Radical Essex

#aNaturistClubInEssex / Radical Essex, 2016 – onwards

Research project, various outcomes 

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 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.

As a research residency the project is currently ongoing but has already developed into a prototype publication and a series of events, with more to come in 2018...

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 their issues around photography I began to consider other methods of recording the site visually, and through researching photography of the 1920s (when the naturist movement started in the UK) I came across 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 also got to make them on the sunbathing lawn amongst the other club members topping up their tans. My cyanotypes were made using material found around the club, from foliage to tools and reading material.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The residency at Oakwood Sun Club finished at the end of Summer 2018 so I am now devising ways to use, publish and  display all the various material  I gathered along the way.

Any questions  please get in contact via email or social media.


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