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.”

 

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.

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.

Bookish update

Hi there.

With July on the way out which means that most of 2016 is already behind us, I thought I’d give you a little update on what’s going on here book-wise.

Mirror Earth 2

Mirror EarthThe end of that book is in sight. I’m working on getting the last chapter in order and shape, which should not take too long now. After that I will let the entire book cool off a while and start reworking it to get the worst blunders out of it.

It’s become a good story I think, but in the end I’m not the one to say so. That’s up to you, the readers. I do what I can, you do what you can, and so we make a good team

Please don’t expect this book to hit the shelves in a month or so, reworking and editing takes time and attention. I just wanted to give you this good news. 🙂

Naked Crow

I’m thinking about part 6. I have a basic idea for it, but there has to be more than just that. If you have ideas about naturist issues, problems or bits of interest you would like to see in book 6 please let me know. I can’t promise it will be used but it is a great asset for me to know what you would like to read about.

NakedCrow5_320

Historical naturist fiction

Vintage nudistsIt’s still in view but so much has been going on these days (like publishing Naked Crow 5) that this story has moved to the background a little. I hope I will have some time to return to this story soon. It’s coming along quite well but there is some research on history I need to do. Everything in this story has to be correct and make some kind of sense, as opposed to real life. 😉

Be happy, well, and naked, as much as you can!

Cover for a new book

Hi, yes, here’s a cover for a new book – and it’s not one of my books!

My friend in writing, Wallace Greensage, asked for some assistance in creating the cover for his second New Albion book and I made this for him:

New Albion 2 cover

The book is not available yet but if you’re curious about the first one, have a look here.

Freedom does not come without a price.

Freedom does not come without a price.

We all know this. Some of you may even know the actual entire words said by Charlie Dent.

The idea for this post comes from a tweet I saw. One I agree with.

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The tweet read: NUDIST LIVES MATTER TOO! Nudist are one of most discriminated segments of society charged money to live naturally!

Freedom

Of course we all value our freedom and we all know that many people have sacrificed a lot to make all that happen. The odd thing however is that freedom is a relative concept. How free are we? As you see above, you have to pay to be free of clothes. It’s mad, but money matters more than lives, as usual.

This can also be said for the American right to bear weapons. Everyone is free to carry a gun – but they have to pay for that. The big difference of course is that we have already paid for the clothes that the greater community forces us to wear in the first place, and in many locations (think nudist resorts etc.) we have to pay (entrance fees, membership etc.) to take them off. There is something very wrong with that concept of freedom.

Action

That is something everybody wants but not many actually feel up to. It’s clear though that without action there will never be change. Read up on your local laws. Find out what’s allowed and legal. Print that out and carry it with you. In the US of A and also in Canada for instance it is legal for women to go around topless in more places than you’d expect. Have a look here. Understandably not many women will feel up to that challenge as there are too many predators around. The way to counter that would be to have others go along, and that is not limited to women. Also bare-chested men! And that doesn’t mean they all have to look like the beautiful specimens you see depicted everywhere in the fake glossies that insist we all have to be twenty-two, slim, clever, blond and tanned, sporting a six-pack in muscle. Plain and simple, real people will do just fine. We will have to make a stand for what has been achieved. Others will not do it for us, because those others are happily confined within their cloth.

Save

Save

The Sea of Hull

Sea of Hull

If you haven’t heard of it you may not have been online the past year. The Sea of Hull was a project by Spencer Tunick, the man who became famous by photographing large crowds of naked people all over the world.

Munich 2012

Spenced Tunick - Munich 2012

In 2012 he photographed hundreds of people painted red in Munich. The above image is from this video:

Hull 2016

In Hull, this very year (this month even) he created a sea. Hence the name Sea of Hull. An amazing number of 3200 people had volunteered for this happening.

Sea of Hull

And this is what it looked like at one point. A sea of blue and green people. Stunning.

Well done, Mr Tunick, and well done everyone who showed up in Hull to participate in this amazing display.

Naked Crow 5 is out there!

It happened. Book 5 in the Naked Crow series has appeared. I had never thought there would be 5 books. Maybe even 6 but I have yet to start on that.

Naked Crow 5 640

While Jeremy blossoms in his new job and finds new ways to express himself, Sheila suddenly finds herself in Mississippi where a friend is trying to save someone’s life.
A fellow Shaman wanted to be a Shadow Dancer and that did not turn out well.
Follow Sheila to Mississippi and join her on her adventures!

Naked Crow 5 – Shadow Dancer is available as an e-book at:

  • Smashwords (files for just about every e-reading device/program)
  • Amazon.com (and UK, DE, FR, JP, NL and so on)

More stores coming as soon as possible!

Naked Crow 5. Cover reveal

YES! YES YES YES! It’s happening!

I’m through the editing stage and now working on getting the actual books compiled and all the fun that comes with that. Naked Crow 5 will be out ‘soon’. Note that I am not yet putting a date on it but it won’t be very long now. And to celebrate that I’m showing you the cover for the new book.

Here it is.

Tada!

Shadow Dancer

I guess the title is no longer a secret either.

Nudity and a lack of summer

The weather here in Europe has been appalling for naturists and nudists alike when it comes to going outside. Cold, wind, rain, all those goodies – and a lack of sunshine.

Scenes like this one have been happening here more than once over the past month. I’m probably not the only one who starts to feel vitamin D deprived, and that’s horrible. It’s sad when we have to go without our favourite source of that vitamin.

vitamin DOf course you know that one.

The sun. What else?

There are alternatives, like fish, wheat bread and such but…

nothing beats soaking up the sun with all of our skin. Unfortunately I have no good cure for a lack of sun. If however you are looking for good ways to be naked while the sun is not around…

You could meet up with naturist friends either at your home or in theirs. Get together naked, have a good time. Talk, watch a good film, interact – and leave your smartphone in the pocket of your clothes!

naked in the saunaYou might consider a visit to a sauna. Saunas are great places to be naked, at least over here in Europe.

In a sauna you can meet other naked-minded people there; perhaps even make new friends.

A great way to be nude as well is of course in your home. You may need some precautions because there are always the very curious ones who think it’s their obligation to stare into your living room and point out what’s wrong. And you bet that those are the same people who think being naked, even inside your own four walls, is wrong!

curtainsGlass curtains can be your friend here. It blocks the view from outside quite effectively and if someone is still able to peek inside an accuse you of being an exhibitionist it won’t be hard to convince others that this person is a peeping Tom. Or Tina.

 

If you don’t like having those curtains up all the time there are ways of clipping them up if you want your privacy and easily taking them down as soon as you’ve had enough of being naked. (Inserting time to laugh here.)

I hope that people who are deprived of their nudity can find some solace and tips in this post. If you can, take a vacation to a warm and sunny place where nudity is okay. This however isn’t within everyone’s reach, and for those I tried to come up with some viable and not too expensive alternatives.

Be happy, everyone. And be naked.