Sexy or naked?

As a performer who likes to prance around nude a bit I started to reflect about the role of nudity in performance art as opposed to the role of partial nudity in burlesque. There are many angles to consider this from but I am coming from an experiential position where nudity invokes an unsexy response from the audience. I recently did a performance where after a very restrained removal of my clothes I ended up standing nude for the audience. In other burlesque gigs where one poses and wears fabulous lingerie and gets off some but not all of it the crowd whoop and whistle and heckle. Standing front on and naked the crowd where silent. An odd giggle perhaps, a ‘what’s she gonna do next’, but no whistling or ownership of the image before them. Why? Perhaps the lack of lingerie removes the signifiers of ‘this is tease and it’s for you’. Perhaps the full nudity says ‘this is a woman’s body standing for herself embodied in its form’. This is what you might see if you walked into the bathroom to see your mum, sister or girlfriend. This is not sexy it is just sex – it seems strangely innocent of signifiers.
My body is tall, my boobs are reasonable, I am not skinny or fat, attractive apparently – I am a bit of a ‘normal’ chick (like there is such a thing). So why not whoop and whistle when I am naked? Do the final bits of lingerie, the g-string or the pasties give the audience permission to own the image? Are they as Baudrillard claims a mark/sign of the erotic? Does the full nudity and lack of pose simply distance the image from pornography – where our ladies constantly leave something on to offer contrast, to cover the hidden garden of Eden? Is the nude female body not what we have signified as ‘sexy’ but as ‘woman’ and the many contradictions of what that may mean? Perhaps I wasn’t objectifying myself enough to create titillation in the audience. Good. Maybe the non-eroticised naked body of a woman a confronting because this body is a subject and she knows it.

About Lizzil Gay
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9 Responses to Sexy or naked?

  1. princess bulky says:

    This reminds me of a film about loggers in the jungle in South America. When the brothels were set up, there were naked girls taken from the forest who were forced into stilletos and bras. In the end scene, as the girls escape, they fling off their fripperies into naked safety.

  2. Mars Drum says:

    yep, that’s spot on. Standing naked and motionless in front of an audience must have been much more confronting than giving the audience the entertainment that they were expecting. So it’s not just the tiny pieces of tantalising fabric hiding the illegal bits, it’s also to do with the performance… a woman teasing the audience on stage is in control, but to have a woman standing still and naked on stage throws the control into a dubious zone… depends then on how you got to be standing there, and how you are standing…do you stand defensively or vulnerably or commandingly or appealingly? Do you stare above the audience, or look slowly at each member in front or close your eyes? Do you smile or grimace or stay expressionless too?

  3. Lizzil Gay says:

    Mars, I just stood looking at the audience, front on, straight up, arms by my sides, legs comfortably placed, making eye contact, not expressing anything overt. Just waiting till I felt a strong urge to leave. They clapped when I left cause I turned around and had eat shit written on my arse which they hadn’t seen yet.
    P Bulky that is an awesome image with the South American girls.

  4. I was there that night taking photos of the performance for documentation purposes. I’m not sure if my camera created more distance from what was happening onstage or may indeed have brought me closer. But that’s the ‘camera’ for you, isn’t? The aperture may be the inbuilt ‘lingerie lines’ cutting up the body for the human eye.

    Humans beings do seem to like to point at things when they look. A parent points for child when on a train at things passing by at what the child might find interesting. Its our very first lessons in life, that this is that and that is this etc.

    In performance the artist has always used the ‘pointing business’ to show the audience where they should look or listen to closely. We like to point and we like others to point out what is pointed because we are always ( some of us that is) looking for what the point is in everything that we do.

    So to be naked on stage and to not point to anything creates a vacuum and that vacuum hopefully points right back at the audience to consider themselves and not what’s on stage. There’s probably a good reason why we close our eyes when we kneel down and pray for the impossible or the improbable.

  5. Jacquie says:

    I have felt this too.

    Years ago I did loads of ‘life’ modelling for painters, and really enjoyed the element of performance that came with standing bollock naked in front of an artist or group of artists. If I felt vulnerable, I clothed myself in the visual art tradition of the nude – imagined myself layered with hundreds of years of creamy fleshy statuesque painterly female nude iconography. Anyhow, point being I never really felt awkward at all, either naked or ‘nude’. And I always felt respected, pleasantly distant.

    But – then one day this particular, very commercially successful artist decided that the class would benefit from some exploration of chiaroscuro, via the light’n’shade created by black stockings and suspenders on white skin. Yeh right. And he asked me to dress up accordingly. I resisted, a lot, and eventually, grumpily wore thick torn woollen stockings and a vintage girdle belt. But nonetheless, that class was so so different – the gaze of the students was disturbing, grasping. They behaved differently to me. They sniggered. And that night, for the first time ever in years of standing naked in a room in front of people I didn’t know, someone followed me home in a predatory fashion. Yuk.

    It was the last time I allowed any kind of underwear on my body during a pose (and the last time I worked for the sleazy bastard artist).

    • Lizzil Gay says:

      I guess the body is never neutral. Certain environments such as medicine or life modeling may dictate particular way of approaching the naked body, a way for the viewer to behave. Even so the body is still loaded with signifiers and who really knows what the viewer is seeing and thinking. Minor subversion’s even in these environments throw people’s reaction out – I know many a lass who has found bias in the medical profession due to a fabulous brazilian or piercing. I must say the vintage girdle belt and woolen tights sound absolutely – great shame there are artists with a tendency to stalking life models … creepy.

  6. Mars Drum says:

    Hey Lizzil, here’s a painting I did round mid-year that I think may relate to what we’re talking about…

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