2018, Mandrake-Apple of Love

Mandrake-the Apple of Love

performance in 3 actes by Iris Brosch text Edward Peacock

Is it Poison, Is it Love?

I can’t remember the last time I saw this many naked bodies in a London hotel. Oh, hold on, it’s coming back... On this sunny day, Iris Brosch’s art residency at the Mandrake hotel in Fitzrovia is culminating in an opulent hour-long performance piece. Taking the Garden of Eden as its central theme, a dozen or so lithe young models, nude or else garlanded in fabric, fruit and fig leaves, gracefully progress and intermingle in the hotel’s verdant atrium. Here an Indian odalisque with a python, there an over-scale hand sculpted by Bushra Fakhoury preserves modesty.

There is a harpist to charm us, and the Mandrake’s resident sound therapist, Slavomir Latko, chimes with Tibetan gongs and bowls. A tenor strips and sings – the audience wonders for a split second if he’s hijacked the show, the first ever streaker to interrupt a naked event perhaps, but his voice reassures us that all is well. Towards the close, German singer Levina provides the perfect lyric for the day: ‘Is it Poison, Is it Love?’

the bath

Draped in white, like a high priestess or sorceress, Brosch gently orchestrates the players. With curtains of trailing jasmine and passionflower, and sharply divided into sun and shade, Jumera terrace on such a brilliant day provides the perfect chiaroscuro backdrop to the cornucopia of sensuality being served up. Perfect, too, are the highly tempting flower-strewn cocktail

The cast is multi-ethnic, ambiguously gendered, seemingly polyamorous and otherwise defying categorisation – even the snakes seem to be of different races. It is a living tapestry, a spectacle at once uplifting, liberating and beguiling. Couples and grouping form and break, movement is sedate and energy shifts with each gesture. The performance follows a private blessing ceremony and spiritual cleansing of the boutique property, with Gail Love Schock, and rounds off Brosch’s June residency. This saw her create her latest set of tableau vivant photographs in the Mandrake’s suites and spaces, following on from series last year at the Venice Biennale and in Wittenberg, commemorating 500 years of the Reformation.

ADAM and EVE after JAN GOSSAERT ca 1507-1508

Her work explores societal attitudes to nakedness, and the fears and nervousness that surround our natural state. ‘I think it’s really strange that we as human beings are supposed to be so developed – able to go to the moon, creating all kinds of technology – but we are not allowed to show the beauty of our own bodies.’ Brosch explains,‘I believe that we are manipulated by being bombarded by images of terror and cruelty to keep us small and our minds full of fear. Giving ourselves the freedom of expression of self – including the nude body – would make us feel stronger and less amenable to control. 

Whatever our social, racial or cultural background, we are all given our body – it is a kind of truly democratic tool that we all possess,’ she continues, ‘everyone has this freedom, but how do we use it?’

The influence of old master painting is clear. ‘If you look at all the old Garden of Eden paintings of the Renaissance and you see Adam and Eve naked, nobody now would say, shocked “oh they’re naked,” yet today, half a millennium later, we’re still so backward when it comes to our own bodies.’ 

Adam and Eve being the original story, of course, anyone who was anyone on either side of the Alps, from Cranach to Michelangelo, Gossaert to Masaccio, has had a crack at the Garden of Eden. 


Though, of course, not quite so many women historically. Brosch’s feminism and femininity are key to her work, and her subjects are not simply bodies to be directed, but individuals who are gently guided and allowed to express themselves: ‘Femininity is a great tool,’ she explains, ‘I bring together the different spirits, different energies – the beauty is that everybody can do what they want to do.’ Her models are empowered, not objectified, not employed in any way vulgar, and her work celebrates equality and individuality: ‘I sensed these people are looking for a means of expression without it having to be sexual or categorised.’

Video on the performance project MANDRAKE_APPLE OF LOVE

les trois graces


Hylas and the Nymphs

One piece in the series references the painting of Hylas and the Nymphs by Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse temporarily removed earlier this year by Manchester Art Gallery. ‘To me I can see how feminism could be used to create a puritan, censorial future,’ she explains, ‘I don’t want to serve any male system in this way, it is important that we create our own non-restrictive system.’

The dichotomy of good/evil was further explored in reference to the mandrake plant that lends its name to Rami Fustok’s oasis-like hotel that aims to stimulate all the senses. In the bible the plant is referenced for its supposed properties of fertility and eroticism; in other cultures it represents the devil. It is a stimulant, a hallucinogen, and also a poison – hence the apple of love is also Satan’s apple. ‘In his hotel, Rami has a very similar vision to me in my work,’ explains Brosch of the complementary collaboration, ‘his is masculine, and mine feminine.’

Brosch was an inspired choice by the Mandrake, and her ethos seems indeed to echo what the sumptuous sensuality that the hotel oozes. ‘We are all like gods and goddesses,’ says Brosch, ‘it’s important to believe in ourselves, our bodies and our souls.’

INTERVIEW in IRK magazine



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