I have done many types of life modelling since I started in April 2019. A few months ago I was doing a meditative modelling class for Love Club in Brighton’s coffee shop Presuming Ed’s, it was a class I had not experienced before and I really enjoyed the meditation elements that were incorporated. A few days after the class I got an email from one of the attendees that stated they were sourcing participants for an exhibition at Sussex University as part of the Brighton Festival, and would I like to take part as a Life Model. I was told:
[…] 12 Last Songs is a 12-hour long durational performance-exhibition. Through looking at the work that people do, we will construct a fleeting and shifting portrait of society. There are no actors – we’ll invite real people, real workers, to come into the space and talk about or demonstrate their work live in front of an audience. We’ll have a wide range of people join us over the course of the day – a cleaner, a funeral director, a barber, a dog groomer, a life model and portrait painter… etc.
We would love to involve someone who works as a life model. If you were part of 12 Last Songs, what we’d ask you to do is to answer some questions about your job and, if possible, to demonstrate what you do. We’re interested in creating broader portraits of who people are, so we might also ask you about things that sit around your job or about your life more generally. You’d never have to answer anything you didn’t want to, of course.[…]
As much as I had no idea how it was going to pan out, I had a good grasp of the content and was really looking forward to see how it was going to be structured in real life. Now strictly speaking, Life modelling is nude, I had been asked to sit for a portrait painting by local landscape and figurative artist Tony Parsons.
A few days before the event, I was asked to come and have a look round at the auditorium and meet the team behind the exhibition. I’d been to the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, but it had been a while. Upon arrival I was greeted by a few of the curators, the question-masters and another participant who’s day job is being a clown. I didn’t have much questions before, and once I saw the layout and got some more details on how the day was going to play out, I started to feel excited about being a part of this interactive, personal and social exhibition.
I was introduced to Tony via email and he was kind enough to collect me from home so we could have a chat prior, and get in at the same time. We were asked to arrive an hour before we got on stage so we could be a part of the audience and get a vibe of how it worked. Leaving extra early to miss the football rush, we got there just after 13:30 where we were greeted with coffee and snacks. After setting our personals down we were taken up to the main event where I was overjoyed to see my sister Alex sitting and getting her hair done by Brighton’s afro hairdresser and business owner Nema. Once it had got to about 14:30 I had made my way downstairs to straighten my wig and have one last pee like as always before I sit still for a length of time, I collected my water and my throw that I religiously sit/lie on when I model and made my way to the stage. Once positioned correctly I was sat where I could see my painting evolve with a mirror the other side of the stage that was being used by Nema, a mic on a stand, and joining me was a clockmaker, a dog groomer, and behind me was a woman that was wallpapering for 10 hours, the changing of the skies throughout a day. As we all worked we were randomly targeted with inquisitive thought-provoking questions about our work, our life, us.
As you would if you were modelling, halfway through Tony and I took a tea break, and got to have a little chat about the progress of the painting and the exhibition itself, we both found it a very profound experience; some questions are very vague, but can be answered on a very personal level, sometimes it felt like you was being very honest and vulnerable, but that’s exactly what you are there for; you are in a space, asked to participate to answer question, yet you are doing what you do everyday. It was an odd feeling of doing your day-to-day, whilst, every so often, asked something about you that is something more than your career or business, to watch you do your livelihood whilst asking about your life.
I walked away from the experience delighted to have taken part, I can be quite fussy when it comes to exhibitions I am involved in or visit, but this one was something totally different to what I’ve ever seen or heard of. I absolutely loved the time I spent there, the people I met, and the flowers I got given to take home. And I admire and respect the entire concept of 12 Last Songs.
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