Naked Weird Girls and Glitter: Inside Body-Positive Art Vid '#EmbraceYourself'
Talking to director Kitty Von-Sometime about body image, bravery, and C-Strings in the latest episode of 'The Weird Girls Project.'
Screencaps courtesy of Kitty Von-Sometime and The Weird Girls Project, Photos by Birta Rán
The video below contains adult content.
It began as an experiment in Iceland, replete with neon strips, The Last Supper, electroclash, and, of course, spandex. Nine years later, The Weird Girls Project has grown into a long-standing art-video series with a diehard fanbase, spurred fearlessly forward by its beloved commander-in-chief, the British-born artist and DJ, Kitty Von-Sometime. In 25 episodic music videos, the series globetrots from its birthplace's wintry vistas, to poolsides in Puerto Vallarta, China’s Great Wall, several European cities, and downtown Reykjavik for the UN's International Women’s Day. While the synchronized costuming and choreography of each episode is invariably unique, Von-Sometime’s objective remains the same: empowering both the women involved and the women watching through a visual tribute to female diversity.
The project’s episode "#EmbraceYourself" provides a shining example of the Weird Girls’ message. Ensconced within Von-Sometime’s mirror paneled set, 20 female volunteers—some longtime participants, some slightly nervous newcomers—sway to "Dim The Lights," a witchy track featuring Sia, by Brooklyn-based duo CREEP. Their bodies are boldly bare but their skin glimmers with a thick coating of gold glitter, which radiates against the glassy walls and against each other's sparkling skin. “It’s a very conceptual video piece,” Von-Sometime explains to The Creators Project over Skype. “I’m using their shapes in different ways to try and create landscapes and imagery that is appealing —I wanted it to be more than, ‘Look, here are some curves’; I wanted it to be like, ‘Look how awesome this is!’”
“We put the women in a mirrored set so that they were seeing what they look like,” she continues. “The gold very much glamorizes the entire experience but it does not hide anything, whatever shape you are. If anything, it bounces the light off you, so that it's similar to spandex in that way, in that even if its covering up the skin, it doesn’t really hide stuff. Any shape that you are is shown. I wanted the women to just feel as fabulous as they could, whilst being naked and facing themselves in the mirror.”
Considering Von-Sometime’s established inclination towards spandex suits—i.e. "Episode 2: Spandex Attack"—and a wildly popular precedent for this episode—"Episode 11: Secret Garden"—The Weird Girls Project is anything but averse to this type of aestheticized exposure. In fact, “I wanted to do the ‘naked thing’ almost straight away,” Von-Sometime explains. “But, what I was very aware of, was that if I didn’t know how to use cameras right, it could come across as like tacky, or not as beautiful as I wanted to make it." The director, who now works with a full film crew and a Red Dragon, Iceland's most advanced camera, taught herself the art of filmmaking through what she calls a "very public" education, and started the series using an archaic DV camcorder. "I definitely waited with that until I knew I could do something that wouldn’t just be like an iPhone video," she explains.
In an effort to push both herself and her actresses past emotional and physical boundaries for the episodes, the director herself often dresses up—or down. For #EmbraceYourself, the decision to de-robe was clear: “I wanted to bring the body image concept in because theres been such a shift now in the media about talking about female body shapes and welcoming and all this stuff,” she explains. “But what I thought is lacking is showing everybody. Because theres been a lot of like pro-plus size and then like, ‘should we say, plus size?’ and all of these are very relevant things to talk about[…]like, we are not all the fucking same! That was the thing that was missing still.”
To present this under-represented variety, “I just did what I normally do, which is I just take the girls who are on the waiting list and then I take the ones that have been in it before when its been in Iceland. I had 50 previous and new [actors]. There was no casting to get a certain range of sizes—it's literally as it came off the waiting list. This for me represents all the average group of women that you want to be friends with, or hang out with, or are part of your family, or whatever it is. That was a real push, and thats why I wanted their bodies not hidden."
So how did Von-Sometime accomplish the extravagance of "#EmbraceYourself"? In a few statistics: 4 months of prep-work, 15 hours of filming, 60 people on set, and 29 pounds of golden glitter. As with all of the series, she planned the episode in steadfast secret—with the exception of a few necessary confidantes from her 40 person crew—in order to maintain the rawness of the women’s performance through absolute improvisation. Von-Sometime, in fact, does not tell her actresses anything about her productions until they arrive on set, bearing only their anticipation and the unexplained items off on her prep list.
This episode, as the director describes, came as a bit of a shock: "The thing that freaked them out the most, from the items on the list (and they were like, ‘What the fuck’ and I started to get loads of emails like, ‘Are we going to this?’ ‘Are we going to that?’, and I was like, ‘You know I don’t tell you’), was that they needed to have plastic bags or plastic sheets to put on their car seats when they were going home. And they all imagined that were going to be underwater or something else along those lines. I also said, when they were naked, that they had to be in the state that they ‘feel best’ which includes... Their downstairs area. And they were all, ‘Do I have to have a Brazilian? Will you be filming our vaginas?’ and I was like, ‘No, I just want you to feel as good as you can, as if you were on a date.’ I eventually had to send them all this illustrated guide to hair cutting for your pubes region, saying like, ‘I’m going to be like this one for the shoot. But don’t freak out, there will be no vagina shots.’”
As it turns out, this information hit home with many of the participants: “There were some women that had very bad body conscious issues," Von-Sometime explains. "I always interview everybody before they’re part of the project—not to say that they can or can’t be in it—but so I know on set which women are conscious of what aspect of [their bodies]. Some of them are just shy in general, some of them have body problems, some of them are dealing with stepping out of the boundaries, some of them are going through a divorce that went bad… whatever it is. And it helps me keep an eye on specific people in the room and make sure they’re not hiding, to push them that extra bit. And there were quite a few that I knew were going to be really really freaked out by this level of body.”
When the women arrived on the chosen location—“this immense warehouse in a suburb here that a film guy kind of owns”—they filed inside Von-Sometime’s self-designed set, built by the manager of her artist space Ingó Eglis and carpeted with four tons of black sand, reflecting darkly in its mirrored walls. The girls then gathered together to meet their director, who began to brief them for the shoot. “I’ve got a behind-the-scenes video, which is being edited, which is like a mini-documentary, and it shows the reaction when I said, ‘and your costume is here’ and whip it out of my back pocket and its a paper C-String and they were all like—the women’s faces—like, ‘What? Are you fucking kidding me?’”
With latex on hands, feet, and just about everywhere else, the C-Strings securely in place, the women readied themselves as #EmbraceYourself’s 21-strong makeup team, co-administered by artists Nenita Aguilar and Ástrós Erla Benediktsdóttir, set to work. The solution they applied to the girls was a hodgepodge of scrounged material, tested by Von-Sometime for appearance as well as resilience—black paint, hair gel, and obscene amounts of glitter. “And I had the really clever idea of using wet sand on set, so as soon as they touched the wet sand then the glitter would come off and they would have to be retouched,” the director says, adding, “I mean, [the makeup artists] deserve medals because it was constant retouching.”
After hours of strenuous filming (“It was really fucking hard,” Von-Sometime admits, “and lets just say I’m not going to be attempting this again any time soon"), cinematographer Hakon Sverrisson finally set down his camera and the women relaxed, exhausted and silently dripping gold. Edited by Gunnar B. Gudbjornsson and graded with VFX by Michael Todd, the final film appears oblivious to the time, energy, and cost spent on the part of the crew, actresses, and especially Von-Sometime. Instead, it emanates with effortless composure as each of the participants bravely celebrates her body—insecurities and vanities, alike—before the camera. As Von-Sometime describes, “the number of different forms that are on this shoot [is crazy] and they’re dressed in gold, and they are all the same, but they’re also all different, and they’re all fucking gorgeous."
With her newest glorious spectacle already buzzing across keyboards, and a documentary highlighting The Weird Girls Project entitled I Want to be Weird scheduled for release this fall, Von-Sometime emphasizes her aspirations for a wider recognition of her courageous collaborators and their honest performances. Ultimately, she concludes, "I just am very proud of all the women who took a part in this."
Click here to watch more episodes from Kitty Von-Sometime and The Weird Girls Project.