Saturday, 13 September 2014

The state of being iconic


Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself  Designer: Sparklewren

A recent conversation with a friend forced me to rethink the widespread use of the word 'iconic'. Once upon a time 'iconic' was a term mostly used by art historians and with reference to images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or saints, as found  in Orthodox churches. Or to Byzantine art.
Then came the use of the word in the sense of cultural icons, with reference to very famous faces and characters such as, in no particular order and by no means limited to these names,  Che Guevara, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and brands, such as Coca Cola.
We are now inundated with icons and iconic objects. Victoria Beckhams' designs are iconic and she is regarded as an icon of style and  brands, apart from the already mentioned Coca Cola, are also iconic.  Views from the veranda of a luxury hotel are iconic, Californian red elmwood is iconic, basically everything including iPhone/iPad apps, is iconic. Of course I know that those little images on Apple computers are called 'icons' and have been called so for a very long time, but this post is not about those. Apple by the way, as a brand, is also iconic.
Some people complain of an  'overuse' of the word iconic. Is there really an overuse?
So it is that while sipping our iconic cappuccinos, my friend and I began to consider what cultural icons, or better still, the state of being iconic, or iconicity,  is  about.
Let's refer first to the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines icon as "a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration". From there iconicity would then refer to the state of being this representative symbol or  symbol of veneration.  This is a broad definition that allows us to throw in some interesting variants. So if we think of cultural icons we can agree that they are not only representative symbols, they often personify them. So far, so good.
But the dictionary does not tell us about the process of becoming or establishing something as a cultural icon.  And this is quite important and perhaps knowing about it can allow us to understand the discontent of those who believe that we are iconizing everything (yes, the word exists, it is American English).

Photographer: Vanessa Mills. Model: myself. Designer: Sparklewren

The crux of the matter, as my friend was quick to point, is that if iconicity in cultural terms is to do with the non-discursive and non-verbal element of cultural and social life, it is also the case that it is linked with consumerism. It is to do with branding and marketing strategies, thus a hotel view becomes iconic through the branding of the tourist industry.
Iconicity creates consensus, in markets, culture or politics, as Woddward and Elliott write in Iconic Power: materiality and meaning in social life.
Well, these are some initial thoughts, would love to continue to explore the issue but not in just one post. Comments always welcome.

Monday, 1 September 2014

A very brief post

Photographer: Marcello Pozzetti. Model: me. On the cover of Her Edit

I have been rather busy, in every possible way!
I have some excellent news (well, for me that is): I am on the cover of Her Edit issue 7, which is about age and I have also an article in there, about being 'an older ' model.
I also did a fabulous editorial shoot with Vanessa Mills wearing Sparklewren designs and am really pleased with the results, which will be submitted to a magazine.
I am also about to embark on a Rolfing course as a Rolfee, I have found someone and I have great hopes. I feel I need to be completely realigned, I have postural problems. Rolfing is a technique created by Ida Rolf, you can read more here, not chiropratic nor massage but it involves manipulation of the fascia.

From the shoot with Vanessa Mills

This post is extremely brief, but I promise to write a more substantial one soon enough. It will be about Professor Dawkins whose rhetoric I truly care little about. As a friend of mine says, Dawkins used to be amusing but not anymore. All in good time.

Have a great week!

Monday, 25 August 2014

When he is not that much into you: chasing emotionally unavailable men

Photograher: Natalia Lipchanskaya. Model: me
This post is a sequel to my previous one and to be honest I am not even sure why I am writing about all this, it is quite outside my usual range of topics. But when I started this blog I decided it would be  an opportunity for me to write about what takes my fancy and somehow this has, and in a big way too. I am now trying to bring the different pieces together.
Yesterday, being Sunday, I woke up later than usual, and had breakfast in bed. As I was sipping my coffee I picked up Kennealy-Morrison's tome which came the other day through the post and which I had only managed to skim through prior to writing my earlier post. I had no idea I would end up spending the whole day reading it from cover to cover, watching some video reconstruction of the last day in Morrison's life, apparently dying not in his bath but in a nightclub's toilet, full of heroin, and reading alternative accounts to Kennealy's story, all the while feeling I was going through an emotional roller coaster.
Strange days: my life with and without Jim Morrison is a hardback, and it weighs quite a bit. I am not used to carrying real books around anymore, I have Kindle and iBooks but this one is only available in this format. I had it in the pretty basket I use as handbag for the past few days but never really had a proper chance to sit down and read it until yesterday morning.

Photographer: Elina Pasok
As soon as I dipped into it, I also began to feel very uncomfortable. The story is well written but Ms Kennealy is really at pains to tell us how she wanted Jim Morrison to be when he was with her, rather than how he actually was, and depicting the relationship she dreamt of having with him, rather than what they really had. You just can't stop feeling that she reimagines it all. Her account sounds so contrived, it really is quite unbelievable at times. For example, she goes on and on about Jim Morrison's sexual prowess, according to her they did it all the time, in and out of bed - very much at odds with various reports concerning his impotence, due to his alcohol and drug consumption. According to her he hardly ever drank when he was in her company, which sounds quite far-fetched, the man was addicted to the stuff, I have lived with an alcoholic and I know you just can't stop them from drinking. Maybe he drank behind a curtain and out of sight? She makes him say some very, very corny lines, and maybe he did say those things but tongue in cheek, as he often did in interviews (have you ever heard the one in which he is ravenous and keeps on asking for food and then launches into a 'What's wrong with being fat' which is quite funny). She is also quite obsessed with herself being 'a tall woman' but she says she was some three inches shorter than him. He was 5'11 so she must have been around 5'8 or 5'8.5 which is not short, but hardly very tall. I guess compared to Pam Courson she was tall and leggy and this is what she really means.
Then there is the story of the abortion and that is pretty harrowing because she did not have a quick termination, in the early stages of her pregnancy, she had it at twenty weeks, a saline abortion, so it was  absolutely horrendous. I cried over her account, it is impossible not to. She was twenty four years old at the time, on her own, Morrison, by then twenty six, did not want the baby - there were some twenty paternity suits brought against him, Morrison did sleep with many women - she was too scared to go ahead with the pregnancy. I will not consider here those rumours, voiced through other accounts, that she was not sure it was his, that's why she went ahead with the termination. They seem to be so cruel. I just think the whole thing was a nightmare and I do understand now why she keeps on referring to herself as the mother of Jim Morrison's unborn child because the abortion she had was an induced labour. She even had to sign a death certificate for the dead fetus, which was more or less the size of a lizard. A lizard baby, I guess,  but in saying this I don't want anyone to take it as a jibe, it really is not meant to be so.

Photographer: Nadia Lee Cohen 
Then there is the constant putting down of Pamela Courson, which after a while does get heavy handed - Kennealy comes across as insanely jealous of the affection Jim and Pam shared. Finally, there is the lashing out at Oliver Stone, who according to her misused the information she had given him. Stone makes out that the whole handfasting ceremony was something that Morrison did for kicks, for extra stimulation, even perhaps under the illusion of regaining sexual potency, and never regarded as anything but something he did whilst high. Kennealy truly believed in the sanctity of it. How she managed to persuade him to do it in the short time they were together is a mystery but there you are, he did go through with it. Kennealy's book came out after Stone's film, in which she even had a small role, and is meant to redress the balance. Many people seem to be unhappy about how Stone portrayed them, he took some licence with facts and events but Kennealy, played so brilliantly by Kathleen Quinlan (even Kennealy liked her though she can't help noticing that Quinlan was "several inches shorter than I", has the best lines in the film "Come on rock god f*** me, f***me good" so she should not complain. Overall I think Stone took her quite seriously and turned her into a Yoko Ono kind of figure, which is quite flattering. But Yoko Ono she is not.
Reading the book was a very emotional experience for me. I found myself curled up on my sofa, unable to put the book down and then when it was all over - when the music's over, I should say - I just wondered why I had wasted a whole day reading about a reimagined love affair with a rock star that has been dead so many years, of whom I am not even a proper fan. What is it to me? I could not find any common ground and was annoyed with myself. Only later I understood what it was. There is something about Kennealy that scares me and also touches me deeply and that is her inability to come to terms with the fact that Jim Morrison was not so much into her after some initial genuine interest yet she turned the whole thing into transcendental, immortal love, the stuff of epic romances and hangs on to this till today, several decades later. For all her claims to be independent and able to stand on her own two feet she barely manages to disguise that she was in hot pursuit of Jim Morrison, whom she must have inundated with calls and letters - pre-email days - and stalked around the country. This is something that sometimes happens to the best of women, it is a kind of addiction as bad as alcohol or smack or anything else and something that they will not admit to because admitting it is most mortifying. For Kennealy it was a very f***ed  up rock god, for other women it is a more ordinary, also f***ed up man whom they put on a pedestal and reimagine as a god, but the feelings are just the same. It is the chase for the man who is already attached and/or emotionally unavailable for a host of reasons. He may not necessarily be bad, that's why I dislike the term toxic men. It's just the wrong relationship at the wrong time with the wrong man.

Quinlan and Kilmer as Kennealy and Morrison. Courtesy: Cinematic Passions by Miranda Wilding
Had Kennealy been able to shake the ghost of Jim Morrison off her, her book could have been an amazing read about a decade that has now gone, but which meant so much, a book full of insights, witty and funny, as undoubtedly she sometimes is and can be. Unfortunately, she never did and instead 'wallowed in the mire' (Ok I do know a few Doors songs, soundtrack of my teenage years together with a few others. I was for example a great fan of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground).
 I would recommend this book to any woman  struggling to understand her need to get involved with unavailable men. As Lowe puts it "Dating an emotionally unavailable man is like climbing Everest with your flip flops". It seems to me that this is what Kennealy has attempted to do, had a near-fatal fall in the process and she is still bearing the consequences of that fall.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Love triangles


Photographer: Tony Attew. Model : me

Following my last post about the Lizard King I found myself in a Doors craze and  listened to their songs after a very longtime, as my musical tastes have greatly evolved since my teens - but yes, The Celebration of the Lizard with its haunting drums and its psychedelic lyrics is still my favourite. Just hearing it brought back so many memories! I was shopping in Sainsbury's last Sunday while listening to it through my earphones and for a moment, as Morrison intoned 'Run with me' I really did not know where I was.
Still in this Doors craze, I went online looking for some more information and stumbled on some vitriolic comments about Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. Patricia who? I remembered the film and the whole story about her and Morrison being married through a Celtic handfasting ceremony at her apartment in NYC, a ceremony that, if I recall correctly, she performed herself. That did it. I just had to read more about it and so I checked out her blog which has been dormant for two years now and of course I had to get hold of  her book, and read the various reviews/rebuttals - numerous!
Finally, the book arrived this morning. I have mixed feelings, even though I have only skimmed through it. I may have spent my money unwisely.
Photographer: Tony Attew
But hold on. She is definitely entitled to tell the story of her encounter with Jim Morrison, which apparently was a short lived affair. She calls herself his widow -  please, Ms Kennealy,  join the thousands of groupies and millions of female fans who also felt widowed when they learnt he had died, not to mention his long term girlfriend Pamela Courson who died three years after he did, also of heroin overdose, also supplied by de Breteuil. Pamela Courson inherited Jim Morrison's considerable fortune and after her death her family did, after going to court - so money figures prominently in this rather sordid story of drug abuse, death and will contestation. Ms Kennealy added Morrison to her name but there was no legally binding marriage, only a symbolic one, and one entered somewhat lightheartedly by him, at the time very stoned - at least this is how it comes across in Stone's film. Thus she did not get a penny.
I am not joining the considerable number of people who have engaged in Kennealy-Morrison bashing, and still do, after so many, many years. She comes across as an intelligent woman who desperately wants to be seen as different from other groupies, stressing that Jim Morrison loved her and perhaps he did, perhaps he did not. We were not there with her and Jim, so we can't say as the supporters of "Jim and Pam forever" do that he never felt anything for her. "Jim and Pam forever" is another fiction, anyway.  We are talking about people in the 1960s, in their twenties, who would happily have sex with each other with no sense of guilt or shame, often as a way to connect 'at a deeper level' and often after massive consumption of substances. He was a rock god, so his allure was a given. At least half of the  female population on the planet was in love with him, can you blame Patricia Kennealy for being bowled over?.
As for Jim Morrison: being in a long term (and volatile) intimate relationship with someone as a couple, does not mean that one cannot feel attracted to someone else, not just sexually, but at all levels. Whether you act on this or not is a matter of choice but I would say that for some people commitment does not rest on the idea of exclusivity and certainly in the world of rock and roll in the late 1960s the concept of exclusivity had very little currency. Nor can one say that a love affair of ten days/two weeks cannot be as true and intense as one that is carried over into a relationship of several years. To these people that believe love can be quantified and put on a scale whereby a union that lasts twenty years is evidence of greater love and thus superior to one that lasts twenty days, I ask the simple question: have you ever, really, fallen in love? I have never had a love affair with a rock star, but I know that some of the men I have deeply loved were not men I could have lived with, so we parted ways, often very early on in the relationship, but this does not mean there were no genuine feelings.
Lizard. Google images

Love triangles do exist and there is no need to regard them as shameful nor should we engage in blame finding. We live in a society that privileges monogamy and forces it as the norm. But relationships and the way people feel about each other cannot be pigeon holed that easily.
With this in mind, I can read Patricia Kennealy-Morrison's account of what being with Jim Morrison meant to her without being judgemental of her and her subsequent choices.
And to all those who maintain she ought to have moved on, I can only say this: you and I were not with the Lizard King ever so we don't know what it was like. It's an encounter that marked her for life, but it's not for any of us to pass judgement.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

I am the Lizard King, I can do anything


Photographer: Ben @Ugly/Rage Models. Model: me

I am grateful to Marianne Faithfull's desire for self-promotion as it has given me an opportunity to reassess my fascination with Jim Morrison, who was one of my teen idols, even though by the time I was a teenager he was very much dead and rock was changing into punk. Former rock chick Marianne Faithfull has an album coming out in September and to bring attention to this she could not come up with anything better than announcing that she knew who supplied the heroin overdose that apparently killed Jim Morrison - even though there has been much speculation around the issue of his death. According to Faithfull, it was her former boyfriend drug dealer Jean de Breteuil, who apparently did it.  On the basis of this 'revelation', coming forty three years after Morrison's death, with de Breteuil also conveniently dead, Faithfull has managed to get some renewed attention in the press.
I have never cared much for this woman as a musician/singer/writer, she does not do it for me at all, so perhaps I am a little biased here, starting from the position of utter indifference to her art.  As for her public persona, she has on occasion made inane comments, like the one about Kate Moss - when La Moss was going out with Pete Doherty - trying to copy her and be the new Marianne Faithfull, or that she really knew how L'Wren Scott must have felt, "it could have been me". No one can ever know what drives someone to commit suicide, thank you for your unnecessary insight, Miss Faithfull.

Photographer: Tony Attew. Model: me

But this post is not about Marianne Faithfull, it is about Jim Morrison aka The Lizard King, as he styled himself.

Jim Morrison. Google images

I know he has plenty of detractors, from people that call his poetry sophomoric - perhaps it was - and people who point out that really all he did was to fill himself with drugs and alcohol till he managed to break on through to the other side. By the time he died he was in a terrible shape, only twenty seven years old, the stuff he took had taken a toll on his body, he was bloated and overweight -  he, who had been a sex symbol for so many women, and, I am pretty sure, a lot of men too, the one man who was able to wear leather pants like no heterosexual male ever did or has since. 
What did a great disservice to Jim Morrison was Oliver Stone's film The Doors. Val Kilmer was amazing in it, he really was a very believable Jim, but the whole film is very much Stone's personal vision of who The Doors were and what they stood for.
Ray Manzarek said in an interview that Stone's' film is the anti-Doors, it "makes Jim out to be an alcoholic, drunk weirdo; a strange poet totally out of control and you never see the intellectual side of Jim Morrison. You never see the wit, the charm, the elegance. You never get a sense of the real poet. You see a crazed Jim Morrison." Manzarek knew Morrison very well , so he has a point.
But Stone's portrayal of Morrison  is not meant to be a true biography of him, it is not a documentary, it is a commentary on the second half of the 1960s which The Doors became an icon for and which Stone lived through.  The best part of the film is when Stone shows us a young Jim, living on Venice Beach in 1965, the alternative culture of the times, the nakedness, the desire for freedom and spontaneity, the fascination with Shamanism. Stone is a consummate film maker, who learnt from Scorsese, and has gone on to make excellent movies such as JFK, Natural Born Killers and more. I watched an interview with Stone in which he explains his biopic of Jim Morrison and it really helped me to put it in context. I also watched the film again on DVD late last night and whereas when I first saw it I did not like it, because it countered my very own ideas of who Jim Morrison was and what he meant to me, I was able to appreciate it.


Morrison will always be a bit of an enigma. He was an amazing performer - just listen to the various live performance albums that The Doors made and the quality of his showmanship simply hits your core. He really did give the whole of himself to performing, imagine what it must have been like to be there at one of those live events. Everyone wanted a piece of Jim Morrison, if people could have eaten him alive they would have (and metaphorically they did), there was something really visceral in those encounters between this man and the crowds.
Whenever I think of Jim Morrison I remember The Celebration of the Lizard by which I was totally obsessed when I was sixteen, I used to listen to it again and again. I guess I became fascinated with lizards and their potent alchemical symbolism following Jim's declaration he was the Lizard King!

Augrabie lizard. Google images

But when I think of The Doors, as opposed to only Jim Morrison, I always remember that  incredible film by Francis Ford Coppola which opens with The End (the link here is to footage on VIMEO), Apocalypse now (1979), whose very mention gives me goose pimples. I don't think there could have been a more appropriate choice for the anti-war film par excellence, about the horror that was Vietnam.
Finally, on a very personal note The End was the song I was playing way back on an old tape recorder, in the days when people played tapes and my then four year old, who was in the same room as me, clutching his favourite toy, suddenly said "Well he is naughty, he wants to kill his daddy but what does he want to do to his mummy?" It stopped me in my tracks, he had been listening to the lyrics. And that put me on the spot: how do you explain oedipal urges to your four year old?
I will leave you to ponder.




Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guillem, Maliphant and Push

Guillem and Maliphant in Push, 2014. Photo:Johan Persson

This is not a review in the traditional sense. I am just noting down my thoughts and observations, after watching a great dance performance that deeply moved me. I saw Push on Friday, at the London Coliseum, with Russell Maliphant and Sylvie Guillem, choreographed by Maliphant. I had seen it  when it was premiered in 2005 at Sadler's Wells and at the time I was totally entranced by it. I was a little anxious about this performance, nine years later, with Maliphant now 53 years old and Guillem pushing 50. Will they be up to it, I kept thinking, remembering how physically demanding the piece had seemed to be.
 I need not have worried. They were both fantastic. It goes to show that perhaps dancers should not retire from performing as early as they usually do, still in their thirties. Of course Sylvie Guillem is not an average performer. She has a physicality that cannot be easily matched. As a ballerina she was made ├ętoile of the Paris Opera by Nureyev when she was only 19, an honour that was quite unprecedented. But it was not just her leg extension, her perfectly arched feet, her dazzling pirouettes that made her special - many young dancers have all that. It was her intelligent approach to dance and her expressivity that together with her physical abilities made her who she is. When she stopped dancing the classical repertoire at the end of the eighties she turned to contemporary dance, bringing to it her beautiful classical lines and a deep desire to learn and embody other ways of moving. She did however go back to classical ballet in 2011, when she performed Manon at the Scala - and it was as if she had never stopped.
Maliphant has a classical background, having trained at the Royal Ballet School but turned to contemporary dance early on in his career and soon became known as a gifted choreographer,working together with his partner lighting designer Michael Hulls to create beautifully lit pieces in which light and movement are fully integrated.

Maliphant and Guillem in Push: Photo: Johan Persson

I will not recount the story of how Guillem and Maliphant got together and how she persuaded him to perform with her. When they began working on Push he was in his early forties and had already decided that  he was done with performing. She was obviously very insistent and I am glad she was, because Push is a most beautiful piece and as a dancing couple they are perfectly matched.
It is a duet that is emotional, lyrical, sensuous and technically very demanding, incorporating movements that show their classical inspiration but also movements derived from all the forms which Maliphant has experimented with, including Tai Chi. The fact that both Guillem and Maliphant have so many years of experience as performers and, in Maliphant's case, as dance maker, brings  a beauty and a subtlety that really makes this performance last in your memory for days on. I did not want it to end and hated it when it did, I never found any part of it repetitive, as some reviewers have commented.  I found Push  multilayered and full of complexity. I  loved the technical device of blackouts, with the beginning dance phrase repeated, every time starting  with Guillem seated on Maliphant's shoulders, appearing at different corners of the stage.
With sophisticated lighting by Hull and a soulful score by Andy Cowton, Push is an amazing experience - the other three pieces are too but Push surpasses them all. Catch it while you can, Guillem has announced she will stop dancing next year, once she hits fifty and Maliphant may not be seen dancing again either. I would not want to regard Push as a swansong but it looks all set to be.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Some thoughts about the body

Me and designer Jules Hawkins in an outtake from the shoot for Lux Tenebrae. Photo: Adam Robertson

In our society, and particularly in our western culture, we do have conflicting attitudes to ageing, and  women are most affected. On one hand we are told we should aim to be ageless and look as young as possible by whatever means, often involving plastic surgery, on the other we are recognised as still being able to be productive workwise, so much so that the pensionable age for women has now been raised by several years.
We talk so much about body image and the way we look or should look, but despite the growth of the fitness industry we do not encourage, by and large, a way to engage with our bodies aiming to have  control over our corporeality, especially as we grow older. It is all to do with the way we look  rather than our being embodied.
 There are still misconceptions and much misinformation is touted about the inevitability of losing flexibility and various other body changes as we grow older. I stress the fact that 'inevitable decline' is imagined as a given. I do remember not too long ago an otherwise very good and competent dance teacher making the extraordinary claim that once women give birth they lose flexibility in their lower back, that's why professional female dancers should not have children. I was aghast. I think she was generalising about something that had affected her personally, but she had turned it into a rule maybe to feel better about it. I never found any evidence for such a claim.

The amazing Sylvie Guillem, now 49 and Russell Maliphant, 52, in Push. Photo: Johan Persson

Or worse, a claim by an acquaintance that after the age of fifty, coinciding with the menopause, it is natural for women to put on weight and there is "nothing you can do about it". She was a comfort eater, again finding a justification for her own personal relationship to food by decreeing it was something that simply occurred 'naturally' and to every woman.
I am not saying that the body does not change as we age. It obviously does. But many of the negativity associated with such changes - loss of this or loss of that - are also to do with the fact we do not take sufficient care of our bodies, we do not listen to them and we actually treat them as external objects.
Our bodies have to be exercised very regularly. We take it for granted that it is good practice to shower and brush our teeth, but we do not take it for granted that a sustained exercise programme is what our bodies need. Going to the gym once a week or going to a zumba class also once a week will not do much. We need to set aside at least twenty minutes a day for an exercise routine that involves cardio and stretching.
When my son went to Indonesia to do an advanced training in pencak silat, he joined the Panglipur school in Bandung, West Java. Pencak silat has now become better known outside Asia thanks to the films by Gareth Evans, The Raid and The Raid 2, featuring some spectacular pencak silat moves.


While my son was in Bandung I went to visit him and I was taken on a day trip in the hills to visit the famous Ibu Enni in Garut. She was about ninety at the time. I expected to meet a frail old lady and was absolutely stunned when she glided in gracefully, standing very straight and looking very tall, even though in actual fact she was quite petite. I thought for a moment I had misheard the introduction but no, she was Ibu, or mamih Enni as she was usually addressed as. After having some tea and refreshments she told the boys she wanted to see where they were at with their silat. The boys were my son, a nineteen year old at the time, standing at nearly 6'2 and quite well built, and three other Indonesian young men, also quite sturdy, who had been training since childhood. I was allowed to watch.We all went into the dojo and she started fighting one of the boys then another, then all of them together. I thought I was dreaming when I saw them being defeated by this woman who was able to lunge and jump as if it were the easiest, most natural thing in the world and who could definitely hit. I was absolutely speechless. She proceeded to teach them some moves they obviously had not mastered.

Ibu Enni is a legend in the pencak silat world, not everyone is like her, in fact she was most definitely unique - she passed away in 2011. What I am trying to say is that she was living proof that following an exercise routine  on a daily basis keeps you strong, alert and flexible. Most of all,  that what she practised was body awareness.


We need more body awareness and less body image anxiety in our contemporary world.