I was once a nude model along with 2700 other people.
Why would anyone take their clothes off in public? What are the motivations?
Spencer Tunick – the artist responsible for these images, graduated from Emerson College, Boston USA in 1988 and four years later in 1992 he began to document nude models in public locations around New York City. The authorities strongly objected to such flamboyant behaviour of both the artist and participants. Five years later, in 1997 he orchestrated an installation of 150 nude models in Times Square, New York.
Between 1994 and 1999 he was arrested 5 times under charges of “unlawful assembly, creating a violent act, disorderly conduct, public exposure, and reckless endangerment,” but in 2001 he won his right to make his art under the First Amendment (freedom of peaceful assembly). So now instead of the Police interferring with the artist and participants, the Police interfere with snooping curious bystanders eager to get an eyeful (and possibly a picture or two) of the spectacle unfolding in front of them.
Since then over 50,000 people in around 100 locations around the world have posed naked for Spencer Tunick. Even the anonymous artist Banksy, along with his friend James DeWeaver have posed for Tunick – a (naked) picture of Banksy can be found on James DeWeaver’s website.
Tunick’s latest installation involved taking 1000 people to 8 locations over 2 days to various locations around Salford, near Manchester UK. This project was in conjunction with The Lowry arts centre, in homage to the work of artist LS Lowry and his matchstick figures.
Tunick’s images are firstly attention grabbing, then shocking, beautiful and intriguing. It’s impossible to imagine what it would be like to participate in an installation so I signed up in 2008 and travelled 271 miles to Dublin in Ireland to take part.
Sleep the night before the event was evasive due to being excited and loud music from a club opposite the hostel. There was also an early start with buses leaving from Custom House Quay at 3am to the mystery location where the installation would be set up.
After the final registration was complete, people waited at the end of Pigeon House Road passing around the leaflet detailing the various poses we would be asked to do. I stood there wondering whether I could actually take my clothes off when the final call came, and looking at the long and seemingly endless sea wall that we would be posing on. Then just before dawn on the Summer Solstice, Tunick appeared ahead of the crowd, thanking everyone for being there and told us all to strip.
There was a moment of anticipation, then all of a sudden clothes were flying everywhere, being stuffed into the clear plastic sacks we had been given. It only took 30 seconds before we were back looking at Tunick beaming about what we had done. The barriers were moved and everyone began the long walk down the wall. Furtive glances were made, corny chat-up lines were spoken and a lot of laughing and giggling was done. It was just like going for a stroll except one could feel the wind blowing round places it had never blown before.
I ended up at the far end of the wall near the lighthouse and there was a good wait while the rest of the wall slowly filled up with people. While we were waiting for the shoot to begin, even though we were naked and seemingly ininhibited, people still went round the other side of the lighthouse if they needed to go to the toilet. Plenty of passenger ferries and container ships also passed by while we were waiting and this whipped the crowd up into a frenzy with everyone jumping up and down, wiggling their bits and slapping their bums at the passengers on the ferries. There were even camera flashes from the bridge of one of the ferries. I wonder what type of town the passengers thought they were arriving in?!
Morning exercise rountines were performed to much amusement and Mexican Waves rippled around alongside the waves from the sea. Instructions from Tunick filtered up to the end of the line like Chinese whispers.
Even though there was a great variety of boobies, bums and willies on display, the nakedness brought out a vunerability which meant that the only way to deal with it was to feel protective of everyone around you. We were unified in our nakedness, one and the same. This was the most amazing thing about it – we were together and unashamed of our nakedness. It was totally liberating.
After a while the nakedness even seemed normal and on returning to base after posing looking out to sea, sitting down leaning back on our hands, and then curled up in a foetal position on the freezing cold hard stone, staff were jeered and cajoled for wearing clothes.
It started to rain and we put our clothes back on – it seemed as weird to be wearing clothes again as it did anticipating what it would be like to take them off. Some of the less hardy volunteers went home. There was another installation. After a short wait everyone walked down to the beach and this time we didn’t need Tunick to tell us when we could strip. It was one big skinny dipping session with lots of splashing and jumping – the water was freezing but came no higher than our shins. He had some trouble getting us all to pose and stand still – we were all having too much fun holding hands (I think) and singing ole ole ole ole!! We faced Tunick with our heads bowed, and then turned our backs. Even though no one had a problem with Tunick and his camera, this time there were members of the press around that seemed a bit too close for comfort!
Even though we’d been busy for 6 hours, it all seemed like it was over in a matter of seconds. With new friends made (in the strangest of circumstances), soaked by the rain, sea and sand getting into every nook and cranny we took the buses back into Dublin for a well earned breakfast and pint of Guiness.
This experience hasn’t made me into a naturist. I have absolutely no desire to start walking around in the nude on a regular basis. The Spencer Tunick experience has made me appreciate the variety and beauty of the body and what is possible if we all trust each other. We can all be at our most vunerable, but still be capable of helping and protecting each other.