Spirited Bodies and All The Young Nudes // Edinburgh, August 2016
Two great institutions of the British life art scene combined to present a very special one-off spectacular this summer. All The Young Nudes runs life drawing groups as club nights, complete with bar and ultra hip playlist in cities across Scotland. With the added consideration of very reasonable ticket prices, their gatherings are always hugely popular. On 23 August, they joined forces with Spirited Bodies in Edinburgh to coincide with the Fringe Festival.
Spirited Bodies has been organising large scale multi-model events for first-time and experienced life models – primarily in London – since 2010. Artistic Director, Esther Bunting, last worked with All The Young Nudes in 2013 so this would be an exciting return foray. For me, however, it was to be a debut collaboration north of the border. I travelled up with Esther as her partner, roadie, photographer, and participating model. Our setting for the evening would be an alternative music venue: Studio 24.
Esther had booked ten models about a month in advance, but individual issues right up to the afternoon before meant this figure went down, up, down, included me, then reached ten again when, with serendipity, an experienced male model unexpectedly joined us on the evening itself. We were: five female, five male; five experienced, one with a little experience, four with no experience, a good variety of ages and physical characteristics. Best of all, the models hit it off and bonded warmly from the outset.
Before artists started to arrive, Esther briefed everybody on her plan for the evening’s poses. We practiced eight tableaux; each with a specific theme but within which the models had complete freedom for self-expression. Esther adjusted our positioning to create overall balance and interesting sightlines from all angles. Soon enough, Charli and Keira of All The Young Nudes began welcoming artists. Charli set the playlist to shuffle and, come eight o’clock, the drawing commenced.
Pose 1 – connections
Our opening 5-minute pose encouraged the models to create connections with each other. Ironically, this probably happened to a greater degree in our subsequent poses but nice shapes were made nonetheless. I was on photography duty for this one, but the others all posed.
Pose 2 – circle of movement
I was photographing this pose too – the other nine models arranged themselves into a circle and, one at a time for 10-minutes, each took a turn to move very slowly for a few seconds before touching the model clockwise from them and freezing while that model took over moving. I love this format, which we’d last tried at Lewisham Arthouse.
Pose 3 – someone walks in
Esther took the camera and said she wanted me in the next tableau. For 10-minutes we were to imagine that a relative, friend, or work colleague who didn’t know we were life models, had walked into the room. Our reaction to the surprise was the pose that we held. This one was both a lot of fun and created personal relevance for each of us.
Pose 4 – gangsters
In the last pose most of us had been shrinking violets, so to rebuild our confidence we followed it with 15-minutes posing as gangsters. I raised a finger gun and shielded my eyes as I was sitting directly in line with the primary spotlight. Before starting, Esther had wondered whether heaters would be needed, but – no – these lights were hot.
Pose 5 – bacchanal
In our last 15-minute pose before the interval, we were all to relax as if participating in a Roman bacchanal. The theme potentially allowed for some wild orgiastic interaction, but our tableau was mostly post-debauchery lounging about. As per each group pose, the models combined very well in the space, mindful of all our artists’ sight lines.
Pose 6 – growing
After the drinks break we resumed with short poses. I was back on photography duty for our next two tableaux, the first of which was a 5-minute movement pose. All of the models were to start low down like small seeds and then very gradually grow upwards to become flourishing flowers or trees. They paced it beautifully.
Pose 7 – witches
For our penultimate work, we conjured up some good old fashioned clichéd witchcraft. There were sacrifices, spells, familiars, fear and fantasies. Again, Esther had provided the theme and adjusted the overall balance but self-expression came from within each model. I think this may have been a favourite for several of them.
Pose 8 – the beach
And so to the beach. Our final pose was also our longest at 25-minutes, so the beach format gave a valid reason for models to lay down and make themselves comfortable. I had missed the previous two poses so remained upright for this one – as if perched on a bar stool, sipping cocktails. Under the burning spotlight we might even have tanned.
It had been a fantastic session. The models had been superb, every one of them, and the artists seemed to have enjoyed it greatly too. No fewer than 47 had crammed into the space, and found sufficient room to draw or paint in reasonable comfort. They had certainly risen to each of Esther’s challenges and been integral to a good atmosphere throughout the evening. After the last pose, artworks were set out upon the floor for all to admire. I photographed as many as I could – a selection are reproduced below.
In time models dressed, artists packed away and people began drifting from the venue until eventually only Charli, Keira, Esther and I were left. Charli and Keira had ensured everything was organisationally perfect, such that all Esther need concentrate on was the tableaux, the timings, the models’ well-being and how well they were visible to the artists. When the space was reasonably tidy, Esther and I said our fond farewells too, and disappeared into the night… celebrating with delicious Kurdish pizza.
As a warm-up for this event, we’d whiled away the afternoon hiking to Arthur’s Seat, overlooking the city. Our recent trip to Venice seems to have established a tradition that at some point on our travels one or both of us will strip off for a nude photo shoot. Esther suggested it be me on our way down – a bit risky but it all added to the fun of our Edinburgh adventure. We loved every part of our visit and would very gladly return to Scotland… hopefully to include working with All The Young Nudes once more.