Monday, 19 July 2010

FEATURE / REVIEW: Spencer Tunik's Naked Pictures of Me

Published: MANCHESTER CONFIDENTIAL, 19th July 2010

"Tunick’s naked pictures of me: Thalia Allington-Wood goes to the Lowry to look at herself naked in the Spencer Tunick exhibition"

About two and a half months ago I volunteered for Spencer Tunick’s ‘Everyday People’ at the Lowry.

I queued, I shivered, and I bared all for the camera. It was a great experience. However, when I went to see the exhibition last weekend I came away feeling disappointed.

When Tunick began photographing nudes in public places, he and his models worked against authority; the volunteers risking arrest for their nakedness. These pictures in their very nature were audacious and opinionated. This is inevitably sterilised in his recent work, which is organised, authorised and heavily staged by a troupe of extra hands.

So if no longer making a statement of rebellion, Tunick's work needs to be visually arresting. Yet prints that are two small to create any impact and with dull colours line the Lowry’s walls. The underwhelming delivery seems at odds with the vast amounts of money spent on such a commission.

Though never a massive fan on Tunick’s work, (I took part out of curiosity rather than admiration), I do find some of his work striking, even moving.

His early photographs in Montreal 2001, for example, have a sense of immediacy. Bodies pile up along a street into the distance, the image is grainy; it feels as though the artist has stumbled across the bodies he photographs rather than orchestrating them.

Similarly, I like the images from his series in Dusseldorf 2006, where people pile beneath large oil paintings, their poses responding to the painted figures. They remind one of the background story of a painting, the life models, the studio of the artist.

However, the impact of these works, and others, can be easily lost in the vast sea of his back catalogue. Tunick’s work now has almost a commercial quality to it. Though I’m sure not intentional, their sensationalism, the type of coverage received by the press, means his work can feel like advertising for a location be it Sydney, Mexico or Manchester.

I was aware of this machine-like quality to his work when I signed up, but hoped for an image that made one stop and look at the body in a different manner. I wanted to watch skin stop being skin, in a shape not normally seen, in a setting and composition that was beautiful.

Sadly I did not find this at the Lowry.

I do not regret the nine hours I spent in the freezing cold, absolutely starkers. It was a lot of fun and I’m not a fan of our bodies being pent up, tantalised, and idolised. It was nice for flesh to be flesh and nothing else for a while. I really felt the ‘liberation’ so often voiced by participants.

Tunick does not convey this experience in his photos. Nor necessarily should he. Hunched, wind pinched naked bodies are unlikely to convey jubilance. However art should always say something. It need not be loud. It need not even be clever. But it need be something and something interesting. Looking at these images, even with the bias of seeing myself within them, ultimately I don’t think they have much to say at all.

Everyday People by Spencer Tunick is at The Lowry until the 26th September.


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