Friday 28 January 2011

Greek Steaming, Russian Spa

I can't comment on these productions myself, but a Greek production of the well-known play 'Steaming' and a Russian theatre piece about a middle aged man spending a sybaritic night at a spa confirm that the nude is in rude health in many different countries.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Completely Naked - Flashing Bodies Project

A trio consisting of artists Pau Ros and Pablo Goikoetxea plus project coordinator Pablo Goikoetxea, Completely Naked combine slick digital media and good old-fashioned let's-go-crazy happenings in an ongoing project which they've dubbed Flashing Bodies. There have been five 'actions' as they call them so far, each taking a different theme such as Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights or scenes from favourite cult movies. The work exists on three levels – first the happenings themselves (which look as if they are extraordinary, riotous, joyous occasions,) then short videos, and finally photographs, published in books and online galleries.

You'll find the videos on Vimeo, and they're well worth exploring, each being a beautifully crafted and smartly edited little gem of film-making. Uncharacteristically for art videos, there's nothing portentous about them; instead, they share a common thread of high spirits and – dare I say it – fun. The unique brilliance of this team is to give the impression that nudity is a form of dressing up, a game of charades played without clothes but with the help of the occasional wig or bird-mask.

Action Four, The Garden of Earthly Delights

Action Two, For Sale

The same spirit informs their still photography, which has all the elegant framing of something created painstakingly in the studio, but which yet resonates with any number of caught moments. The good-natured tenderness of their work means that they can skirt close to the sort of sexual frankness you might associate with pornography while retaining a feeling almost of innocence. There's also an attractive even-handedness, the camera responding with equal warmth to male and female, old and young.

Turning to the two examples shown here, the group shot from Action Four, The Garden of Earthly Delights benefits enormously from the models' response to what was clearly a deeply immersive experience. For the most part, their bodies show a wonderful relaxation. There's a dreamy, foamy slackness to the soft breasts and stomach of the female nude in the foreground and to the sprawling male figure behind with his thick midriff and lax genitals. In the second photograph – from Action Two, titled “For Sale” and offering a subversion of standard images of seduction - the two nudes are grouped intimately together. The detail of the male model's penis resting against the female model's thigh is something other artists might have shied away from, but in this context it seems like a natural gesture of affection and mutual confidence.

If you're interested in becoming a fan or a model, Completely Naked can be found on Facebook and on their own website. Also well worth checking out is their beautifully laid out online bookshop.

Photographs by kind permission of Pau Ros.

Thursday 23 December 2010

ATP Tamara Cubas

Jaime and Turenne explore the possibility of repose, while Marchesano looks on.

One of ATP's fascinating interactions between nude bodies.

A failed experiment for Turenne, here the clothed outsider.

More forceful interactions. Photos by kind permission of Tamara Cubas.
ATP is an hour long performance piece for two men and one woman created in 2008 by the very talented Uruguayan choreographer Tamara Cubas. An excellent video is available in three parts on Vimeo. The elements could hardly be more simple. A set of white walls, as in in a prison cell or clinic, three microphones, and three performers (Mariana Marchesano, Miguel Jaime and Santiago Turenne.)

Trapped in this all-enclosing space, the three performers subject each other to what seems like a wordless and enigmatic interrogation. The tension is heightened by a live soundtrack of feedback and industrial bleeps and whirs by Francisco Lapentina.

At regular intervals the performance is punctuated by the performers moving to the sides of the stage and, referring for instructions to pieces of A4 glued to the walls, methodically dressing and undressing. These constantly changing combinations of full and semi nudity work on several levels. They reflect power shifts in the trio as the clothed forge alliances against the unclothed. They also deny us the comfort of seeing the three performers as nudes in the classical sense, aspects of humanity's eternal nature. Instead they seem very real and very contemporary.

The intrusion of a claustrophobic kind of modernity is embodied in the microphones, which morph in the performers' hands from live cables pumping out enough power to make them scurry around like crabs to strange probes for sounding each other out. One of the most memorable moments in ATP is when Jaime and Marchesano unscrew the caps off two of the microphones and apply the sensitive ends to Turenne's naked body. Scraping them along the hair of his calves, applying them to his throat and nostrils, the effect is of a pair obtuse and sinister physicians doing everything other than ask the patient a straight question.

The matinee idol good looks of the three principles perversely underscores the clinical nature of the proceedings. Clothed, Mariana Marchesano exudes a stunning neutrality in the eyes and face, but what surprises is that she can be just as monumentally taciturn in the nude, somehow muting the effect of her ravishing curves and making them seem hardly inhabited by a human being at all.

Called upon only to be topless in one crucial nude scene, Marchesano could perhaps have been given more to do in exploring the potential of her body. For Cubas, the focus of fascination is the sheer physicality of the male nude. When Turenne crouches on top of Marchesano, the hang of his testicles seems to goad her and to assert a primitive need for dominance.

The interactions between the nudes are strong and deliberate. In the microphone probe already mentioned, Jaime crinkles Turenne's pubic hair between his fingers in order to record the sound, while in another moment of extremely physical interaction Marchesoni has to support the weight of Turenne upon her bare breasts.

Throughout the course of the piece, these obscure explorations never once lose their tension. This is a work of stark seriousness, like Harold Pinter's 'Mountain Language', or Ariel Dorfman's 'Death and the Maiden', only without the need for a single word – apart from those obscure instructions stuck to the walls. It works just as well as a metaphor for political brutality as it does for personal lack of affect. Deeply committed performances from Jaime, Turenne and Marchesano also make it gravely beautiful to behold.

Since ATP Tamara Cubas has continued to create a series of highly distinctive and serious pieces - the most recent being Actos de Amor Perdidos – which all deserve the widest attention. Lovers of the artistic nude will hope that she returns to that theme again in future work.

Photographs by kind permission of Tamara Cubas.

Monday 20 December 2010

'Libido,' Dance Works Rotterdam

Morelle looks like a red devil, while Camarda's pale, ravaged figure, 
with her prominent hip bone and knotted arms, 
recalls the mannerist paintings of El Greco.

Morelle is a picture of force without traction, a man spinning his wheels, 
his fresh battered and scorched by his experiences.

The two spent lovers/combatants roll off a blood-smeared mattress … 
or is it a sparring mat?
Performers: Vincent Morelle, Sylvia Camarda. 
Photos: Anna van Kooij

'How do we make contact?' is the question posed by 'Libido,' a 60 minute opus created in 2010 by David St. Pierre and Andre Gingras for Dance Works Rotterdam. For those unlucky enough not to make contact with the live show, Josanne Buiting's 2 minute teaser on Vimeo gives a taste of a chamber piece that somehow manages to be as full-blooded and opulent as a Puccini opera.

The setting of this psycho-drama is a grim space somewhere between a warehouse and a slaughterhouse, the protagonists nude dancers Vincent Morelle and Sylvia Camarda, both looking vulnerable in this unforgiving milieu. These two characters proceed to push frustratedly at the limits of sex without reaching even the frontiers of mutual understanding.

Looking as if his very flesh has been forged in blood and fire, Morelle gives an unrestrained and technically dumbfounding performance, at one point scrabbling manically on his back like a wounded insect. He creates the sense of a man who, for all his force and energy, is unable to connect, to grasp what is in front of him - fated not only to see it slip out of his hands, but from under his feet as he slithers and slides through his performance. Even the act of crouching on all fours on a trestle table is, for him, somehow precarious and full of potential pitfalls.

Harried by Morelle, Camarda yet carves out moments of stillness. In the video clip we see her sitting, pale and lovely, on the table, as serene as a young naked Buddha. Unlike Morelle, she never seems to lose her footing. Even when the two men spin her like a bar of soap, you feel as if their efforts to dislodge her poise are ultimately futile.

Yet there is an irony. For all their sense of mutual alienation, Morelle and Carmada are caught together in the same spreading bubble of oil, sweat and blood. Literally mirroring their contortions, the shimmering, liquid floors remind us of their common humanity. Similarly, references to various bodily orifices and excretions serve to suggest that the flesh itself can never be totally sealed off and enclosed, whatever the state of our hearts may be.

While the material itself may be troubling and problematic, 'Libido' is thoroughly exhilarating as a demonstration of the expressive powers of the performing nude. There is an almost iconic power in the moment when, bloodied knives in hand, Camarda straddles the fallen Morelle and allows her body to morph luxuriously through a series of preying-mantis poses. That she can play this scene masked is an act of bravura, an assertion that the unadorned flesh has come of age as a storyteller.

Dance Works Rotterdam are currently preparing 'Anatomica', an investigation of the body by Andre Gringas, for an April, 2011 premier. You can follow their progress on Twitter.

Friday 17 December 2010


The Cardiff Life Model Collective are an energetic, innovative group who blur the distinction between modelling and performance art. As well as their weekly drop-in sessions, they organize lively special events involving music, dance and readings, while also developing their own happenings and hiring themselves out as living art for events.

To judge by the sumptuous images I have seen, this commitment to figure modelling as performance imbues the work of the Collective with a wonderful theatricality, not to mention a meticulous attention to detail. The three poses I want to discuss here are fully thought-out compositions in their own right.

The first dual pose offers a study in contradictions. The clean diagonal of the woman's body contrasts with the man's muscular contortion. We wonder whether these two characters are fighting each other or working in concert. Impossible to tell. I love the way the angle of the woman's hair echoes the slant of her pointed toes. 
The next pose shows the same two models in another mini-drama. This time the relaxed male figure is countered by the subtle tension in his companion, whose torso arches elegantly out of his shadow. Note the dynamic line running from groin to breasts, highlighted by the slight erectness of the nipples.

The solo pose in the last photo is a delight. The model uses her bent knees, straight back and thrown-back arms to create a strong, supple composition, rewarding from every angle. The tension in the chest and bottom suggests a hunger for the viewer's gaze. And note the way her fingers are interlocked behind her back – every detail, you feel, has been considered.

When a group of talented models apply themselves in this way, they're not muses, they're artists. To lovers of the artistic nude, the Cardiff Life Model Collective offer a great deal in terms of entertainment and food for thought. If you live anywhere near Cardiff, you couldn't do better than go along to one of their drop-in sessions on a Monday or Tuesday. The entrance fee is only £5 as of Winter 2010.

If you cherish an ambition to be a nude art model but there are no life drawing classes in your area, or if you're a disillusioned muse looking for a change of direction, the Collective are all the inspiration you need to get up and organize a groundbreaking art event of your own.

Learn more about the Cardiff Life Model Collective at their Facebook page and from their website, both of which have galleries which are feasts for the eyes.

Drop-in Sessions
Every Monday, 5.30pm, Milgi Lounge Yurt, 213 City Road, Cardiff.
Every Tuesday, 5.30pm, Cardiff Arts Institute, 29 Park Place, Cardiff.
Every Tuesday, 7pm, Cardiff Arts Institute

Photographs by kind permission of the Cardiff Life Model Collective.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Laughing with the Nude

This photo is just one of a rich selection featured on a Spanish language blog called Photomanifiesto, published by Nicola Rocco. They record a theatre production of José Vicente Díaz Rojas' “Al Natural,” directed by José “Pepe” Domínguez. The play is about two contrasting brothers battling over an island paradise inheritance. Idealistic Renato is delighted that the inheritance happens to be a nudist retreat, but money-grubbing Ali wants to waste no time in turning it into a tourist resort. Reluctantly shedding his clothes, Ali visits the retreat in order to convince Renato of the error of his ways.

Looking at these charming photos, it's hard to escape the feeling that nudity is sorely underused in stage comedy. Decades of saucy end-of-the-pier entertainments are to blame, where bras pop off, trousers fall down and the audience are sexually titillated by a glimpse of flesh. In that situation, if you are laughing at all, you're laughing at the nude (or, in the essential prudishness of such entertainments, the topless or scantily clad.)

In this staging of “Al Natural,” you're laughing with the nude. Partly that's because the nudists, with their shared hippie-like ethos, outnumber the textile intruders. But it's also because the unadorned human body brings a new dimension to the characters. It makes them both less and more than the people we meet on the street. The vulnerability on display comically undercuts their pretensions and aspirations, but at the same time their revealed bodies speak to us on a sensual level, awakening our sympathy and tenderness. They become like characters in a Mozart opera, wrapped in lovely music.

For the actors, it must be both exhilarating and frightening to allow their bodies to sing to the audience in this way. The actress in the photo shown here strikes me as someone who has already mastered this new art. She combines delightful poise with a birdlike tension in the way she holds herself, a hint of defensiveness in the long curls tumbling over her breasts.

If anyone is arranging or taking part in a stage comedy featuring non-sexual nudity, why not write in and tell us about it?

Monday 13 December 2010

Mini-Tableau #5 by Sarah Small

To judge by the high-quality 19 minute video released on Vimeo, the talented young photographer and arranger Sarah Small created what is almost a symphony of artistic nudity in her Mini-Tableau # 5, performed on 25th September, 2010 at the powerHouse Arena during the Dumbo Arts Festival.

The stage in this case is a run of monumental stone steps and columns. The performance starts with a lone model, smiling, arms parted, nude except for a pair of high heels which seem to lift her in relief from her surroundings, making her presence there even more striking and singular. To the strains of 'Caro Nome', this charming figure is joined by 35 other models, some clothed, some nude.

Arranged singly and in pairs across the steps in a rich visual tapestry, these figures hint at hidden emotions and obscure dramas in their faces. You have the sense that, like a collector assembling a cabinet of beautiful trinkets, Sarah Small has hand-picked every model, delighting in the contrasts of skin-colour and muscle tone. The music switches to a Bulgarian folk quartet, sung by the Black Sea Hotel, and eerily the models add their half-heard murmurs to the melody.

Unexpectedly, the artist herself goes light-footedly up the steps, as though to assure herself of her models' submission to her artistic purpose. She begins to conduct them like a living orchestra, drawing intense lashings from the beautiful African American woman wrapped around one of the columns. There's something very touching in the connection these 36 strangers have with this slight young woman; it's as if they have been enchanted by a benevolent witch.

The piece climaxes in a performance of an aria by French operatic composer Jules Massenet. This is opera as you won't have seen it before. Singing a capella as the other models slowly drift away out of sight, mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright is naked in every meaning of the word, and all the more profoundly moving for it. Watching a nude body generating such glorious sounds gives you a new respect for the sheer physicality of singing, the way the diaphragm tightens as it brings each new phrase into the world.

The wonderful Ms Wright has also written an excellent, candid blog on the experience of performing in this piece. I would recommend it not only to those curious to learn more about that individual performance but also to anyone with an interest in the spiritual properties of nudity.

If reading that blog and watching the video inspires you to take part in one of Sarah Small's future ventures, then why not go to her website and fill in an application form? Click the appropriate button to indicate that you are willing to pose nude, submit a suitable full-body photo – and press the send button before you have a chance to change your mind. If Ms Wright's experience is anything to go by, you won't regret it.

A word on the poses:

Sarah Small has a gift for taking her models to the edge of an inner precipice and then a finger's breadth beyond. For the models her immaculately beautiful poses offer hidden challenges, both psychological and physical. Abigail Wright is positioned frontally to the audience, with her hands behind her head, a posture which denies her any possibility of self-protection while also being strenuous to maintain. Displayed against a chunky pillar in this way, Ms Wright's full figure recalls a slave girl in some Orientalist painting of the Ingres school, except that hers are the manacles of art.

The slender nude whose solo presence begins the show is also thoroughly challenged by the artist. That there is little or no modesty in her pose is guaranteed by placing her – uniquely among the unclothed models - in high heels. At the same time she is asked to show an almost superhuman control by maintaining a broad smile for almost twenty minutes. Described clinically like this, Ms Small's art may sound like a form of mild sadism. But I would suggest that models are drawn so strongly towards Ms Small just because of such uncompromising demands and the paradoxical freedom from inhibition they provide.