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161, SEPTEMBER 2005
Art in broadcasting and television
What’s it like to get naked for Spencer Tunick?
His massive public strippings elicit an intriguing array of responses
expression: “You with the blue hair, you have to go all the way to the back...I’m sorry about that.” No smiles: “It looks goofy.” Directions come fast: “Hands down. OK. I’m just going to take a picture of this real quick. Now, when I say three everyone lie on their backs head to toe. JUDITH One, two, three. Trot. Hands at your sides, knees down. In the front, put your knees down. Please close your eyes. BUMPUS OK everyone, stand up. We’re going to do the next shoot. Turn away from me.” Obediently the group performs. They know they are making a work of art. n a lean television summer for serious art lovers the But the mechanics of the event and of the participants’ psywelcome surprise was Naked City: Spencer Tunick in che are not, for Mr Tunick, what his installations are essenNewcastle, a rare chance to see an artist at work. It tially about. He speaks seriously and straightforwardly. He turned up on BBC 3, the national digital channel aimed at struggles with the terms “nude”, “naked” and “unclothed”, audiences under 35. Its potential shock value must have and feels uncomfortable with all of them. “Obviously, it’s been an attraction, but nothing could have been less of a not a sexual event, but of course sexuality is brought into turn-on for the voyeur. the picture,” he says to the presenter, Paddy O’Connell. His Mr Tunick’s events are heralded by notoriety. They will be work is about transforming and humanising the harsh very familiar to American readers from his clashes with New urban environment we’ve built for ourselves: “I’m trying to York police in 1999, and his five arrests. There were further bring attention to the vulnerability of the human condition arrests in Paris and California, protests and demonstrations in within the context of the new, which is concrete, pavement, Chile. Times and attitudes have moved on. Mr Tunick has architecture.” In 1992, he started documenting mini-perforalready worked without incident in London. In 2005, conmances by his friends on the streets of New York. “Slowly trary to lingering expectations, the work is neither shocking the numbers got larger and I was able to block out the nor controversial. Joint commissioner of the broadcast was pavement and create the body as the street, as the landthe Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, as its scape, as the horizon line.” He then felt that he arrived at new director, Peter Doroshenko, puts it: “Society embraces something new. Art writer Louisa Buck and art historian the edginess and it becomes mainstream.” Stephen Calloway illustrate a rapid history of the nude in The issue of nudity is nevertheless the crux of the BBC proart from the Venus of Willendorf to Vanessa Beecroft. Ms gramme; why do people flock to take their clothes off? An Buck says: ‘The naked human body runs through art, so enthusiastic crowd of 1,700 turn up at 3.30 am on a chill Spencer Tunick may think he’s doing something different, July morning in Newcastle. It is not Mr Tunick’s largest Land Art he calls it, but of course he’s perfectly aware that such project. In Barcelona a record 7,000 people curled up working with the human body he’s also conjuring up all like human cobble stones to give an avenue body-cover. Mr the traditions as well.” However, despite Mr O’Connell’s Tunick was diplomatic when dealing with the presenter’s efforts, no one was ready to analyse what Mr Tunick’s question about the British reputation for prudery. “The artistic contribution is, and this is the glaring omission in British are more enthusiastic about participating in contemthe programme. porary art,” he replies, “more than most countries. And in The work gains variety from his sympathetic response to engaging on an intellectual level with their bodies: nude as different city settings. In Newcastle “the key for me,” Mr an art object, not necessarily as a sex object.” Tunick says on a tour of the city, “is to get up high and see Writer and broadcaster Paul Morley thinks that people are it from...the bridges. Once on top I saw what I wanted to. I out to prove that they are not worried about nudity, but saw this dreamland, a city that was tunnels and pipes and admits to being too English himself to do more than take bricks and rooftops. Then I became fascinated and his socks off. The actual motives for joining the session are “I’m trying to bring attention to the vulnerability of the human enthralled...I’d like to get the people...flowing into and condition”, says Tunick in Newcastle personal and various. Jim Craig, community arts chaplain under the bridge. I’d like the bodies to extend into the disfor Gateshead, delivers a sermon announcing that he is taktance and resemble a blade of grass...blades of whites, tans morning shoots, cheering loudly after each one. Two hundred ing part in a work of art which celebrates the “collective and browns”. Suddenly an impromptu idea: he swathes the stalwarts return for the evening shoot, broadcast live from the strength and weakness of the human body. And I’ll be expectstepped terraces below the Sage Gateshead with naked bodies. Millennium Bridge. They are clearly on a high. Comments at ing to find Christ made manifest.” His wife, Amabel, admits “It’s all about opportunities,” he says. What he likes about an the end are all positive: “exhilarating”, “life-enhancing”, “libthat, having undergone intrusive medical examinations during anonymous apartment block in Baltic Quays is that “it comes erating”, and from observers, “incredibly moving”. Mr Craig pregnancy, she has lost her inhibitions. Louise Hepworth, a out of the ground like a mountain”. He challenges it with a large does not encounter Christ, but coming together as a community organic patch of human bodies. photographer, joins up in order to banish hang-ups about her and literally stripping off your identity “you do discover somebody, damaged during a childhood accident. Simon Wilson, The broadcast was critically and on the whole tightly directed thing larger than yourself”, he reflects. For Simon Wilson: one-time curator of Interpretation at the Tate, who took part in to combine the atmosphere of the occasion with the poetry of “This has been an extraordinary affirmation of a kind of ideal an earlier installation in Selfridges in 2003, says: “The idea of Spencer Tunick’s compositions. The Baltic is showing the finvision of a relaxed, sensuous life.” being naked with hundreds of other people was an intriguing ished photos and video of the project from 21 January to 26 The success of the Tunick experience lies in meticulous planone and the reality is that looking at naked bodies is an erotic March, 2006. ■ ning. He knows how to bring everyone into line, issuing brisk experience. … It was a reason for doing it.” instructions over loudspeakers, maintaining discipline — Naked City: Spencer Tunick in Newcastle, BBC 3, 17 July, rep. 20 July. Presenter Despite cold and discomfort the participants, clinging together “Ma’am, please pay attention”, and banishing all forms of selfPaddy O’Connell, with Lauren Laverne. Producer Tanya Hudson. for warmth, show their good-humour throughout the three-hour
MEDIA REVIEW UK
Parallel Action to assault Guantanamo with Beethoven
Artists’ group lives dangerously so as to weave art into the political reality By Anna Somers Cocks
mong the “collateral damage” of the London bomb attacks, paradoxically, are some of the people whose condition most offends the Islamic world: the roughly 510 prisoners of Guantanamo still held by the US government without trial, most of them since the war in Afghanistan in 2001. If people respectful of civil liberties and the rule of law were putting pressure on the US before the recent attacks and getting coverage, the cause of the Guantanamo prisoners has hardly been mentioned since. And yet, if these detainees deserved a fair hearing before the bombings, they deserve it just as much now, so a Danish artists’ group called Parallel Action is embarking on a performance to try to change the dynamics of the situation, if only by a few a degrees. “We are not political activists but artists”, says Thomas Altheimer, 33, a rangy, fair-haired former actor and dramaturge, “Through our actions we hope to instigate more actions, whether parallel actions or parallel realities, that will set off displace-
ments that will diversify the current single strain of reality. All our actions are conducted according to the principle of hope”. The new action, which is expected to happen in October if the funds are raised in time, will consist of sailing a yacht full of Europeans and Americans from Jamaica to the coast just off Guantanamo and then playing Beethoven’s Third Symphony (the Eroica) very loudly at the US base and prison camp from the sea. The inspiration for this is the episode when the US military forced Manuel Noriega from his refuge in the Vatican embassy in Panama by blasting him with pop music (the first piece was “Welcome to the jungle” by Guns ‘N’ Roses). Parallel Action’s manifesto says that their aim is to conquer Guantanamo and subject the territory to European law, “thereby abolishing the Hobbesian, lawless vacuum in which the prisoners are being held and taking a step towards the world order of eternal peace described by Immanuel Kant”. Just to be safe, however, their desiderata
Prisoners held without trial at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, January 2002 include bullet proof vests, shark repellent and survival kits. If this project sounds risky, it is certainly not more so than their “Democracy” action, when they toured Iraq with a box called Democracy for three weeks in January 2004, in the lead-up to the elections. “At first we met with quite aggressive reactions because we were wearing suits and people thought we were politicians or businessmen,” says Altheimer: “We took all the blame for US and European policy, but then the absurdity of a box containing democracy (actually it contained some tea and coffee cups, pencils, and proposals for world democracy) liberated discussion. People who were too afraid of
the fundamentalists to approach the subject felt empowered to do so with us because we were not the Coalition; we were artists; we were in the position of court jesters”. Someone who saw the point of them at once was a British army officer in Kuwait, who was responsible for them getting into Iraq. A Kuwaiti general was about to refuse them permission on grounds that it was too dangerous and they were not soldiers, journalists or businessmen, when Colonel Andrze Frank walked in: “But these are Rosencranz and Guildenstern”, he said, referring to the characters in “Hamlet” who, in turn, are the protagonists of Tom Stoppard’s play. “Alright then, let’s throw them to the lions” said the Kuwaiti general, after some explanation. At the end of the first stage of the “Democracy” project, the box was left at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad, then brought out via Jordan, shipped to the US in October 2004, where it got lost at JFK airport, retrieved and used in the second stage, in the run-up to the US elections. In view of what has happened in both countries, does Altheimer think they have made any difference? Not in immediate terms, he admits, “But the point of the whole project has been to take what the US pledge at face value, for democracy really is a good thing”. ■
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