out. They had a big event coming up with some very inspiring speakers from Camilla Batmanghelidjh to Polly Higgins, covering many areas of life. I decided to go to their regular meetings and stay in touch. I am thrilled to be asked to take part in next week’s event!

Related articles:

https://spiritedbodies.com/2011/04/01/feminine-transmission/

https://spiritedbodies.com/2011/10/01/fire-power/

Endangered Bodies & Spirited Bodies

On Sunday 10th March at Women of the World Festival, Southbank I attended the ‘Endangered Bodies’ workshop. Endangered Bodies are an international initiative who ‘challenge the merchants of body hatred who turn girls and women against their own bodies’. ‘Anybody’ is the UK chapter and is lead by feminist activist and writer Susie Orbach who was in the audience, while a team of young women presented the session.

This workshop was focussing on the language we use to describe ourselves, as women. On several seats occupied by the audience were cards with quotes written on them. The occupants were asked to read them out; they were negative, some about fat or older women (e.g. “Doesn’t she have a mirror and a scale?”), very cutting. At the same time, we the audience watched a silent woman on the platform in front, sitting as if caught looking inwardly as she overheard the comments. It was about the way we look at each other, possibly critically, without thinking, and how it makes us feel when we transfer that judgement on to ourselves, I thought. All quotes had  been gleaned from The Daily Mail including the comments of readers as well as articles.

We were asked to move to part of the room without chairs so that we could position ourselves in the space on a sliding scale of positively agreeing, and strongly disagreeing as several statements (which I have turned into questions) were read to us, largely centred on our feelings about womens’ magazines. Do we read them? Do we use them as a style guide? Do we think they are responsible for women having body issues? Is talking about women’s appearance a good way for women to bond? Are women naturally more bitchy than men? Is it our duty to inform our friends if their clothes don’t suit them? Roving mics picked up audience response as we went along. A lot of it I found fairly predictable; we enjoy our turn on the mic, myself included, but we are speaking to the converted. It was pointed out that a lot of this talk focusses on negative situations without actually doing anything to improve circumstances… though by raising the questions it did, it perhaps encourages all present to take them out of the room. The ‘Anybody’ group do a lot of work in UK schools which is possibly where they are most likely to be affective.

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Back in our seats, the hostesses brought our attention to several questions on screens in front;

How do you talk about your body/yourself?

How do you talk about your friends and their bodies?

How do you talk about people you don’t know and their bodies?

How do any/all of the above affect the way you live your life?

What can we do differently?

We were encouraged to tweet.

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An editor for lesbian magazine Diva explained that when they tried to run campaigns using ‘real’ models, readers wrote in to complain. A marketting director confessed that part of her job was to choose images of women based on very rigid parameters of convention regarding fashion, and to talk about the figures of the women in that context. She was ashamed of reducing women to commodities.

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A writer for womens’ magazines was more positive, believing that change must happen from within the industry (as well as within each of us). She had written about ‘real’ women several times and noted she was not alone. I can testify to that, we having appeared in the Daily Mail’s women’s magazine! I piped up that I am ever descibing my life modelling friends’ physicalities in order to help them get work, so I am used to talking about bodies as they are; rules of offensiveness and flattery applying in an entirely different fashion in my world.

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Another woman described how her latest workplace surprised her as no one comments on the way she or others look ever. She said it gave her space to think about herself for herself, without apparently even subtle interference.

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One of the workshop leaders talked about the pressure on Facebook to have a profile picture that receives a lot of ‘likes’, and how one way round this is to sabotage all photographs taken of one by pulling a silly face, thus undoing the possibility for the usual ‘stunning’ comments – the rush of typical affirmation which may in fact be damaging for us psychologically. Instead of playing up to idealised standards of beauty, find your worst angle and celebrate that!

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The cult of creating our online profiles can encourage all sorts of editing of appearance, which may especially affect young people negatively.

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The high proclivity of especially young women dieting was discussed, and how bringing up the subject when one is concerned about a friend dieting unnecesarily is fraught with tension. A teenage girl mentioned that in her school, girls were doing the ‘diet coke diet’ which included just that ingredient. On bringing up the topic as a concerned friend she got told she was bullying.

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Older women reminded us to be grateful for what we have, and that true confidence does oftentimes come with age. Someone advised us to practise saying ‘I love you’ into a mirror!

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Another woman talked of embracing appearance as self expression, a part of communication and a way of projecting ourselves in new ways beyond negativity. It is after all a privilege to choose how we look .

All images in this post are by artists (and models) who attended the workshop last Tuesday in Telegraph Hill; Rade, Francis, Dijah, Geoff, Donald, Mattie and several others.

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This was a super workshop with 4 female models and 4 male, plus several artists. Poses covered various themes.

Here a husband was caught with his lover by his wife
Here a husband was caught with his lover by his wife

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Tribesmen dispute land ownership...
Tribesmen dispute land ownership…
a fight is ensuing in a supermarket carpark; one woman believes the other has taken some of her groceries
a fight is ensuing in a supermarket carpark; one woman believes the other has taken some of her groceries
a woman is being initiated into a cult
a woman is being initiated into a cult
a moment of tenderness
a moment of tenderness
drunk at a party
drunk at a party

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To Feel Human with You

Being with people naked with all different bodies, still and silent is liberating. Our bodies are ok, there is beauty in each, from the essence being allowed to be. Open and free allows, encourages each to flourish. That is a gift, that is magic, to share that is bliss.

To witness the unlocking of pain, but simply all I see is beauty. Individual expression, sometimes connection, the love of friends, couples, and the inclusion of all. The connections of the more confident and brave, the shapes of different bodies, sometimes balancing, sometimes relaxing, sometimes wanting to be looked at or not; to have all the variety is the magic of life.

At the begining of the morning session when I got on the platform, I found myself close to my friend Sylvie

As I was posing on the stage with everyone I noticed this wonderful feeling and it didn’t matter if we were being drawn or not, that was incidental. It was just being with everyone that mattered, and knowing we were all ok. I guess the artists do help though! That way you have a reason to stay still which helps. And impressions beyond photographs.

Thanks to all the models, and the artists at Spirited Bodies at the Drawing Theatre in Battersea Arts Centre last Saturday 20th October. Thanks also to Lucy, Steve and Denise for photographing art work. There is much more of it to be seen on our Facebook page; it may take a while to upload it all on here, so in the mean time: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.484653994890614.107239.320375434651805&type=1