(…and walking, talking, visiting art galleries, cleaning beaches…)
‘At Eastbourne Naturist Swim Club we recently celebrated our 35th birthday. Naturism has changed a lot in that time. People seem less interested in the club spirit for many reasons and we have been reaching out to attract new members. Having a good spread of events seems key,’ says Philip Baker
The Eastbourne Naturist weekend
What started with an idea for an interesting afternoon turned into a full-on weekend in August. We’d read about the successful visit by the Association des Naturistes de Paris to the Palais de Tokyo gallery, and approached the local Towner gallery to arrange a group visit. To boost attendance, we decided to offer more reasons to spend the weekend in sunny Eastbourne, and so we organised a walk, a visit to a wellness centre and a day on the beach.
Hardy naturists arrived at the foot of the South Downs between Eastbourne and Lewes in the face of an uncertain weather forecast. Casting off our clothes immediately we set off uphill; the sun shone briefly and all seemed well. We passed the Long Man of Wilmington, apparently always missing a vital appendage, whose origins are unknown. Appearing on a Roman coin of 400 A.D. we like to think he is prehistoric and a symbol of our connection to nature and the landscape.
We climbed quickly up the chalk escarpment as the rain began, and on the top of the Downs even the sheep had run for cover as the winds increased to a rumoured 40 mph. Plastic waterproofs were donned, with hood, to ameliorate the blustery conditions. As the rain eased we met first a walking group of about 25 people – what were these mad people doing out in these conditions we said! Using our new policy we did not don our shorts, but exchanged merry ‘Hellos’.
On Saturday morning the air was chill, but it was fine and sunny with a clear blue sky. Twenty-two of us met up at a local wellbeing centre that has just started up, for a wild swim, hot tub and naturist lunch. This idyllic setting at the rear of a commercial business has its own man-made lake crafted as a giant bowl and clay lined, being six meters deep at the centre. Full of wild life – fish swimming with us and damsel flies darting about with swifts diving round and about made us feel part of the natural world and far from the consumer lifestyle going on just a few yards away.
Leaving there we set out for the charms of Eastbourne and the Towner modern art gallery. The gallery staff made us most welcome, treating us as ‘normal’ people with no fuss or bother. Indeed one member of staff was permitted to join us in the nude – as long as he retained his Towner neck band.
We were also joined by a writer from artnet.com who initially had asked just for a quote for a story but didn’t hesitate when invited to attend and she stripped and then wrote in the first person about her own nude gallery experience. For several members of our group, who travelled from as far afield as Milton Keynes, they were naked in public for the very first time and for others it was their first time in an art gallery and all enjoyed the unique experience.
This event showed the value of getting out into the public domain and demonstrating the ordinariness of being naked. The gallery found no need to cover the huge glass windows and we were perusing the gallery shop while unconcerned passers-by walked outside in plain view just the other side of the glass.
On Sunday it was our 2nd annual beach day at Norman’s Bay beach between Pevensey and Bexhill. Bexhill was the first south coast beach to permit mixed bathing in 1901 – racy huh! Normans’ Bay beach has been used by naturists for over 30 years and is a rare find these days as it has no urban sprawl behind it. Of course, as is our usual lot, it has no facilities – even the car park is closed – but it is best quality shingle! I lost count at 18 people who ignored the forecast and the roadworks to turn up.
Inspired by BN’s campaign ‘Just One Person’, two good friends Keith Hillier-Palmer, Alan Peill and I started giving what has turned out to be a series of talks at clubs that are based on the TED format. TED talks are a platform giving speakers who are passionate about their subjects a way to convey ideas to a receptive audience in a short talk. TED’s Chris Anderson has said ‘The key part of the TED format is that we have humans connecting to humans in a direct and almost vulnerable way. You are on stage naked, so to speak.’ So we decided to take this literally!
We started talking last year when we discovered a local club called the Bavard (French for a chatterbox) Bar. We were then introduced to Dr David Bramwell, an accomplished speaker himself, who invited us to the Catalyst Club in Brighton. Having agreed a clothing optional arrangement, we were able to be free of clothes for all the three talks that evening. Our naturist party sat all together on the stage area and so inadvertently created a divide between the naked and the rest of the audience.
The Speakeasy Conversation Club in Worthing takes place in a basement owned by the non-profit Cellar Arts Club. It is a cosy 35 seat space with an integral bar, where as a speaker there you can almost touch the audience. We included in our talk our real experiences and the audience remained encouragingly attentive. Afterwards we had some great questions. There was great interest in what we had to say about the legal position and the current attitude of the police. We chatted to a lady who said that her daughter would probably love naturism and her advice to us was to keep plugging away with the talks to raise awareness of modern naturism and that we would be bound to attract new people and change people’s attitudes.
The Jerwood Gallery
Following our success at the Towner, we secured another nude gallery visit, this time at Hastings’ Jerwood gallery in September. The prime attraction was Henry Krokatsis’ SaunaKabin and being a working sauna members of the public could use it at certain times. I had contacted the Jerwood and explained that our group preferred the continental way of using a sauna – that is to be naked as wearing clothes seems senseless. So it was soon arranged that we would visit the whole gallery as naturists – save that sandals needed to be worn in the sauna!
In common with other works by the artist, the sauna cabin was raised off the ground and appeared to be magically floating in the courtyard. It seemed appropriate that this illusion added something more spiritual to the mundane routine of stripping off our clothes and cleansing ourselves. By providing a cold courtyard shower the artist also wanted the normally private activity of bathing to be brought into a public space. Kroksatsis is renowned for using reclaimed materials in his art. This also resonated with our group, as naturists are often keen environmentalists. Indeed, the day before, the Eastbourne group took part in the Marine Conservation Societies’ Great British BeachClean event at a local beach.
The other focus of our visit was Mark Wallinger’s gallery ‘A Human Figure in Space’ with mirrors that turn the visitors into the exhibit. It was an interesting take on the craze for selfie photographs, seeing yourself as a human among many, rather than unseen and separate.
With the photographer David Owens, a small group of us set about recreating the work of the Victorian photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who investigated movement in humans and animals. He captured some great pictures in spite of the poor light. I am delighted that the manager has also asked us to return to show them some of the pictures we took.
Finally (for this article, at least) we arranged a naked sound healing session. I simply emailed the the teacher, Carolina and asked if we could have a session and be naked. I sent her some links to Eastbourne Herald article and to our website. We were a group of seven, so it was not so difficult to organise.
Carolina’s classes are also not usually done nude – the picture on the website shows people covered in blankets looking rather like mummies! The central idea of sound therapy is that the organs of the body (associated to chakras) are responsive to sound of particular frequencies.
Lying naked, eyes closed in a small room with good friends in a warm environment was immediately calming. The sound proofing of the studio removed all external sounds and peace descended. A complex range of sounds emanated from Carolina’s crystal bowls and tuning forks, seemingly omnidirectional. Whilst the tuning forks give out a crystal clear icy sound, the pulsating, room-filling hum from the bowls – each of which generates a different frequency and related harmonics was a revelation. From now on I shall be discarding my headphones and listening to music through the sound waves from my tall loudspeakers and I shall be listening in a state of nakedness! Further naked sound healing sessions are planned.