By the time the Sacred Naked Nature Girls brought their all nude show to Highways in Santa Monica, they were wrapped in wild stories about how, in other locales, irate feminists and horny fellows had joined forces to recast their work as pornography. The gals wanted to censure them—the guys wanted to jack off in front of them as applause. I went to see what all the ruckus was about and witnessed a rare instance of decidedly female energies melded together in a serenely powerful force. New Age neo-primitivists scoot over—here’s another spin on the body and the sacred. Their nudity wasn’t there to shock or offend, it was symbolic of their collective will to break down the barriers of the social and turn emotional vulnerability and personal memory into poetry.
Sacred Naked Nature Girls’ performance piece grew out of improvisational techniques they developed to explore what they call “flesh memory.” An intentionally sketchy script gives free reign to their intuitive and spontaneous method. They work through their views of how women’s bodies are codified in our society, and their use of fantasy to respond to and subvert such strictures. Skits are thematically organized around the pleasures and dangers associated with women’s bodies; they deal with exhibitionism and camp, erotica and violence, interracial sex, and female centered reverence for the body. Their idea, as they themselves put it, is “to create dreamscapes, juxtaposing reality, sensory elements, fantasies, body journeys and unexpressed consciousness.”
For the most part from theatrical backgrounds, the group consists of: Laura Meyers, Danielle Brazell, Denise Uyehara, and Akilah Oliver.
Coco Fusco Had you ever performed naked before working with each other?
Akilah Oliver One of the techniques we developed was working from flesh memory.
Danielle Brazell When I started working with Akilah, I was able to find a magic and a spontaneity on stage that I had not felt in any other situation I had been in in the past.
CF How did you decide to work together?
DB Besides sleeping with each other? (laughter)
Denise Uyehara We had worked a couple of times in the studio and then decided to work out in nature. We went to Azuma Beach.
Laura Meyers We went over to an isolated area and spontaneously disrobed and went into the waves and started doing mirror exercises in pairs and then in a group in a circle. And it was very magical because it happened so spontaneously, suddenly we were nude and you couldn’t tell what year it was, what century. That was our first performance. When we turned around there was a smattering of people.
AO And a guy kayaking.
DB The men came up over the hill, appeared out of nowhere.
CF Let me get to the male reaction to your show that came out of these “flesh memories” because those reactions have, to an extent, transformed the work, or at least the original intent. What did you make of the reactions of some men, for instance the ones who wanted to masturbate in front of you, responding to you as if you weren’t there, as if the performance were a porn movie?
LM The development of the piece has been influenced by both male and female reactions.
DU Our experience in discussion is that we’re always drawn straight to the men’s reaction. I’d actually like to talk about what we do before we even thought about the male reaction, because so often when people see the end product they say, “How did you deal with those masturbators?”
LM Over the course of the performance we have learned how to take care of ourselves and how to deal with our audience.
DU One man came up to me after the first series of performances we did at Highways and said, “I’ve never seen a woman move before, I’ve never seen a woman squat or sweat.” He said, “I’ve made love to them, but I’ve made love to them in the dark. They’ve always been an object, this thing. For the first time in my life I’ve been able to see five women move in very beautiful ways, in very harsh ways . . . when you slap your body your body swells. Your body is an organism, you’re alive.”
CF Certain theories of performance maintain that there is a transformative process when a performance takes place in front of an audience. What about the women’s response to your work?
DU It has been very positive. Our piece has some pretty intense moments. We do a piece dealing with rape and rape fantasies. In the second set of performances we did a scene in total darkness. We wanted to create a safe place to empower the women in the audience to speak, to howl, scream, cry out if they wanted to. And the men would not let the women speak. We said we wanted to wait ‘til a woman spoke and there was some silence, and finally some women did.
LM The women were saying that it was not a safe place. And so we said, well come down on stage with us. There were 130 people crowded into a space seated for a hundred and it was 12:30 at night. The men started to get enraged. Four or five of the women came down to the stage. In Boulder there were a couple of women who left very upset after the rape/rape fantasy piece. We were coming in and opening wounds.
CF There are certain schools of feminism that say: Look, there’s no way to deal with sexuality and violent sexuality and violation that isn’t to a certain extent catering to the desire to see women be violated. Therefore, women who are feminists should not represent rape in their work. There are other positions which assert that sexuality is about acting out, it’s better for these things to happen in the realm of the imagination than for them to be suppressed which creates even more desire for them to happen in real life.
DU The rape story evolved out of group improvisations and the associations we each made listening to one another. Danielle was talking about a scenario—going to the beach on a beautiful day and her fear about being raped. And when she did act out the fear as an exercise—she’s talking and telling the story, I was amazed that certain key words she was saying brought up erotic pangs in me. That was very, very scary and made me feel guilty. And I said, let me try to do a simultaneous monologue with you about an erotic situation with similar key things going on. It’s a beautiful day, I go to the beach, and then a man takes me by surprise and instead of rape it’s more like a fuck and we have mad erotic passion. There’s this standard thing that rape is a violation and erotica is when you’re in control and you can do whatever the fuck you want because it’s your fantasy. Danielle was working on a place of fear in rape, while I went into heavy erotica and then pulled myself back and thought wait a minute, what am I doing? If I were raped, how would I ever be able to feel erotic again?
CF At one point I noticed that your bodies seemed synchronized as if to illustrate how fine the line is between pain and pleasure.
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