Radical ESSEX




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Current Past




‘A CONFESSION: ANARCHY, ANONYMITY, HEALTH & EFFICIENCY’ An Amateur History of Social Nudity in Modern Essex 1896-2017 with Barry Sykes

In this introductory talk to his current research for Radical ESSEX, artist Barry Sykes traced a line from Essex’s Tolstoy Colonies, via the UK’s first naturist club in the 1920s, to the attitudes, allegiances and hobbies of present day commuter-belt suburbia.

The prospect of communal nudity can provoke horror or delight. However, in reaction to the industrialisation and chaste attitudes of Victorian society a number of utopian communities emerged in the late 1800s looking to get back to nature in a variety of ways. Inspired by the searingly honest late non-fiction writings of novelist Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), ‘Tolstoy Colonies’ appeared across Europe combining anarchism, pacifism, vegetarianism and agrarianism with a naked, outdoors lifestyle.

For his forthcoming Radical ESSEX project Sykes has made a series of visits to one of Essex’s three remaining Naturist Clubs. Employing archives, surveys, cameraless photography, typography, tennis and the power of the sun he is building a body of research reflecting societies shifting attitudes to our own bodies.

This performance lecture was delivered within Torsten Slama’s exhibition of paintings and drawings of fantastical municipal landscapes.

– This is the first public presentation of a work in progress.
– It features found images of full frontal nudity.
– The speaker, staff & audience were invited to be as #BareAsYouDare. Remove a hat, shoe, or everything.
– The room should be warm.
– No photography.


“There are no conditions to which a person cannot get accustomed, especially if he sees them accepted by everyone around him.” – Leo Tolstoy, ‘Anna Karenina’.

“True life begins when tiny changes occur.” – Leo Tolstoy, ‘Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?’.

Barry Sykes (b.1976 Essex, lives and works in London) adapts basic handmade and digital techniques into sculptures, works on paper and performances that explore the edge of inappropriate, overlooked or unnecessary behaviour. His work is either made in focused solitude or in direct conversation with selected collaborators in attempts to quantify experience and the consequences of making. Recent projects have involved Pitman shorthand, laughter yoga, forgery, a talk in a planetarium, an acting class and a series of feedback forms.

Recent solo exhibitions include Sociable Hermit, University of Bath, Somerset, UK (2015); “it must be told”, Enclave, London, UK (2014); Recreate a Nervy Pistol? (An Early Retrospective), Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth, UK (2011). Recent events have been presented at Kings ARI, Melbourne; Arnolfini, Bristol; Limoncello, London; The Showroom, London; Spike Island, Bristol; Tate St Ives, Cornwall; Tate Modern, London and the Immersive Vision Theatre, Plymouth.

Focal Point Gallery, Elmer Avenue, Southend-on-Sea, United Kingdom
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Radical Essex is a project re-examining the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. A programme of events will take place across Essex throughout 2016 and 2017, shedding light on the vibrant, pioneering thinking of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The project will celebrate the crucial role Essex has played in the history of British Modernism and its utopian ideologies under the themes ‘The Modernist County’ and ‘Arcadia for All’.

The Radical Essex site is designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Alex Rich, developed by Twelve.

Radical Essex is led by Focal Point Gallery in collaboration with Visit Essex and Firstsite. Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England it forms part of the country wide Cultural Destinations programme, a partnership with VisitEngland, supporting arts organisations to work with the tourism sector to deliver projects that maximise the impact culture has on local economies.

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If you are a business or arts organisation interested to be involved in the project or learn more information, please contact us here

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our project partners: