I have a friend called Alys, and it really starts with her.
I would like to share an 'experience' I've been facilitating in London for the past year - Liquid Love. This is a unique collective exploration of touch, connection, skin-on-skin contact, and the senses. It involves laying down on a special surface, your whole body covered in olive oil and then slowly exploring the slippery possibilities of interaction in such a space.
The first time I was introduced to this experience, then called Oil Action (I really thought it was a green protest activity), I was taken by my friend Alys to a weekend organised by The Touch & Play Experiment. I had no idea what to expect. Suddenly I found myself laying down on tarpaulin, naked, surround by about 25 other people, with someone walking around pouring warm oil on everyone. I was puzzled and bemused at first, stunned and inspired by the end. I found myself turning to my friend when the session was over, awe-struck: ‘We have GOT to introduce people to this’.
Alys and I found ourselves in the Spanish desert with people from The Touch & Play Experiment, undergoing an apprenticeship in how to run a session. Daniel, who hosted the space we both attended a couple of months earlier, took us under his wing and explained all the various elements and logistics that go into holding a safe space for this uniquely intimate and playful activity.
Cut to a year and a half later:
I've now hosted more than 12 small sessions in a private space in East London, with up to 16 participants in each one, and 10 large sessions in various festivals with up to 45 people. I've held sessions in Spain, UK, France and Switzerland, with more planned in Austria and Italy.
I've poured absurd amounts of olive oil on, by now, hundreds of people. More importantly, I've seen so many beautiful, floaty smiles on faces as they leave the oily space and rejoin the slightly drier world. I've watched people connect, I've seen relationships grow and strengthen and I've heard giggles, so many wonderful giggles.
Lately this work has started taking on a new meaning for me. I started doing this out of pure instinct, an unnamed drive. A need to tell people, 'Hey, there's this incredible experience, which you really must try,' but without knowing why I feel that way. This is not intended as a self-congratulating statement, but I think that creating spaces where people can explore and feel comfortable in a judgement-free way is important. Whilst 2016 was a very lovely year from the perspective of watching Liquid Love grow, for me and many others this has been a dreadful year of global, or at least, Western cultural and political shifts. The ‘post-truth’ trends of trading in fear, promoting insularity, fanning the flames of closed-mindedness, building walls instead of bridges, have been horrifying to watch. When anger and fear are being fed to us every day as a global narrative, we need places of curiosity and smiles, of exploration and appreciation.
Spaces created by the likes of Kinky Salon London, Sparkle Hard, Scared Pleasures, Sex-Positive London, Pleasure Island, and, thankfully, many other in London and elsewhere, allow people to communicate differently with each other. To let down the social guards we've grown up with (this is not always easy).
I remember coming back home after my first time in the oil. Going over the experience in my head I had an odd image. You know those big summits held with the heads of however many countries are involved? The G8, G7, G20 - all the G’s. Imagine if before sitting down to negotiate the way our world is governed, they all took part in a Liquid Love session, they all connected with each other as real human beings. How would that affect their tone, their thoughts, their approach? I'm only ever half-joking when bringing this idea up.
When cycling along the canal once I came across a wonderful sign which articulated what I think we need more of in the world. The sign simply read: ‘DO NOT ENTER! Without a smile or an urge to explore’. Smiling and exploring are our tools in combating fear and hate.
In order to write this I've looked through the sessions held in the last year, and reviewed the feedback from participants. I've decided to close this piece with words from a few people who have attended our small London sessions. Note: these comments are printed anonymously. The contributions come from female-flavoured humans and male-flavoured humans. These comments are the motivation behind this.
To everyone who supported us so far, Much Liquid Love.
“I think that might be the most fun I've ever had as an 'adult'!
Difficult to find the words to express how much of a big deal this was for me, so I'll just say thank you so much to everyone for a life-changing experience! X”
“Thank you for the wonderful experience I had on Sun evening. I am so grateful to everyone that shared it with me and made it so special. It felt mind-blowingly sensual, connected and loving, I think the feelings will stay with me for some time."
"A colleague just commented on how well my skin looked... If only they knew...!"
"It was the highlight of my weekend- thank you so much x"
"Thank you to you all, my first experience with anything remotely like this and I couldn't have enjoyed it better. Today is an absolutely blissful day and it's all because of the moments I shared with you all yesterday."
Liquid Love is a Creative Commons activity.
Photography: Anna Prytkova for Liquid Love