Note: Following well-substantiated allegations of abusive behaviour by Chris Goode, whose performance project Ponyboy Curtis is the starting point for an enquiry into nakedness here, as well as other safeguarding issues not currently in the public domain, the episodes from season 2 are no longer available to listen to or download. For transparency, the transcripts remain online.
This is the 9th Museling. The first in a new series of episodes! It is about nakedness and art and life and me but you’ll have to listen to find out how all of that comes together.
It is a little sweary so I’ve marked it as explicit on Apple Podcasts.
There are some notes by Maddy Costa on one iteration of Ponyboy Curtis here.
A transcript of this episode is below.
You can find the podcast and subscribe on Apple Podcasts here.
Anna Beecher: Would you get naked in a show? Sorry, I know you’re interviewing me but…
Charles Adrian: Yeah, no, you can… Well, part of the reason that I’m thinking about it is because I did a performance in the summer, on a residency, where I… where I got naked for the first time! Um. I mean, I’ve been quite naked in shows before…
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
Charles Adrian: … but I’ve never been completely naked and this was my own solo performance and I had a lot of that anxiety. I was… I was naked because I wanted to be naked…
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
Charles Adrian: … because I enjoy being naked and I…
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
Charles Adrian: … and… and because it’s something that I’ve been very anxious about for a lot of my life…
Anna Beecher: Right.
Charles Adrian: … um… and I felt really comfortable there. And I remember… yeah, I… I thought, what if people think this is self-indulgent…
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
Charles Adrian: … and somehow perverse or…
Anna Beecher: Yeah, exactly!
Charles ADrian: … I don’t know! There’s something… yeah… what if they… what if… What if they think it’s… it’s giving me pleasure? And then I thought, well, why should that worry me?
Anna Beecher: What’s wrong with that?
Charles Adrian: What’s wrong with that?
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
Charles Adrian: And that’s what’s interesting me at the moment.
Anna Beecher: That is interesting.
Charles Adrian: Yeah.
Anna Beecher: Yeah.
So. I’ve been thinking about nakedness recently. I mean, I say recently. I work with a glacial slowness. I’ve been thinking about nakedness on and off for the last six months and more. At least since June last year, when I saw a show by a company called Ponyboy Curtis, who used nakedness as a powerful and sincere and troubling and unapologetically erotic tool in their work. I’ve been thinking about nakedness in an artistic context. I’ve been thinking about myself as an artist. I’ve been thinking about how to stay naked.
Last July, as Theresa May became prime minister of the United Kingdom and those of us who still dream of a united Europe reeled from the result of the referendum, I was in Greece, on the island of Lesvos, taking part in a residency organised by a company called Duende, whose artistic director is John Britton. I’m going to talk about this residency, and some of the things that it sparked in me, in a little series of Muselings that I’m putting out over the next few weeks on the subject of nakedness: in performance, in relationships, and as part of the life of an artist. There are going to be three main episodes on the subject and this is really just the introduction to those episodes. But I’m calling it the 9th Museling because, by the time I’ve finished talking, it’s going to be as long as an episode.
And that’s because there are a few things that I wanted to get out of the way before I start my exploration of nakedness.
Firstly, I should say that, as ever, with these Muselings, I’m going to be talking about myself. This podcast is a solipsistic endeavour – always has been. It’s navel gazing and, given that I’m naked, I can really see my navel this time. It’s hairy and it has some t-shirt fluff in it. It almost always does.
But the point is, I’m going to be talking specifically about myself as an artist in these episodes. And it makes me very uncomfortable to describe myself as an artist. It feels pretentious. It feels like wishful thinking. It feels deluded. Only very special people get to describe themselves as artists, right? And only if other people, whose judgement on this question is sound, have decided that that is what they are.
I might talk a little bit more about this insecurity over the course of the episodes but I wanted to start by saying that I intend to continue to describe myself as an artist. I lay down my gauntlet. Because fuck you if you think I don’t have the right! I don’t give a shit what you think!
I’m talking to the voices in my own head, of course.
I had more than one epiphany on Lesvos last summer. And one of the epiphanies has to do with who and what an artist is. John Britton puts it very simply. For John, who is, by the way, a lovely man and an inspiring teacher, an artist is someone who does the work of an artist. We are artists, he said to us more than once, because we do the work. And that isn’t a small thing. He means that every day, in whatever way they can, the artist gets up and does the work of an artist. Every day, to whatever extent they can, they go to their studio and paint, they play the piano, they dance, they draw, they write. And so on. That’s my understanding of what he said, at least. And I love it. It seems to me a great definition.
If I am an artist, it’s because I do the work of an artist. But, of course, this brings up a question – and during the residency, and even more so after I came back, I spent a lot of time thinking about this: What is my work, then? I’m not a pianist, I’m not a painter, I’m not a dancer. At any rate, I don’t define myself as any of those things. According to my twitter bio, I’m a performer. But I don’t perform all the time. I’m a podcaster, but that’s also sporadic. I’m a writer but… it’s not like I’ve written very much in the last few years. Where is my ‘studio’? What is my work?
More and more, I’m thinking that my work right now might just be to work out how to be naked. Because, more and more, I think the work of any artist – or at least, the foundation of that work – is about being naked. So, yeah, again, I’ll be talking more about what I mean by that in the next few weeks. But I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that, for me, all of this is bound up together.
And, then, here’s another thing. During his residencies, John makes himself available, at some point, for one-on-one conversations. Any of us have the chance to arrange with him to take a moment to sit down, or walk, and to talk about anything that might be coming out of the work that we are doing together or the experience that we are having or where we are in our life as an artist. On Lesvos, for most of the fortnight that I was there, I didn’t feel a great need to have one of these conversations. I was just having a wonderful time. I was loving the place, I was loving the people, I was loving the work, and I didn’t feel as though I had anything very pressing to discuss.
But, eventually, a day or two before the end of the residency, I asked John if we could sit down together, just to touch base.
And, when we did that, John said that, yeah, he could see that I was having a good time, and that the residency was going well for me. And then he said something along the lines of: So what are you waiting for? What do you need? What the fuck is stopping you from just being content with your lot?
Just to be clear: that’s not what he actually said. But it’s what I heard. And it’s what I took away with me. Because it resonated. It resonated very strongly.
If any of you came and did an audit of my life, I think you would find that there is nothing wrong with it. I have no financial worries. I have a supportive group of friends. I’ve been doing work that I enjoy and at a rhythm and at an intensity that feels comfortable. And yet, so much of the time, I’m not happy. I would characterise much of the last… certainly the last six or seven years of my life and really much more than that as… let’s say a continual struggle with depression. With hopelessness, listlessness, sadness, disappointment, frustration, self-reproach. And most of all with SHAME.
Although I should say that, even there, I’m lucky. Where my mental health is concerned, I don’t suffer as badly as many people do. And, you know, there have been times when those feelings have been more powerful and times when they have been less powerful. As I record this, I seem to be in a period of relative lightness and hope and happiness.
And that may be, I think, at least in part, a result of this stock-taking that I’ve been doing over the last six months or so as I’ve been working, on and off, on these podcast episodes. Because I’ve been asking myself the question: How do I stay naked? And, as I’ve been doing that, I’ve been having to confront the spectre of shame. I have not vanquished it. But I have it in my sights. And it seems more and more obvious to me that there is a direct line that connects shame with hesitancy, uncertainty, lack of engagement, cowardliness – which is a word that I’ve invented but I like it – and, ultimately, unhappiness. And that all of this is relevant to my work as an artist.
So, I might ride a little roughshod over that over the next few weeks but I wanted you to know from the outset that all of those things are also in the background of this exploration.
Now, before I finish today, I just want to address one more big fear that I have, which is that you, who are listening to this, will be saying yourself: Why the fuck should I have to hear about this guy’s life? What does it have to do with me?
And my answer right now is, well, first of all, you shouldn’t, if you don’t want to. I invite you to listen to these Muselings if they resonate with you and your experience of the world, or if you are interested in how the world looks and feels to me, but I don’t expect you to listen. Obviously. But second… well… what this might have to do with you… that’s something that I’m struggling with. If we dig right down to the bottom of this, it’s really what I’m trying to get to with these episodes. As you’ll hear if you listen to them, the question ‘how do I stay naked’? is a foil for the question ‘how do I connect with the world?’
I realise that it’s kind of old-fashioned to characterise the personal as political these days and maybe it’s over-ambitious to hope that any of this will mean anything to anybody who isn’t me but this whole podcast series – Muselings – is and always has been an attempt to tunnel through the personal to get to something on the other side that might just be of a more universal import. I’m afraid that, in common with a lot of depressives, and, who knows, maybe a few non-depressives too, my world really is filled up for much of the time with my own feelings and thoughts and concerns and anxieties. And so, acknowledging this at the outset is part of an attempt, on my part, as it were, to work honestly and authentically. It’s one way of trying to stay naked, if you like. It’s an attempt, as I say. It’s an exploration.
Oh, and, by the way, I am well aware that I am not part of any kind of silenced minority. I want to make that clear. I don’t for one moment think that my voice deserves to be heard and I’m still thinking about the point at which sharing like this becomes shouting. I’d be interested to know how other people feel about that.
Anyway. This introduction might not be quite as clear as I wanted it to be – and some of it might seem to contradict what I’m going to say later on – but what I’m saying is: I invite you to join me, over the next three weeks, on a journey towards nakedness. I’m proud of what I have made here and I would like you to hear it. I would also be interested to know what you think.
My name is Charles Adrian and I am an artist. I’m on twitter as @charldrian. This has been the 9th Museling. You can find out more about the podcast and listen to previous episodes at muselings.uk. Thank you very much for listening to this. Until next week. Goodbye.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020