B2 Gallery 1982.
NEO-NATURISTS SUMMER SEASON: The Neo Naturists lived in the B2 Gallery for 5 days, sleeping in the middle of the gallery space on a large roped off bed, a 24 hour live-in installation featuring Christine Binnie, Jen Binnie, Wilma Johnson, Grayson Perry, Mimi Tin Maung with Dencil Williams, William Coley Moore, Jimmy Trindy, Paula Haughney, Helen Terry, Eilis O'Neil, Nico Holah, Mike D'eath, Bruce Lacey . Paintings by Jen Binnie and Wilma Johnson decorated the space
Everyone tells you when you leave college you have to adjust to the real world. When I left St. Martins I went straight into for my first real world experience – a week long live-in installation at the B2 Gallery in the warehouse on the river in Wapping.
The plan was to live in the gallery for 5 days as a 24 hour exhibition, Jennifer Binnie and I hung huge unstretched canvases depicting ‘Neo Naturist Utopia’ on the walls and we put a roped off bed in the middle of the room, big enough to accomodate 15 Neo Naturist – although I won’t pretend it was comfy….
Every day had a different theme, Art Day, Fashion Day, Macbeth Day, Black Day and Punk Day. We painted ourselves to go with the theme and did performances every day, and the themes also seemed to affect everyones mood….. fashion day was all air kisses and posing, ending up with a catwalk show with painted-on clothes and a lot of drag queens and drama queens.
On Macbeth day we gathered thistles and trees from the wasteland behind the gallery , everyone wanted to be a witch, so there were seven witches, and Grayson was Birnam wood, covered in foliage bodypaint and porridge.
By this time I was getting very tired , I remember getting up at sunrise, with no hope of sleep in the communal mattress crowded with strange painted bodies. I sat on the balcony looking out over the river, my Monet moment slightly spoiled by tattooed warehouse men downstairs singing along to Radio 1 ‘Abracadabra I wanna reach out and grab ya’ as the heaved crates of barges .
Real life was getting pretty surreal.
On day four everyone vanished, even David Dawson the gallery owner who lived there. Our first visitors were my fans from the Prospect of Whitby pub next door. I was under no illusions that these guys were interested in feminist performance art, I was like Page Three Girl on acid for them. But in the interests of the common good, I felt obliged to ignore the fact that they were missing the point, and accept their gifts of pints of Guinness and Cornish pasties. We were running out of money by this time - we’d spent the last of the budget on cider and unappetising selection of bones for the Worzel Gummidge BBQ which was the days performance.
Then the police popped by to say local residents had complained about Wapping being invaded by our painted tribe. We agreed that we would only do open air performances on the stretch of beach between high and low tide lines- a no-man’s land controlled neither by river police or the Met, making it a Dickensian refuge for outlaws and performance artists.
We made a fire and ate the charred bones, black pudding and black bread, in black bodypaint in the mud. Bruce Lacey came, and a man who was beachcombing for clay pipes in the mud stopped for a drink. It was very calm and quiet, just the core Neo Naturists pic-nicking on the beach. A zen moment in the chaos.
The next day things cranked up again, the theme of the day affected evryones mood, and punk day was wild and angry, all teenage angst, nihilism, and cider.
We went for a last drink in the Prospect of Whitby, where a party of tourists from Dallas were enjoying a tour of the East End. They were pretty excited when Boy George walked in with a group of women wearing nothing but painted on fishnets and anarchist symbols and got out their cameras…..I hope somewhere in Texas there’s a photo in an album capturing this slice of typical cockney life.
Wilma Johnson 2016