London Festival of the Art of Japanese Bondage 2010
The first two days
The past few weeks leading up to the London Festival of the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage were a whirlwind. Little did I know that my call, two short months ago, to Garry Vanderhorne, owner of Resistance Gallery, would lead to such an amazing event. I only asked about the possibility of putting on a low-key night with a couple of bondage shows but, before I knew it, I was swept along by Garry’s contagious enthusiasm into making a weekend of it and, from there, somehow into a 4-day festival. Maybe, my naivety about organizing something on this scale in such a time-frame was a blessing, otherwise I’m sure I would not have thought it possible. Luckily, Garry, Nawashi Murakawa and I formed the perfect team with complimentary skills and had fantastic support from many quarters. Huge thanks go out to everyone who made it what it was!
On the evening of Thursday 25, we eased the Festival off to a gentle start with Nawashi Murakawa’s Salon of Kinbaku, a life drawing and photography session. Under his direction, the venue had been transformed from a somewhat austere industrial unit into a magical and mysterious world with drapes, rope, bamboo and an array of Japanese curios; the Far East in the heart of the East End. Every inch of available wall space was covered in bondage inspired art and photography: Watercolours, sculpture, personal photos of Akechi Denki’s work and Yoshitoshi’s “The Lonely House on Adachi Moor” taking pride of place.
Before long, Murakawa had handed out drawing materials and was busy creating a very traditional scene with a kimono-clad model in white Geisha-style make-up, complete with live shamisen accompaniment. He captured the Japanese aesthetic perfectly and proved once again that he is one of the few Westerners who have grasped the technique of ‘messy rope’. As you’ll see, being the gentleman he is, he did the only decent thing possible when confronted with the difficult choice of two beautiful models, he bound them both together, of course. This session proved so popular that we had to implement ‘Plan B’, which involved me doing a separate newaza session upstairs for the photographers to relieve the pressure. Fortunately, Tigerlily is enough to distract even the most seasoned photographer and, being a confirmed rope-slut, is unusually expressive, so was ideal for this genre. It was long before I got a few volunteers to takeover, including Marc and Jesss. Based on the enthusiastic feedback, it looks like we shall be running the Salon on a regular basis.
Friday was the official opening of the arts exhibition and would be the barometer by which we could gauge what attendance we could expect. The gallery started to fill up as soon as the doors opened and, before long, we were worrying about being a victim of our own success as the place had never been so full before. Until now, bondage has been largely kept within the kink community so was it was gratifying to see such a diverse mix of people: some who had never seen bondage, never mind shibari; tiers of every level; artists; sculptors; photographers; videographers; writers, yet not a hint of the less savoury element that some erotic events attract. I’m sure many interesting synergies and collaborations will come out of these meetings. One example of this already happening was the video installation by Manuel Vason shown on the night. Manuel and I created a video loop where Simona, a trained ballerina and the lead singer of Maleficent, was suspended and slowly rotated whilst being sprayed with a sequence of coloured paints from white to red to black. Some of you might already have seen Manuel’s work, the zentai bondage shoot featuring October that I have been proudly posting everywhere. He hung a previously unpublished image, in ropes, from this series of October, in a beautifully contorted pose, with an almost three dimensional look, which is his favourite and now mine.
As the scheduled shows were running late, we opened with an impromptu performance by Mark and Jess of BeShibari, Belgium. These two are pros! In spite of being hustled on stage without warning and being half-dead on their feet after a late night and early start, they put on a spectacular suspension show which tested Jesss’ lithe body to its limits and just oozed chemistry. It was a great introduction for the many ‘shibari virgins’ in the audience, who were left hungry for more.
As my partner, Electric Fairie, never misses the chance to wear a kimono, we followed on with a Japanese-themed show and a classic yoko-zuri with a transition to suspension by one bent leg. This routine was one I picked up from Osada Steve on my recent visit, but, I hasten to add, nowhere near as well-executed. The tenugui blindfold had added another dimension to the experience for EF as evidenced by her expression afterwards and the dreamily murmured comment “I could have stayed up there forever…”. In the final act of the evening, Shadow kept true to the Festival’s mission statement of bringing shibari into the realm of performance art by combining, appropriately for her name, Japanese shadow puppetry and rope. Her show opened with ghostly shapes on a white screen which she tore apart to reveal a spectacular vision in red: red drapes, red rope and crimson hair in an elegant self-suspension, which has now become her trademark. Throughout the performances, the whole crowd had been riveted with viewing space at a premium, even on the stairs and mezzanine. It wasn’t until nearly closing time that the crowds began to thin out. If there was one thing everyone seemed unanimous about was that the atmosphere was amazing. By halfway through the evening, it was obvious we had struck a c(h)ord; Garry and I looked at each one another and high-fived, knowing that this was the birth of what is destined to be a significant and growing annual event… with two days still to go.
Picture by Patrick Siboni
Saturday afternoon: Workshops
Saturday afternoon kicked off to a busy start with nearly twice as many attendees for the workshops as we had expected. We had planned to hold the workshops on the mezzanine and have the downstairs as a bondage dojo, where people could practice and get advice from the more experienced. However, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be possible due to the numbers, so we reverted to our contingency plan of swapping and using the much larger downstairs area.
As one of the organisers, I was flitting here and there attending to various details so I wasn’t able to spend much time at all the workshops. Sadly, I missed most of the secrets of how Rod Macdonald creates his fantastic bondage images. I’d certainly liked to have picked up some more of his ‘tricks of the trade’. As a mere Photoshop dabbler, I found his second session on editing and manipulating images fascinating and very informative. It
has certainly given me an insight into the mysteries of Photoshop and inspired me to delve deeper into the image options.
We were very fortunate to have Zamil, one of the West’s top kinbaku artists trained by Osada Steve, hosting a workshop on Speed Bondage. You might think this would be merely about applying lightening quick bondage, but you’d be wrong. The secret of Zamil’s fast and fluid style is ergonomics. He demonstrated how each movement can be honed for minimum effort and maximum effect. This is something that you never learn from tutorial material and can usually only learn from years of experience.
This lead on very neatly to my ‘Tying people not parcels’ piece, which combined some of these methods with tips on communicating with rope. I have heard a number of bondage masters say “the rope is an extension of my hands”. In other words, they use the rope to make love, exert dominance or to communicate what they want, rather than use it as merely a tool of restraint. It can be applied tenderly, deliberately, harshly, teasingly or in a controlling manner. The sultry, Roxanne, was the perfect model as she responded visibly to every nuance of the rope, leaving little doubt as to the effectiveness of these techniques.
Ellie the Nomad showed everyone something new with her ‘peg bondage’. She has invented an unique and very innovative way of creating ‘fast on, fast off’ bondage using
short bamboo pegs about as thick as a pencil. One use she showed was where a peg forms a convenient wrapping point for a chest harness; yet with one yank of the peg, it falls open like a parachute bag! She even had a solution to the age old problem of wrist suspension by incorporating a peg as a hand grip. Even as an old dog, I have to admit to learning quite a few new tricks.
Due to the unexpected numbers, I held a couple of impromptu sessions on basic ties. Judging by the number of complete beginners, many inspired for the first time by the festival, this is something we will expand next year.
Saturday evening: The Party
After the afternoon workshops, the gallery closed for a few hours to allow it to be prepared for the big party; also for everyone to grab a bite to eat and get dressed up for the night. As soon as the doors opened at 10, the place began to fill up quickly as kimonoed girls wafted around with trays of sake and tempting Japanese snacks. First on stage was EVie, as Empress Victoria is known to her friends, with her ‘pretty boy’ model in full make-up and both of them in kimonos. You wouldn’t have guessed she has been neglecting her rope for so long since she retired from pro-domming, it must one of those things you don’t forget like riding a bicycle.
From thence forward, the shows came thick and fast. Mark from Belgium followed on, with Jesss looking very lithe in a minute black thong and matching kinky boots. Before long, it was obvious just how flexible she was as he put her through a demanding and beautifully executed suspension.
Shadow, another Belgian rope artist, was next up with a performance art piece combining butoh, Japan’s latest avante garde dance style, with her specialisation self-suspension. With red hair and G-string, and coincidentally echoing the clothing of the unfortunate victim in the Lonely House on Adachi Moor in the background, and using matching rope, she created a powerful image; dramatically ending her suspension by cutting the ropes and dropping to the stage. This was bondage performance art in the sprit of the festival at its finest.
I have long admired Zamil’s work and pleased that I was able to persuade him to fly over from Berlin to perform. Unfortunately, he was without a model so part of the enticement was the provision of a suitable candidate. So, I made him an offer he could not refuse: Roxanne, a French girl who loves hard rope sessions and redefines the term sultry. This proved to be an excellent pairing with delightful chemistry and mischievous sexuality. Zamil lift into a side suspension was nothing short of breath-taking, not only to watch but also very obviously for Roxanne.
Nawa Koneko and Tigerlily engaged in a wonderfully playful and feisty session, proving that rope does not have to be the serious business it appears to be in Japan, in spite of his standard issue ‘nawashi sunglasses’ and black clothing. After all, if one isn’t having fun, what’s the point?
It was time for Electric Fairy and I to take the stage. Normally, I don’t experience any performance anxiety but the bar had already been set very high, so I was wondering how to follow these acts. I decided that I would try, for the first time, a final transition into the fumo-tsuri (suspension by a single bent leg) that I had learned during my most recent
Osada Steve lessons. A little more messy than I would have liked but a fitting ending to a face paced session.
Ellie the Nomad’s performance by contrast exuded a much gentler and unassuming energy, more akin to some of the sessions one sees by the Japanese masters. Like Nawashi Murakawa, she preferred the quieter and more personal space away from the main stage and the bright lights for an unusual low level suspension featuring her trademark bamboo pegs.
Murakawa later used the same area for a hot kinbaku meets secretary bondage and wet T-shirt night session. His model, in classic secretary wear from which her very obvious assets were literally bursting, was soon trussed up in classic Japanese style and glistening from frequent dousings. A perfect blend of East meets West. This is one man that you cannot criticise for adopting the title of nawashi.
Due to wearing many hats at this event, I missed the two dual-model shows by Alberto from Spain and Rod Macdondald. Rod’s models were a delightful contrast. BoyKitten, pale and androgynous and Anansie, dark and sensual, yet both sporting less hair than I. Judging by the photos, they certainly seemed to enjoy each others company. The finale to the evening was Alberto’s show complete with his own musicians. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos to go on but having seen him at play before, I know he can certainly put
his ladies through their paces.
The night was certainly not just about watching shows, although for much of the evening every available viewing point was occupied. The outside smoking area was the equivalent of the ubiquitous ‘kitchen at parties’ and was a buzzing the whole night. I seem to recall that the open-air suspension frame saw a lot of action that night with a constant stream of
deliciously bound naked flesh.
Although not obviously a hard drinking crowd, we had to send out for emergency beer supplies after the Asahi suffered heavy early casualties, as did the various Japanese snacks. Next time we will lay on more substantial food and serious stock-piles of beer.
The mezzanine provided a quieter area with a good supply of comfy chairs and some floor space for a spot of rope play. Neither opportunity seemed to be passed up and this proved to be a popular oasis of calm.
We had planned to close at 4am but the party was still going strong, so we didn’t like to spoil it. It was well after 5am before we finally herded out the last stragglers. We had another day to cope with and there had been very little rest for the wicked.
By this stage, we were all extremely happy by the way things had gone, if a little shell-shocked and sleep deprived. The chilled out theme of talks, demonstrations, therapies and films was just what everyone needed, especially those who had been partying hard the night before. Some presentations, such as the kimono tying demonstration, were slightly more formal, whilst others were chatty and conversational with a lot of audience input like Murakawa’s talk on Japanese culture. It was fascinating to discover the subtle codes of kimono-wearing, how the placement of the obi knot or collar denoted age and that the more layers, the sexier it was considered.
The day certainly achieved the objective of ‘fun and learning, with all of us gaining some intriguing insights into Japanese culture. By popular demand, I found another opportunity to show some basic tying skills as we had so many newcomers hungry for knowledge. Although by that stage, I will confess I was envying those relaxing with a shiatsu massage. Before we knew it, it was time to put the movies on. After a few hiccups with the audio, we managed to get the projector running and we could sit back, heave a huge sigh of relief and finally relax ourselves for a while to watch the grand-masters at work.
So, as the dust settled on a triumphant event, the question on everyone’s lips was “When is the next one?” Well, the plan is to hold second festival over the last weekend of April, taking in the May Bank Holiday Monday. This means we have four times as long to prepare, so here’s hoping it will be four times as good.
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