In the wee small hours of March the first, I dragged myself out of bed and skipped down to Sydney Opera House to take part in an installation piece by Spencer Tunick, who was here in Australia thanks to Mardi Gras.

(N.B I’d advise you not to look too closely at the image to the right, as there’s a chance you may see someone you know).

It was an extraordinary experience, one that I am delighted to have taken part in, despite the sleep deprivation and gut-wrenching initial awkwardness.

Here’s what I learnt:

  • Clothes maketh the man and inform our interactions with him

We have yet to develop societal conventions for scenarios where we can’t take our cue from attire.  I encountered the feigned ‘why i didn’t notice you there’, the struggle to maintain eye contact,  the shoulder tap and (perhaps most absurdly) the high five.  On balance, it’s probably not likely to occur so often that we need a formalised set of social guidelines to greet acquaintances in the buff.  But it’s always interesting to put oneself through a science experiment and shake up your reliance on the arbitrary and the stuff you take for granted.

The last time I saw that many pale figures I was in Edinburgh. On a ghost tour.

  • And on that note, for an ostensibly multi-cultural city, there were an awful lot of honkys in the house.

Does this prove that Sydney lacks racial integration, or that getting naked in front of large amounts of strangers in the name of Art falls into the “stuff white people like” category?

  • People will do almost anything you ask them to if you’re wearing all black and barking orders through a megaphone.

From stripping off to lying stark naked on stone steps as dawn broke and the wind whistled through our…hair, to embracing a nude stranger in front of the national media, we obeyed blindly.  Milgram’s experiments had nothing on this. Imagine if Spencer Tunick chose to use his powers for evil…

  • Creating great art is not (always) a solo pursuit.

Mr Tunick, whilst an undeniably inspired and driven auteur has frankly abysmal communication skills.  For example, trying to position one or two naked people in a crowd of 5000 by yelling “That guy! You with the hair! Look to your left. No, that left!” is less effective than you might imagine.  But with a seemingly tireless team of assistants running hither and yon, sensing his meaning as much through intuition as anything else, order was restored and beauty was created.

  • Give credit where it’s due

Despite his dubious people skills, Tunick was the soul of generosity, thanking us as well as his team and acknowledging that they were the sine qua non of his work, seeming truly humbled by the end of the event.

  • Novelty quickly wears off

It was fascinating observing the shift – in myself and others – from standing awkwardly, covering ourselves with folded arms to an increased ease and freedom of movement.  Such hive-minded creatures are we that in the end, walking through the corridors of the Opera House between shoots with thousands of undressed people after I’d hurriedly bundled my clothes back on (it was chilly) I felt uncomfortable being clothed.

  • Art? Give us a knob joke any day of the week

During the last minutes of the shoot, Tunick seemed frustrated, demanding we contort ourselves in muscle-tearing poses for what seemed agonsingly long moments, over and over but never to his satisfaction. At a particularly tense moment during the shoot in the Concert Hall he snapped “face the organ!” to general hilarity. Ah, good times.

  • There’s always one…

You know how it is. There’s alway one man who starts waving his boner around, or a woman who does star jumps as the news helicopters fly overhead.  I suppose they just felt imprisoned by the puritanical, repressive nature of the event.

  • What a piece of work is a (wo)man!

Seeing 5000 people stripped of all signs of status, of personality, of the outward trappings we frequently strive for without pause or reflection was a genuinely moving sight.  How infinite in variation on a rather narrow theme we are.

As the shivering masses were shepherded back and forth, I was astonished at how vulnerable we all seemed, how ill-adapted to our environment.  At the mercy of nature and yet merciless in our subjection of it – but we go about our lives utterly unaware of the absurdity of that contradiction.

5000 naked apes huddling together for warmth against the glittering backdrop of a magnificent modern city was a sight I shan’t ever forget.

And for that, I thank you, Spencer Tunick and Sydney.

P.S. I’m currently in pre-production on a documentary about nudity, identity and notions of the self in both physical and virtual spaces. It’s exploring what happens to our sense of self online, (where nobody knows you’re a dog), or what changes when we’re naked.  If you’d like to take part, please contact me here.

5 thoughts on “let’s all get butt naked and…pose: 10 things I learned from Spencer Tunick

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention let’s all get butt naked and…pose: 10 things I learned from Spencer Tunick « a cat in a tree -- Topsy.com

  2. Mr Tunick’s art bothers me. I am a prude but because the supine naked bodies always remind me of the photographed bundles of bodies found at Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz & so on. There is something sinister about his work – it doesn’t seem as joyful and liberating as it aims to be.

    That said, I think that getting naked in front of that many strangers is a pretty amazing thing to do & I admire you enormously for it.

  3. Pingback: naked and famous: call for documentary participants « a cat in a tree

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