A theatrical ensemble of professional models will lead a chorus of women, young and old, through the inspirational Ages of Woman. You are invited to try life modelling as part of the chorus, or turn your artistic hand to drawing scenes of the Virgin, Mother, Enchantress and Matriarch. Throughout the session, chorus models within this supportive environment will be invited to share insights from their life modelling, motherhood and menopause experiences. No previous drawing or modelling experience necessary. This is a women-only session where models will work in a group with poses lasting up to 15 minutes. Art materials, robes, a changing area, and a warm comfortable space to pose in are provided.
You will need a WOW Pass to attend the session, though I do have limited free places available for women artists (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org). Donating a sketch to a model is highly appreciated, in return for their posing.
If you would like to be part of the chorus from the beginning (not as an audience member/artist joining in later) do get in touch. If selected you will not need a pass, and we may be able to cover some transport and assistance costs. I am particularly interested in hearing from older women. The venue is accessible and carers are welcome to join you – we especially welcome disabled women who may otherwise not have such an opportunity. Do spread the word if you think someone may appreciate being included. We are lucky to already have one confirmed chorus member who is 65, and completely paralysed. She has modelled with us several times and become something of a star at Spirited Bodies due to her incredibly powerful testimony given in recorded interviews. Another star who we hope to have joining us again is a model who is in her 80s and has had a mastectomy. Read transcripts of live interviews we made with models at our first WOW event in 2013, here – Part 1, and here – Part 2.
We will be in the Blue Room, which is on the Spirit Level of the Royal Festival Hall building, and the session lasts approximately 1 hour and a half.
There will be a warm up Women’s Life Modelling session a week before as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Saturday 5th March, from 2:30pm – 4:30pm, in the Craft Room at Telegraph Hill Centre. This will be much smaller, and a straight forward life modelling and drawing workshop. You may book online or just turn up; there is a small charge but if money is tight, don’t let that stop you – get in touch, we may be able to work something out.
If you are concerned about menstruating whilst posing, well this is natural especially if you are new to life modelling. You are welcome to wear knickers, a tampon or mooncup, or even to bleed free. My previous blog post covers this subject somewhat; we all experience this differently.
There will also be a mixed life modelling workshop as part of The Telegraph Hill Festival, on Thursday 10th March, 7:30pm – 9:30pm, also in the Craft Room. This is hosted by Frances Felgate as it is part of her regular life drawing group session. This is free to attend as it is a taster session for the festival.
Our event at ‘Women of the World’ last Sunday has moved me profoundly. Having recordings of interviews with models was very powerful, as some of those women would have been too nervous to say those things live or even turn up. I am copying a message I received from one of the models, Niomi, as it expresses well some of the passion felt by those involved. I am also posting images from the event.
To summarise; ten women with varying levels of experience started the posing. They were aged about 30 – 63 and had a wide range of body types between them, as well as reasons for participating. From being an experienced professional model disillusioned with it all and wanting a different more empowering space in which to model again; embracing a new body post-op transgender; to stop feeling invisible as an older woman with MS and mostly paralysed; or wanting to engage with a wider discussion about body and sexual politics as we consider how best to move forward with Spirited Bodies.
Whilst the models posed I played the recordings of four of them as well as two others by women who did not pose on the day. Each testimony told a different story – from the relatively light-hearted journey of embracing one’s body in a new way through life modelling, to the more intense reality of wishing that one day you might be able to move your limbs again and your degenerative disease go into reverse. Where I could, I asked the model who was talking in the recording to be in the centre of that pose. One bit of feedback I got from one of the women drawing, was that hearing the models’ thoughts whilst drawing them, affected the way she drew. The model instead of relatively silent was expressing her innermost thoughts, fears and ambitions.
About half way through the session I started asking members of the ‘audience’ if they would like to try posing, and some of them did, so that was lovely to have some total newcomers.
When I was interviewing models, the conversation sometimes moved towards the future. When and how will we invite men back again? Could we have a post-event discussion session to allow models to process together as a group their thoughts, to make an event more complete, and beyond the act of modelling itself? How open can we be towards men when we have had a few tricky experiences with male models being involved in the past? Would we just work with the ones we know and trust? After all, the safety of vulnerable women must be our priority.
Here is some of the artwork from Sunday; the poses lasted from about 6 to 17 minutes.
Here is Niomi’s letter;
I was very touched with the experience that I had yesterday – the way you facilitated the event – went I thought very well – with the life models you knew starting off – then the new girls who wanted to have a go – then back to the Spirited Bodies life models – and your Mum was just amazing at the centre piece of it all.
I was very touched by your interview with her – she is a brave amazing person – and I can see that she has had some deep emotional issues to work through in her life – it touched me so much when she was talking about how she would love to get her active and functioning body back.
It was a nice surprise for me when you called me up to do my 17 minutes life model pose – I found listening to my interview with you deeply touching – I was able to hold my pose regardless of being emotional and tears streaming down my face.
I hope that we will be able to carry on this dialogue within an open minded and safe space together – feeling free to explore all sides of the debate from the female side – and being open to listening to and hearing the men’s side of the story too – in connection with exploring and being together in Spirited Bodies Life Modelling.
Thank You again for this amazing opportunity to explore My Life – My Journey – My Body – Within the context of being in a safe and comfortable environment – in the way of working together as a group and team work – to share together in our body form and presence in connection with each other – to embrace – be open – and enjoy the bodies that we have been given and feel comfortable in our own skin.
This of course would not be possible without the artists – and I saw a lot of art work on the floor at the end – so I hope that the photographs will go on the Spirited Bodies website for us all to see.
If you find any of me I would be so grateful if you could send it to me.
I also do not know if it is possible for you to give me a copy of the recording the girl gave to you – I have an elderly couple I am friendly with – I would like to play it to them one day – as I think it is so touching.
With My Best Wishes To You.
With thanks to all the artists and the models, and as well Jude Kelly and Domino Pateman and all the staff who helped at Southbank Centre
At Southbank’s Women of the World Festival 2013 we had a Women Only event which was also a presentation. Some women who have modelled with us during the last two and a half years took part to model as well as talk about their experiences. In this first section we talk to Arleen, an 82 year old who has had a mastectomy and been a life model for the last 30 years, and also to Emma-Jane, a younger woman who joined us very recently. Whilst Lucy and I were talking to them on one half of the platform, 3 other models were posing and being drawn on the other half.
Esther (EB): When did you start life modelling?Arleen: In the 1980s EB: How did you get into it?Arleen: Oh well I met a young man who was an artist you see and he somehow detected that I would make quite a good model. EB: It’s amazing how they do that …Arleen: …and that was the very beginning really. It was Daniel of course. This was the early 1980s, and we’ve lived together, after a few years, for all that time, so our lives have developed. His parents have died, my daughter emigrated to New Zealand, I had cancer and a mastectomy and I’ve grown older – he has too but I mean, well he’s still under 60. But he didn’t paint until he knew me, until he lived with me. Because his mother, although she was an artist, both his parents were very artistic, she couldn’t stand the mess that painting made in the house you see, so although he drew there and she encouraged him to produce, but painting no, that was out of the question. And she had a wonderful sense of colour. EB: Is it Daniel that keeps you modelling or is it another reason?Arleen: No it’s Daniel, I’m sorry to say it. I was trained as a dancer but I had TB which I caught off my mother in my teens, my mid-teens, so I was in bed for 12 months then. That was the end, professionally anyway. I mean I always went to some sort of keep fit or exercise of some sort or pilates or … I can’t help but go to something like that. When I was quite young, I would see these glorious dancers, Margot Fonteyn, Moira Shearer, Pamela Mayne, and they’d got these wonderful figures, and they were older than me, and I thought well, so can i. I’ve never been the sort to over eat and I’ve always taken care of myself. But it was partly really about the TB that made me take care of myself, and I’ve never had a lot of energy, so I’ve had to conserve what energy I have had, and in point of fact, my modelling means I can just sit, instead. [One of the models posing, LaDawn, had chosen a very tricky pose on one knee and leaning somewhat, is sweating, and has to change pose]Arleen: So you say you’ve got to put up with pain? EB: Well, sometimes we choose to. We all pose for different reasons and something I get out of it is I like the challenge, so I’ll put myself into a difficult pose because I kind of get bored doing the same poses and when it’s painful, I like overriding that and you move beyond the pain, and you go into trance, but that’s something that is not going to appeal to everyone. Other people prefer to keep it simple and they’ll go into a meditative state in a more relaxed way. It can depend on which day of the week it is, what time of the month it is; sometimes I will be really pushing myself because that appeals to the part of me that likes to work out, that wants to feel my muscles aching afterwards, and other times I’ve had enough, I’ve been to 3 jobs already that day and travelled all over London, and I just want to flop and I’ll zone out that way. I just wanted to ask you Arleen about when you became a model, so it wasn’t like a big deal for you to pose nude, and did you pose for groups or did you just pose for Daniel?Arleen: Well, I started off just posing for Daniel, but that very quickly led to the classes that he went to. He introduced me and then we had a few people come to our house. EB: After your operation, were you at all concerned about posing again?Arleen: No I wasn’t, not at all. You see, by that time, I was very happy in my own skin. EB: So it was no issueArleen: No, no. I was working at a technical college where there were quite a lot of German students, and I did go back fairly quickly after my operation but the teachers used that as a catalyst to talk to these students …EB: What, about breast cancer?Arleen: Oh yes, so I was delighted that I could help them in that way. EB: Thank you.
Lucy Saunders (FLS): It’s very new to you, Emma-Jane; what made you think this would be an interesting thing to try?Emma-Jane: Well do you know what I’m going to say? Arleen talked about Daniel, and I feel really awkward at this wonderful feminist day to say that I probably wouldn’t have walked through the door on Tuesday if it wasn’t for my new partner Davide, who is this wonderful curious man not at all an artist who came along to an event that Spirited Bodies ran back in October. I think since Tuesday I’ve really been interrogating why I went and why now at this time in my life and I think it is about key events. I think this new relationship really has been a bit of a catalyst. When I came on Tuesday, I thought, I was there because I have this wonderful flatmate who is really into fashion and as I left she was flicking through Marie Claire and she said, “I think you’re mad going to this thing,” and I just looked at the content of her magazine and I thought that was mad. As a larger girl, probably a size 18, size 20 on a bad day – or a good day – … I feel like there are not enough images or connections for women to make to the real world of feminity because we are saturated with that kind of media image. There is a woman at work who weighs just under 6 stone. She’s really really really poorly with anorexia and I just feel like, for both of us, that is the idea that we’re supposed to aspire to and its making both of us unhappy and in some ways unwell. And so I think for me coming here – one – one reason for getting into it was a curiosity and to see real women, different shapes, different sizes, colours, and just to remember what a woman looks like, because you don’t get that opportunity, really, outside of the family to see these shapes. I think another – this is what I’ve been interrogating – another very personal element to it which is what connects really to the new relationship is that I had spent a number of years with somebody who was very abusive and had lost my relationship with my body beyond it being a sexual tool and so being here reminded me of its function, its biological function, and just connecting with it and other women in a completely non-sexual way was actually …. That was the after shock that I’ve come to realise now a few days later and I was only here to volunteer on the stall. I arrived this morning and Esther said, “Oh no a model’s dropped out,” and I said I’ve only got till half past four. My colleague said, “Are you going to get your kit off again today?” and I said “No no definitely not, I’ve got to be somewhere by 5pm” – here I am and there’s my boobs so … (pointing to a drawing on the floor in front).FLS: It’s interesting because we’ve had several functioning anorexics come and model with us, obviously anorexia gives the most dramatic difference between how someone sees themselves and how anybody else would see them in reality. We’d see the skeleton and they’d see a fat person. That can be a very interesting process when they come and work with us. There are also those who work very hard on their body. We had one woman once, a young woman, good job in the City, very lovely, as she said, “I spend a lot of time, energy and money on keeping my body perfect, and then I don’t share it with anybody. I’ve been celibate for the last seven years and I’m hoping that coming along to SB will help me relax that and maybe be more open to a new relationship in the future.” I don’t know whether she’s got a new relationship yet, but I thought it was an interesting reason for coming. LaDawn: Especially since I’ve got the perfect body.FLS: Absolutely and me too LaDawn, let’s face it, between the two of us, Helen of Troy’s way out the shop. Emma-Jane: This is the thing, this is I think what I learnt from Tuesday and here today and looking actually out at you as artists is – we’ve all got the perfect body. It functions, it carries you around your day, it allows you to do the things that you want to do even if it is physically very very limited, if you are wheel chair bound, it is a perfect body, it’s your perfect body, and I think owning it and appreciating that, this really facilitates that. EB: Right, very well said.Emma-Jane: You can have that on your business cards!FLS: Emma-Jane, any ideas how you are going to take this forward? & are you going to get your partner to start drawing?Emma-Jane: Well, actually we were having a chat when he popped in this afternoon and he was very jealous because I drew, I posed and drew, on Tuesday, and he was really jealous of the pictures. He said, when he went, he went mainly as a model. And so we had a little chat and we’ve just made an agreement that he’s going to practise, um, he’s going to practise drawing me, and we’ll see how long that lasts. FLS: Well hopefully you get to draw him.Emma-Jane: Yes, yes and we did actually talk about maybe sharing it together. So far I’ve only done it within a women only environment but he did a mixed session. FLS: We have had a few couples in the past who came to model together to get a remembrance of themselves as a couple at that time. EB: And you said that possibly having tried it in a safe environment of just women you might feel more comfortable to do it in a mixed one soon. Emma-Jane: Absolutely absolutely.
Wolf got in trouble for revealing too much of herself in her latest book entitled ‘Vagina’. Controversy, talking about her own vagina. She says that word a lot, as well as describing its different quadrants, outer and inner labia, clitoris, G-spot and perineum. She learnt a lot about vaginas since she had a spinal injury which cost her sensation in that area, and also layers of consciousness she says. She felt sad and didn’t know why till the injury was diagnosed, then corrected and sensation returned. This made her aware of what she missed when normal use of her vagina was restricted. The incredible euphoria accompanying orgasm that added meaning, direction to her life. She got to researching vaginas and found some hidden material, which explained something of our sexist culture which loves to mock the vagina. About how there is a brain to vagina connection or relationship, and that the range of euphoria and energy that the vagina may release is immense. The clitoris and G-spot are opposite poles of an axis simultaneously capable of reaching each other. The suppression of this research speaks volumes.
It is well known and addressed that erectile dysfunction affects or is related to many areas of a man’s life, altering his performance. Naturally there is a similar relationship for women and their vaginas, but that is less discussed.
When a woman seeks out sexual pleasure and is supported by her culture in doing that, dopamine is released in her, she becomes more confident and her oxytocin levels rise. Creative hormones move her forward with positive energy. Dopamine makes a person less easy to push around, to subjugate. We have internalised the idea that women’s sexuality is ridiculous. In her book ‘Fire with Fire’ Wolf asserts that women are on the route to equality, and to achieve it they must stop being victims. During the ‘sexual revolution’ in the ’70s, a survey in which women self-reported, showed that 30% of women did not reach orgasm when they want to. It seems there has been a sort of plateau reached as this statistic has hardly changed in the last 40 years.
So the bottom line is female sexual pleasure makes a woman powerful, so information about how to maximise this is not popular with patriarchal systems like religion. Hence sexuality and also Love can be very subversive.
In the rape culture of war people are dehumanised, and women’s bodies respond negatively to rape reducing their chances of enjoying sex. The autonomic nervous system which leads to activation of good orgasms, is inhibited by anti-erotic impulses such as fear, stress and anger.
Wolf grew up in San Francisco around her lesbian Mum in the ’70s. She observed how her Mum’s friends became shining and integrated in a culture that supported their sexuality; she’d seen the same people previously more withdrawn, before they found their place. This was an environment which emphasized women’s fulfillment as an entitlement. It ought to be on the national curriculum!
What else did I take from Naomi Wolf’s talk at Women of the World festival on Saturday evening? That western feminists have a lot to learn from our sisters in developing countries because she reckons they are at the vanguard of feminism today, really pushing boundaries. That we ought to be kinder to each other – it’s not about judging others because they have had surgery or don’t wish to call themselves feminists. That women hold emotional trauma in at least one quadrant of the vagina and this can be released through sexual healing. None of us are heterosexual, we all respond to a variety of stimuli despite what we say (well I knew that anyway!) And finally women generally need to learn how to receive pleasure better, as this has been suppressed in favour of male sexuality for too long. I resonate strongly with this, finding it hard to really let go most of the time. On the few occasions when I have been least inhibited, either alcohol, drugs or sometimes the euphoria of love have facilitated it. But to reach that high on a more regular basis, I am still working on that.
Going to put up some recent pictures from classes I have modelled in. There is a lot more to say about the WOW festival Lucy and I were at last weekend, like how many celebrities Lucy failed to realise she was chatting up because we’d reached that point in the weekend where she could no longer recognise faces. And how everything worked out for the best despite several drop-outs, because we had so many Spirited Bodies models present to help at our stall so some were able to step in and model too. That when the plan to film the event collapsed this was a blessing because our models gave the most precious and powerful testimonials we could have imagined which might easily have been inhibited with the presence of a camera. Similarly when I asked the audience how many would like to try doing a pose there and then, about half of them put up their hands, no doubt encouraged by the models’ words. The artwork will be up soon.
I went to a workshop about body image by the ‘Endangered Bodies’ group which I also want to report on, and the last event – Alice Walker introducing her film – was the perfect finale, so moving and inspiring. We will be following up our WOW contacts for some time and learning from some of the advice suggested. Becoming a charity may be a good choice for us, but so too might a business which is a social enterprise. The atmosphere at WOW is electric with so many women on fire!
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;
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.