Rediscovering the Radical Feminism of the Neo Naturists

Note: I found this article at https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-the-neo-naturists-empowered-women-to-be-wild-and-free and am reposting it here.

Rediscovering the Radical Feminism of the Neo Naturists

Neo Naturists, Swimming and Walking Experiment, Centre Point Fountains, Tottenham Court Rd, London, Aug 1984. Courtesy of the Neo Naturists Archive and Studio Voltaire.

“The Neo Naturists like taking their clothes off for the sake of it,” Christine Binnie and Wilma Johnson wrote in a 1985 manifesto—and that’s exactly what they did. A British underground art movement born out of the 1980s, the Neo Naturists were a body-painting trio of female flashers, made up of Christine, her sister Jennifer, and their friend Johnson.

The artists began to appear on the London club scene around 1981, turning up at Heaven in Soho (one of London’s first gay clubs) or the punk music venue The Fridge in Brixton, adorned in nothing but paint. They would perform on stage, chanting songs and throwing up their legs in an unruly version of the cancan. At other times, they’d simply flash at the crowd. Beneath their overcoats they had perfected a number of looks painted directly onto their bodies, including trompe l’oeil lingerie, and wild, grinning faces that transformed breasts into eyes and belly buttons into nostrils.

The Neo Naturists had their heyday from 1981–1986, but they have reformed this summer for a retrospective at Studio Voltaire in London. The show is an archival assemblage of paintings, slides and photographs, low-fi videos recorded in nightclubs, newspaper clippings and other ephemera—and, pressed on the gallery walls, body-prints made by the Neo Naturists themselves, some of whom painted their bodies for the first time in 20 years.

Neo Naturists, Christine Binnie body painted at Central St Martins, London 1 April 1980. Courtesy of the Neo Naturists Archive and Studio Voltaire.

The group has its roots in the punk anarchy of 1980s London, an era marked by the ruthless free market spirit ushered in by Margaret Thatcher and the subcultures that emerged in resistance to it. One of those was a cross-dressing scene known as New Romanticism, which was a breeding ground for exquisitely androgynous club kids like Boy George and Marilyn. The Neo Naturists were part of that scene, collaborating with Marilyn as well as other now-famous artists such as Grayson Perry and filmmaker John Maybury.

As much as they were aligned with the New Romantics, they were also satirists of them, deliberately positioning themselves in opposition to the scene’s slick sophistication and skinny bodies, a form of dandyism that was largely enjoyed by men. Instead, the Neo Naturists were rebellious, curvaceous, and pagan. Their main concern was to take pleasure in the act, and to celebrate the natural forms of their bodies.

“I swapped my Flesh Tint oil paint for some blue and gold body paint and transformed her into a voluptuous version of Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus,” Johnson recalls—in the exhibition’s catalogue essay—of the first time she painted Christine. They freely incorporated materials close to hand, taping household items to their bodies, and their 1985 manifesto includes an inventory: “Boiled crab, shrimps, tin foil, gold leaf, paper doilies, biscuits, peanuts, bottle of wine, Scotch pancakes, contraceptive sheaths, squid, sheep’s heart, bikini briefs, sausages, bacon and eggs, freezer bag wombs, apples, burning incense, knives and forks, £10 notes, sequins, vitamins, tins of tuna, and of course, lots of Sellotape.”

Left: Neo Naturists, Swimming and Walking Experiment, Centre Point Fountains, Tottenham Court Rd, London, Aug 1984; Right: Neo Naturists, Flashing in the British Museum, Christine Binnie body painted and photographed by Wilma Johnson, British Museum London, 3 March 1982. Courtesy of the Neo Naturists Archive and Studio Voltaire.

In one of their most iconic works, Flashing in the British Museum (1982), Christine donned a shaggy coat and pranced through the British Museum, flashing her painted body beside Egyptian relics and Greek antiquities. (“Just wear a big coat,” she once advised would-be flashers: “It’s easy!”) Another performance, Pink Punk Yoga (1982), at The Fridge in Brixton blended the incongruous practices of punk and meditation, while Sexist Crabs (1983) at the Zap Club in Brighton was a chaotic gambol around the stage with seafood taped to their bodies.

They eschewed rehearsals, preferring ritualistic improvisation, and sometimes they simply took to the streets, as in Swimming and Walking Experiment (1984), when they cavorted in the fountains below London’s Brutalist tower block Centre Point—and got arrested by the police. Occasionally, they made the headlines, outraging some conservative hacks and delighting others. “Hooray for the Bare Binnies!” crooned the Daily Star of 1984.

For women to take such pleasure in their art was deeply subversive. Like all heretics, they didn’t play by anyone else’s rules. They opted for spontaneous exuberance, in contrast to the message of Thatcherite conservatism (be professional!) or the affected, male-dominated New Romantics (be flamboyant!).“The Neo Naturists are casual to the point of excess,” their manifesto states. “[They] believe that gorgeousness is the ultimate intelligence.”

Left: Neo Naturists, Paper Dress at the Embassy Club with George O’Dowd as Brittania, The Coffee Spoon Embassy Club, London, 5 Sep 1980. Courtesy of the Neo Naturists Archive and Studio Voltaire.; Right: Neo Naturists, Private View Performance at James Birch Gallery, Kings Road London, 24 May 1984. Courtesy of james Birch and the Neo Naturists Archive, and Studio Voltaire.

As Studio Voltaire curator Jessica Vaughan points out, one important aspect to understand about the Neo Naturists is that their display of the female body was in no way pornographic. “What they were doing was radical,” says Vaughan, “because they were delighting in the female form in a way that isn’t titillating or sexualized, but instead is something full of humor and celebration.”

The Neo Naturists did not commodify their practice, and they were never picked up by a commercial gallery. By the end of the 1980s, they had moved out of the squat they shared and dispersed. Many of the men from their circle, however, went on to become successful British artists, including Perry, Maybury, and Michael Clark. “It’s not the first time that female artists were forgotten,” Vaughan says, “while male counterparts, who were incredibly influenced by the women around them, went on to become household names.”

There are a multitude of reasons why the Neo Naturists slipped through the net. For one, nobody quite knew what to make of them. “Feminists see us as porno sex cabaret, while your average person sees us as butch dykes,” Jennifer said in an interview in the 1980s. “We’re not either.” Their work was only obliquely political, more concerned with celebrating the personal: their friendships with one another, and their bodies. “The Neo Naturists are works of art,” the manifesto quips, “and the world is their private view.”

Left: Neo Naturists, Sexist Crabs and The Cosmic Egg, Portland Bill Quarry and Sculpture Park, Portland, Yorkshire, 1 Aug 1983; Right: Neo Naturists, Black Rapport Day, Thames Beach Wapping, 17 July 1982 (Jennifer Binnie, Wilma Johnson, Nico Holah and Bruce Lacey). Courtesy of the Neo Naturists Archive and Studio Voltaire.

It wasn’t entirely over for the Neo Naturists in 1986, but they left behind a fragmented opus. Following the group’s dispersal, Christine went solo and kept the movement active well into this millennium. In the 1990s, she assembled a small archive in her east London apartment, and one of the Studio Voltaire curators’ projects has been to expand it. “We’ve been trying to get a comprehensive overview of the movement, and a secure chronology,” Vaughan says. “There’s a quite a bit of guesswork because Wilma, Jen, and Christine might all remember things differently. But looking back, they were an incredible counterpoint to the queer male voices of the time, and they mustn’t be overlooked.”

 

Sunday Noon Nudist

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Try this kind of diverse colourful with clothes on. Clothes deliver you to the whim of the clothes designers. Body paint delivers you to the limits of your or someone else’s imagination.

Sunday Noon Nudist

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I still wonder what’s so interesting over there…

Book review: the “Volunteer”

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Did you notice the quotes around Volunteer?

This was a very entertaining and good book. I love the subject: a girl being recruited as a ‘volunteer’ in a project on public nudity. I won’t spoil the story for you.

The book was well written, easy to follow and it kept its pace all through the story. The challenges Danielle has to overcome are quite intriguing and in ways even eye-opening. If you appreciate a book that deal with public nudity on a proper level, the “Volunteer” is for you.

You can find the Kindle edition of this book following this link.

Naked Jungle Run – don’t miss this one!

Here is something for the sporty ones among us who happen to be in Thailand next month:

junglerunWake up! The first ever Naked Jungle Run on Sunday 23 October 2016 is only a few weeks away. Already now, over 30 members have signed up for the event which can be either a 2.5 k nature walk or a 5 k jungle run. For the most sporty members, it is even possible to run back to the starting point and complete a tough 10 k run.

Don’t miss it! This is your unique chance of joining the very first of a many more Naked Jungle Runs over the years to come. Join this one and you will be able to tell your grand children that you ran in the very first one. Not the first i Thailand. Not the first in Asia. The first …. like in ever!

Sure, other places in other countries have had 5k naked runs but those are safe and secure on city streets or gently rolling countryside. We are talking “JUNGLE!” You are likely to encounter a bit of wildlife. Running the test runs, we saw jungle foul and other birds, lizards, and even a dole couple – a rare kind of jungle dog.

The actual course is a rough road track, some bits are a little muddy, a little gravel, rutted and some parts nice and smooth going up and down through real jungle. In some places the elevation is considerable and a fun challenge. But don’t forget that the run is first of all for fun. You don’t have to win to be awarded the participation medal.

The run is also a demonstration of naturism’s fundamental relationship to our natural environment. Offering you a unique opportunity to feel the magic of your naked natural skin in direct communication with the pristine environment of Thailand’s amazingly beautiful forests. Open your mind as you have opened your body and your experience is likely to be almost spiritual.

The run in the early morning hours of Sunday 23 October is the culmination of a fun naturist activity weekend that starts when you arrive the location around 15.00 on the day before, Saturday 22 October. The location which has been closed for public access for the weekend is almost four hours from Bangkok so participants should leave from Bangkok at around 11 o’clock. If you are not self-driving, public mini-vans go to a location nearby from where we will pick you up and drive you to the resort. The exact location will be communicated only to participants in order to avoid paparazzi.

What does it cost?

Only Ordinary or Premium members of Naturist Association Thailand can participate in the event. For these members, the cost of participation in the run and breakfast after the run is only 450 THB.

Members who are currently in the Free category can upgrade to Ordinary Member and join in the run at a special package price of 950 THB.

Accommodation on Saturday 22 October will be in basic dormitory style rooms with mattresses on the floor offered for an additional 450 THB per person.

Dinner is what you bring yourself, but we can heat it, boil it or grill it on the BBQ and enjoy it together with everyone else.

If you are not self-driving, the public transportation cost is 210 THB for each way.

As an example, a member couple from Bangkok will in total pay 2.640 THB + what you decide to bring for the Saturday dinner. (Calculated like this: 450 + 450 for participation + 450 + 450 for accommodation + 210 + 210 for min-van to get there and 210 +210 to return to Bangkok.)

(Found at ThailandNaturist.com.)

The nipple. It should be free.

Nipples

The idiocy doesn’t stop bothering me. What is so wrong with the female nipple or breast that they can’t be shown in public? The folks who claim a breast is erotic got it all wrong. Breasts have existed since long. Did cavemen think breasts erotic? I doubt that. Women had them to suckle babies. And guess what – some still do that! Difference now is of course that grown men are appalled by the sight of a naked breast (unless it is in a porn movie they will never admit to having seen).

As Live Life Naked on Twitter stated so well:

Breastfeeding in public is not indecent. It’s a mother feeding her child. End of discussion.

A girl, raped at a French camping place

Newspaper clipping

You may not be able to read this. It’s a shot from a French newspaper site. It announced that a young girl was raped at a camping. You can find the original article (in French) here. (The person who apparently did it was found and taken into custody.)

The reason that I bring this to your attention is that this did not happen at a nudist camping. There are lots of nudist/naturist campings and resorts in France and I have yet to hear about something like this happen there. This doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen, but it struck me when reading about it that it happened at a textile camping.

The fear of naked?

nudist camp lifePondering along about this I wonder if this would have happened at a nudist camping if the perp had been around that. It would mean he’d have to be naked as well – otherwise he’d have stuck out like a sore thumb.

People with filth like this on their mind will always try to operate without being seen. And being seen is something that will definitely happen when walking around naked somewhere. You will be seen. People like us don’t mind that. We’re fine, we’re in the clear, and we know why we’re naked. I think that rapists will feel strongly against being visible like that.

What do you think? Am I thinking along the wrong track?