‘Their performances and actions were never rehearsed; a schedule would often be discussed just hours beforehand, with props sourced and produced last-minute. This refusal to be slick was indicative of the group’s determination for their practice not to be neatly packaged: a deeply non-commercial position. As Grayson Perry remarked ‘…She wasn’t one to have a rehearsed show – she thought that would be selling out to do a rehearsal because that would smell of entertainment’.
A NIGHT WITH THE NEO NATURISTS at The ICA, The Mall, London – August 2016 – Where to start? Where to end? You really needed to be there, to attempt to put it down on paper is just ridiculous dancing around architecture. The various hazy photographs and bits of mobile phone footage appearing on social media might give you a tiny bit of a beautiful clue but you really really needed to be there breathing it, you needed to find yourself covered in glitter and then find yourself pulling out a bundle hay from your pocket the next day and for a moment wonder how on earth that got that there before it all comes glowing and flowing back. Oh what a night….
Constant film running on all three walls, there’s something special about old homemade super eight footage and things captures in a way only that format can. A Short Marc Bolan poem, bizarre performances of Kraftrwerk songs on skiffle-like washboards sung by naked “models looking good”, naked besides the paint and the ribbons and the smile (so not naked really). Lots of smiles in here, lots of very serious people as well (until they let their hair down later on). A glorious night, all beautifully lit, all alive with anticipation, there’s a buzz of anticipation at the start, a buzz that continues all evening.
A Night with the Neo Naturists celebrates the subversive 1980s performance group founded by Christine Binnie, Jennifer Binnie and Wilma Johnson, on the occasion of their large-scale retrospective at Studio Voltaire (8 July–28 August 2016).
The evening includes film, live performances and music evoking the spirit of the original works’ anarchic innocence. This is the Neo Naturists’ first live performance with the full original line up of founding members since 1986. They present a special collaborative performance with Ana da Silva and Gina Birch, founding members and songwriters of The Raincoats.
Supporting acts include Jill Westwood and Antal Nemeth, Christine Binnie and Paul Murphy and a DJ set by Peas in a Pod (Will Larnach-Jones, Joe Scotland and Julie Verhoeven).
The Neo Naturists were part of London’s subculture that arose in the aftermath of Punk, the emergence of the New Romantic club scene and advent of Thatcherism. They performed wearing little more than body paint celebrating the naked female form, and their performances were “bodypositive” and celebratory, in stark contrast to the increasingly commodified, “sexually packaged” body widely promoted in the 1980s.
The seminal post-punk band The Raincoats last performed at the ICA in 1980; the ‘godmothers of grunge’ created a sound that, while inspired by Punk and rock music that had come before, was uniquely and uncompromisingly powerful and female.
And this does feel powerful, positively so, not preachy, not in any way – incredibly open and yes, a real celebration of people and a place and a time, places and times, a splendid celebration of people, of art, of subculture, underculture, positive art, of just doing things and making a difference. Feels good in here from the off, felt good in the queue to get in – the paper literature, the grainy photos and printed stories, it does evoke those far off days of art (and music and festivals and protest and gatherings) being far more underground and subversive – rumours of things that might be going on next week, badly printed flyers handed out on corners – Psychic TV are playing in an old hospital on Thursday (maybe?), Blitz kids but not quite that – rough-edged, organically happening, identity, exploring, legacy of punk, DIY, squat parties, of Blake, The Slits, The Pop Group, The Kings Road, Thatcherism and just doing things in the face of it all – “the radical and subversive potential of body painting” – making things happen, sometimes a party, sometimes a protest, sometimes both. Flashing at the British Museum, upsetting the toffs at Henley, “wearing little more than body paint the group achieved a unique artistic voice, one which contrasted with the highly polished aesthetic prevalent in the New Romantic club scene (of the time)”.
There’s film projected on the three walls simultaneously, grabbed glimpses of past moments, things, what was going on there? The audience are constantly lit, involved, part of the evening, the barrier completely down, performance, dances, people sitting on the floor people sitting on the stage, dancing, standing, meeting, the floor is the stage, constant music, 70’s disco, 80’s post punk, Get Dancin’ sing Disco-Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes over the sound system, impossible not to, feels like unforced spontaneous fun in here, a celebration.
This is not the time and place to analyse the Neo Naturists, this is not the day to deconstruct the evening or talk of the legacy (and there is such a legacy) this is a time to celebrate – radar love is here, Get Dancin’. Without warning someone will take to the stage, naked creatures with big bags of silver glitter while Lemmy booms Silver Machine and the sound of Hawkwind swirl off the walls. The Runaways sound powerful in here, hello world… cherry bomb…. (Joan Jett won in the end). Painted people everywhere, rope, ribbons, glitter, body paint, is she wearing a pin stripe suit or is she painted? Or he? Or them?
The Neo Naturists certainly were celebrating (and celebrated) last night, and birthing of new performance artists and corn rituals and a bundled up “last sheaf of corn, heavier than the others but we got her to the stage and brought into life the goddess that saved the world” so said someone called Cywol (via the magic social media afterwards, thanks Cywol). Wicken-flavoured offerings of plumbs and home-brewed ale – “in their performances the Neo Naturists fused an idea of the liberating potential of ancient pagan ritual with an unabashed lo-fi contemporary vernacular”.
A strange kind of Woman on the PA now, more performance on the stage – there once was a woman, a strange kind of woman – Deep Purple, purple lights, poetry recited, spoken work over Pink Floyd soundtrack, Money, it all feels very very spontaneous… painted-on underwear, painted-on working overalls, “fashion editor do my dungarees look good?”
See, told you it really couldn’t be put down on paper and told in (electronic) black and white… and what is that bit up there in that film? Did they really do that? The Binnie Sisters are brilliant, so is Willa, together with a cast of many tonight they’re evoking that time, that particular spirit of that age, did they really do that in the Tottenham Court Road Centre Point fountains in 1984? Don’t you want me baby? Which screen to watch? What’s going on over there? Look at those people in the green light? Audience or performers? it doesn’t really matter. Is she going to be part of a performance or is she just quietly being tied up? Oh, I see, she’s a corn bail? Has it finished? Wasn’t it only going to be on for an hour? Been in here for far far longer than an hour now surely? He looks great, she looks great, big smiles, portly bulge, grey hair, corn all over the floor, what was in that cup he just passed us? Have another plum. Haven’t seen you since that time on the beach.
Discordia? Beautiful chaos? Gloriously so, impossible to commit any of it to paper, or to photograph or film it, you had to be there, and I guess the same can be said about those original Neo Naturists events (and so many others things that went on back there).
Spoken word, performance poetry, electronic textures, atmosphere, projection, ceremony, ritual, lo-fi, spontaneous, 70’s, 80’s, naked (in more than one way) every moment hanging in the air. Magical, powerful art, engaging, breaking down the barriers in the room, none of it feeling forced, none of it awkward, everything honestly natural – no not entertainment, no us and them – all of it with smiles, natural, chaotically good – a thought in the middle of it all for Gilli Smyth, she of Mother Gong, flown off earlier in the week – more corn, bits of red latex material all over the floor, torn clothing discarded? Ancient rituals, contemporary life, here and now, floating anarchy, punk rock, painted-on pinstriped suits, the spirit of the age, the spirit of the original anarchic innocence as alive and well as it could be in these more (property) developed times when the city is no loner ours. Brilliant night, dignified gloriously, brilliant brilliant brilliant …
And then just as you start to think it is ending, the announcement asking us to please not leave, the Raincoats are going to play – and there they were, three Raincoats (in glorious dresses) – the perfect band to keep the celebration flowing, the three of them up there on the stage, guitar violin and bass, powerful songs, empowering songs, powerful sentiment, as powerful now as they were then, probably more so? Don’t worry, stop looking at me, this is just a fairytale happening in a supermarket – in a contemporary art gallery – “that is going to be really hard to write about, apart from the Raincoats gig, stop looking at me, I loved that bit, it was all so good…. what a strange night, but brilliant too, and and and, no, can’t find the words…..”, neither can I really, Leaving without going, No looking at me no looking at me, No looking at me no looking at me, No no looking no no looking, No no looking at me…. Lola sounded good, people joyously singing along, not a care in the room, he looked at her and she at me, The Raincoats (very discordantly) performing Middle of The Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep really was a ridiculously good highlight – all together now, where’s your momma gone? Brilliant fun. And all the time, while the Raincoats are on, a “naked disco dancing competition” going on on a stage to the left, only no one’s eyes are good enough anymore to read the judge’s verdict afterwards, brilliant! Do we really have to leave now? Out in to the London air, glowing from is all, do we really have to go home now.? Brilliant night, fun, excellent, a celebration and far far more, still cutting, on the edge, a special night, told you it couldn’t be put down on paper, where did that corn come from? Brilliant, loved it (sw)
The Neo Naturalist retrospective exhibition at Studio Voltaire (1a Nelson’s Row
London, SW4 7JR) has now been extended until September 4th.
There might be one or two 43 Second films and flavours from the night on my instagram feed
ANOTHER MAGAZINE – The Neo Naturists on Feminism, Nightclubs and Nudity
Click on an image to enlarge or run the fractured slide show….