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A Night with the Neo Naturists, 24 August 2016

29 Dec 2017

35 years of naked subversion

The Neo Naturists are a live performance art collective. Founded in 1981 by Christine Binnie, Jennifer Binnie and Wilma Johnson, they emerged in the aftermath of punk as part of a subculture with links to London’s New Romantic scene. Together the group performed at nightclubs, galleries and festivals – often unannounced and wearing little more than body paint. Sometimes their performance could be the act of painting each other, at other times the paint would already be on.

They combined anarchic innocence with deliberate primitivism in their manifestations, maintaining rough-edged, consciously unfashionable, wilfully amateur ideals. Actions and appearances were neither rehearsed nor to be repeated. Often a schedule would be discussed just hours beforehand, and use props that were sourced or produced at the last minute. There was never any compromise in the name of entertainment or for commercial success. The Neo Naturists were not ones for selling out.**


From 8 July to 28 August 2016, Studio Voltaire presented a detailed retrospective of the Neo Naturists’ oeuvre; a survey unprecedented for a public institution. To mark the occasion, on 24 August the ICA hosted ‘A Night with the Neo Naturists‘. This event would incorporate film, music, and a live performance by the Neo Naturists – their first with the original line-up of founding members since 1986 – plus ‘Neo Naturist recruits’. Esther and I duly signed-on with the Neo Naturist Recruitment Department…


Upon arriving at the ICA we found Christine, already naked and body painted, strolling through the foyer. She and Esther needed no introductions as they’d met in 2012 at a Neo Naturists workshop, so without further ado we were taken to a backstage room where our fellow participants were also fully painted. We’d returned by train that same afternoon from a Spirited Bodies event in Edinburgh and were last to join in. Swiftly we stripped and began painting each other as colourful Neo Naturist farmers.

© Cy Wol

Not only were we latecomers to the body painting, we also missed the Neo Naturists’ talk-through of their ideas for the performance earlier that afternoon, and at a meet-up the day before, but we garnered as much as we could and otherwise relied upon their preference for anarchy to carry us through. Doors opened at 7pm yet our show would not start until around 8:30pm. With time to kill ahead of the opening act, we went out in front of the stage and danced naked amongst the audience.

© Organ Thing – author Sean Worrall

© Organ Thing – author Sean Worrall


After an esoteric support performance from Jill Westwood and Antal Nemeth, followed by a no less surreal rendition of ‘The Model‘ by Christine with Paul Murphy playing a washboard, it was our turn. The performance was to be an allegory about farmers and bankers. Farmers sell corn to bankers who don’t know what to do with it; bankers pay with gold, for which farmers have no use; but together we all celebrate the harvest and share beer and fruits with everyone present, including the audience.

Glorious chaos reined throughout. Here’s a link to the full video – I was ‘Barley Baby’.

Of course, photos can’t begin to it justice but here are a few anyway…

© unknown Instagram account

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists

© Ba Wol

© Ba Wol

© original photographer

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists

© Organ Thing – author Sean Worrall

© Studio Voltaire – A Night with the Neo Naturists


After a 20-minute escalation of increasingly haphazard naked exuberance that peaked with corn sheaves being scattered liberally all over the audience, our performance was done… but our evening was far from over. Next up on stage were The Raincoats, who would be rocking the ICA while three judges awarded scores to participants in a go-go dancing competition. Neo Naturists beseeched their recruits to join in, so Esther went first, I followed, and once more we descended collectively to Bedlam.

© unknown Instagram account

© mamurasan

© Organ Thing – author Sean Worrall

© Neo Naturist recruit

© Neo Naturist recruit

The go-go judges did not smile upon us, but we were awarded arty matchboxes and a consolation tea towel for our efforts. As the time neared half-past ten with crowds and chaos both dwindling we melted backstage for one last raid on the complimentary gin before washing under a cold weak shower. It had been the hottest day of the year and we’d travelled the length of the country to submerge in anarchic nude performance art. We were shattered – but what a privilege to share: a night with the Neo Naturists.


** Introduction text adapted from Studio Voltaire: Neo Naturist publication (PDF 1.05MB).


From → Art

One Comment
  1. Loving your work as always Steve!

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