Responding to Flesh: Queer Sundays at York Art Gallery – by The Model
As part of our current exhibition Flesh, York Art Gallery have been hosting Cast Off Drama for Queer Sundays. a series of events inviting performance artists and visitors to engage with the artwork on display and explore LGBT stories and identities. Here one of the models describes their experience of one of the events…
If you’d like to do a bit of groundbreaking performance art you wouldn’t find a better place to do it than York Art Gallery. The setting is splendid, staff superbly supportive, atmosphere exhilarating. And the visitors….
You might imagine that people walking into a gallery exhibiting nude art would be taken aback to see real nudity. Not a bit of it. They seemed much more interested in the mask the model was wearing and the purpose of the performance.
Some of them – folks from all over the world – had lots of questions. Are you cold (Yes). It the mask uncomfortable (After a while, Yes). Why are you wearing a mask (To try to find out if wearing one makes a model more or less nude. Is it a barrier between the observer and observed? Does it make for an easier job for someone drawing because they don’t have to draw the face?) Where does the mask come from (Zambia). Does it have a ceremonial purpose (I don’t know). What do you look like under the mask (Beautiful).
And comments that weren’t questions: You are brave. I couldn’t stand so still. What a lovely way to show the human body. I hate the mask but the rest of you is fine. It’s scary. No it isn’t, it’s exciting and different. It’s intimidating. I can’t see you smile but your eyes are smiling. What an interesting idea. (There have been lots more remarks, but it’s difficult to find somewhere to put a pen and notebook when all you have is your skin).
From all the hundreds of people who visited the ‘Fles’ exhibition and saw me (my performance was in the perfect place; people could look at depictions of the nude and the nude itself) I did not see a single sign of disapproval. The most common reactions were smile, grin, nudge and whisper.
But also there was the view that I was an elephant in the corner of the room to be ignored. That’s okay. You can’t tell people at an exhibition what to look at. It’s their choice – and that’s what makes York so special. A lot of thought has gone into ‘Flesh’ and there’s a lot of thought coming out of it.
From one of the most junior visitors, a little guy of maybe two, came chortles and chuckles, not at the body, but the mask. He didn’t care about the body. What a very grown-up attitude. Let’s hope his chuckles and chortles last beyond childhood.
It’s been great fun and thanks to the gallery and its staff for giving me the opportunity.
The performance is part of Cast Off Drama’s Queer Sundays, a programme highlighting issues of gender among other things and running in conjunction with ‘Flesh’. Click here to find out more about the exhibition.