#aNaturistClubInEssex / Radical Essex
Research project, various outcomes, 2016 – onwards
In 2016 I was commissioned by Focal Point Gallery and Radical Essex (a season of events examining 20thC alternative living experiments in the county) to research the history of Naturism in Essex, based on the fact that the Late 19thC Tolstoy Colony in Wickford evolved into the first Naturist Club in the UK, Moonella, in 1924.
This involved me contacting the three remaining Naturist Clubs in Essex, with only one agreeing to let me come and talk to them, Oakwood Sun Club near Brentwood. This initial meeting started with interviews with club members then developed into me making work there, including feedback forms, landscape photography, archive research and a series of handmade cyanotypes.
These regular productive visits to the club, over the summers of 2017/18, led me to negotiating a role there as the Oakwood’s Artist in Residence, a first for a UK naturist club. This job title also added something to the already evocative narrative of the project.
Since the residency time I am now working with all the various material generated over that time, developing it into talks, objects, displays and publications.
The first outcome was a series of iPad photographs of the club grounds, taken after most members had left for the day, as there is an understandably sensitive camera policy.
Due to the club's concerns around photography I began to consider other methods of recording the site visually, and through studying experimental photography of the 1920s (when the naturist movement started in the UK) I was drawn to cyanotypes, or 'sunography', where treated paper reacts to the UV rays of the sun. Not only does it reference modernist experiments of the time but I could also produce them on the sunbathing lawn amongst club members topping up their tans. My cyanotypes were made using material found around the club, from foliage to tools and reading material.
Above: Hand treated Cyanotype made with grasses and the handbell used to call tea break. From a series recording items found at Oakwood Naturist Club, exposed to UV rays on the club's sun bathing lawn.
The research has so far developed into two events, one a lecture at Focal Point Gallery, Southend and another at the annual Open Day at Oakwood Sun Club. For the former i was dressed in a towel and delivered a Power Point entitled 'A CONFESSION: ANARCHY, ANONYMITY, HEALTH & EFFICIENCY: An Amateur History of Social Nudity in Modern Essex 1896-2017'.
For the latter I arranged a display of my work so far on the club lawn, alongside a stall presented by Radical Essex. The Open Day was a rare chance for the public to come and see what happens at a Naturist club and was advertised to both the club's and Radical Essex mailing lists, with visitors from both audiences. The day ended with a session of my 'An Introduction to Laughter Yoga', which seemed approproiate to try what with the overlaps of body awareness, sense of the absurd and organised catharsis.
In a neat circularity, 'Health & Efficiency' magazine asked if they could visit Oakwood with me and write a piece about my residency. I've also been invited to discuss it on a Canadian naturist podcast. (Listen here)
Below: From a series of my life drawings of club members relaxing on the sun lawn, made without looking back at the paper until I'd finished.
Below: The second version of my #aNaturistClubInEssex dummy magazine, testing content and layouts and including activity over the months since the first edition.
As I had been using vintage copies of the English naturist magazine 'Health and Effiency' to find out more about the history of the movement and how it presented itself I wanted to see what would happen if I packaged my work in a similar format. This was just a test edition but I will produce a new version after the residency is completed in 2018.
Below: At the 2018 Open Day at Oakwood Sun Club I ran another session of my 'An Introduction To Laughter Yoga' performence, where I deliver from memory the contents of a similar session I attended myself years earlier. Laughter Yoga being the gentle movement and voice excercises built around fake laughter.
Below: Through my visits to Oakwood I found out about Miniten, a version of tennis played exclusively in naturist clubs, on a half size court and using square plywood paddles instead of rackets, like wooden boxes with handles inside. I've been making my own, using found wood from the 1920s. based on the shape of Usula Bloom and Leo Tolstoy''s hands.
One of the things I'm doing with the material now is devising display solutions for the cyanotypes. Echoing period frames of the 1920s when Naturism began in the UK they reference Art Deco home furnishings, but made with scraps of repurposed wood from various eras since then, 1920s front door, 1990s Ikea bed frame, 2010s garden decking. The construction process is deliberately adhoc and unfussy, trying to echo the unashamed imperfection of Naturist bodies.
I am also devising framing solutions for my photos of the five mirrors I found at Oakwood. Printed out at the size of the iPad screen they were taken on, these are combined with other elements from my research processes as a kind of filing system. They are built into recycled chrome frames I have found, and topped with the petrol money it takes to get to the club from my house and back - £7.82 in loose change balanced and glued along the top edge). The whole proces of adaptation, resourcesfullness and informality reflecting what I saw in the frugal, unfussy and self-accepting ethos of naturism.
Many of the outputs of this project, the framing devices and display solutions, were presented in my solo exhibition 'Missing You Already!' Combingin them with other projects to examine absence, absurdity and head space more broadly. (Below photos by Eva Herzog)