Monday, 3 May 2010

FEATURE: The Experience of a Spencer Tunik

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 3rd May 2010

"Nude for art, the naked truth: the experience of being naked during Spencer Tunick’s art gatherings in city locations"

In the darkness of Sunday 2 May at 2.30 am, I find myself standing in a long line of strangers waiting to participate in Spencer Tunick’s ‘Everyday People’. Come 11.30 in the morning, nine hours of intermittent nakedness later, I walk home from Piccadilly feeling exhausted but elated.

Becoming naked in front of hundreds is not initially, to most, a desirable thing to do. Yet, and I’m reiterating many previous and fellow participants in Tunick’s installations here, it feels great.

Nakedness and bodies within our society are judged daily. Take everyone’s clothes away and it is remarkable how instantly the memory of social ideals and inhibitions disappear. Rather than make one feel more insecure of personally disliked body parts, seeing the difference in everyone’s bodies and realising that even though you are naked, no one is really looking or caring about your body’s appearance, results in indifference, confidence, even pride in oneself. Being naked in front of other people and other people’s nakedness very quickly becomes mundane, natural, and enjoyable.

So all the clichés of this experience are true (sorry Jonathan Schofield no holocaust references here I’m afraid - see the other Tunick article on the homepage for the reasons behind this comment). Our ice cold, goose pimpled, wind bitten buttocks were indeed ‘liberated’, so to speak, from the confinement of social decorum.

In a society obsessed with the projection and construction of identity, through clothing, jewellery, hairstyles or face book, influenced by the presentation of aesthetic ideals in the media, Tunick’s installations provide rejection of this. Being naked became an experience of anonymity and equality.

Jonathan is right in the comment after his article about viewing as an outsider the Tunick event. There he describes the experience as un-erotic. In society the body is rarely conceived separate to sex. Our bodies are inherently fetishised by their concealment and the titillation revealing clothes embody; nakedness is consigned to the bedroom. However, remove this and place bodies in a sterile, surreal situation and what you are left with is flesh that is utilitarian and banal through normalisation.

Tunick's work is subversive: these bodies are naked in urban environments where nudity is prohibited. This is where any feeling of liberation comes from as a participant.

But Tunick’s work is not about the experiences of his volunteers. Our emotions of freedom, or what have you, are merely a positive bi-product of the situation created in the making of his art. They should not define how his images are viewed.

Beauty, softness, or for that matter, loneliness and fragility is not to my mind the focus of these images. To understand these images in such a manner buys into our social obsession with the individual, the self and the body.

Tunick’s images are not about the individual or identity. Look at the images and you see a sea of nakedness in which each volunteer serves as a shape, creating patterns and formations in the space. In Tunick’s instillations, the human body is a texture, comparative to the concrete and brick of the surroundings.

Despite being whipped by freezing winds at 6am and suffering excessive sleep deprivation; all the participants I spoke too would once again wobble their flesh in fun defiance of social convention. I can't wait to see how the artworks turn out.


NB: Clio Euterpe is a pseudonyme used for this one article.

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