Art News & Views

Spencer Tunick: Revealing the Threat of Tomorrow in the Naked Present

Etc. Etc.

by Anurima Das

We all are accustomed with seeing normal everyday objects in their normal spaces. However, finding them in some abrupt corners or even seeing them occupying some unknown, unthinkable space is in itself an amazing incident. Nevertheless, it was only in the 1970s that this form of placements and creating art sensibilities using normal everyday objects in absolutely unimaginable circumstances rose to prominence. The term used to describe this art is art installations. The artist works with their present environment and tries to install ordinary objects to create a new art sensibility within the same space. The work of the artist gives birth to an entirely new work of art separated from the canvas and thus presents the viewer with a 3 dimensional sensibility.

In the given context of installation art the artist who deserves that critical mention is of course Spencer Tunick. A photographer by profession, Tunick has, begun his experiments with installations since 1994. However, the most unique aspect of his installations is his medium and of course the manner. It is nude humans that he uses as the subject of his photography installations.

It all began in the year 2001 at Greenwich, London. Tunick and his team managed to rope in 400 individuals for the shoot and thereby simply ask them to strip in public. There was no remuneration offered but, when instructed, the group was ready to shed off their inhibitions and lie naked on the cold stone pavements looking towards the Greenwich gardens. The idea was an instant success and thereby, in the same year, he carried on yet another installation at Montreal that later was documented for a HBO documentary The Naked World. Tunick, now 44, has raised enough eyebrows all across the globe and thus, has been put under heavy criticism as well. However, his work has fetched him enough appreciation. The artist has his own way of dealing with the aspect of nudity and generally groups individuals into broader categories based upon their skin colour and gender. The hair colour and hair size are the other aspects which he looks into as well. One can register on the official website by prescribing their skin colour and volunteer for the photo shoots whenever required. 

Tunick, on 17th of September, 2011, has photographed his 75th and by far the latest installation set across the Dead Sea in Israel. The idea behind this work was to bring out the aspect of the plight of the world's lowest and saltiest body of water. The salty lake is dropping more than a metre every year. He had made use of 1200 nude volunteers to bring out the aspect of the environmental condition and thereby to raise awareness regarding the same as well.  He has always tried to touch trivial issues and bring out that much needed attention towards problems like Global warming, oil spills, unemployment and recession etc.

Alongside his outdoor installations, he can also be credited for an indoor installation shot on a 20" x 24" Polaroid camera. The shoot was done on March, 2008 at the Four Season Restaurant in New York.
The historical installation was made possible by the help of 150 volunteers. The idea of Tunick's shoots are quite remarkable and one of its kind. It starts with a notification outlining the details of the shoot and then people starts to register themselves accordingly following the rules set out on the website and in turn they get selected as per the requirements. With no remuneration at stake it seems quite interesting to see that people do not even wait to spare a thought when it comes to posing nude for the artist. However, they are offered high quality pictures of the shoot to celebrate their performance.

Apart from the most recent endeavor Tunick has also worked closely with specific communities like the Gay and the Lesbian communities and the people who are HIV+.  In 2010, it was the Sydney Opera house where Spencer arranged the base for the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. There was a turnout of about 5200 people and the entire shoot was carried out in phases outside the opera and inside the same.  This installation is ranked among Tunick's five most important installations and has been able to create and bring out the flavor of awareness it was intended to.

Nevertheless, 2007 has actually helped Tunick create history. The installation at Zocalo Square, Mexico City has witnessed a turnout of 18000 individuals. The people had to wake up at around 4 in the morning and attend to the call of the artist and also line up for registration. However, the enthusiasm and energy of the mass never seems to drop when it comes to posing nude for the artist and bearing the chill and the harsh weather without a single cover. The most amazing aspect of the shoots is the man power and how every individual exhibits a necessary urge to strip. The Mexico installation did not end there. This project was planned with some odd 150 women who were asked to strip at the Frida Kahlo museum. In honour of the artist, they were asked to tie up their hair as Kahlo and also were required to have a monobrow.

Spencer Tunick's aspirations with human bodies and how he scales them on the basis of colour and other parameters to fill his canvas is quite praiseworthy and of course requires an extraordinary talent too.  Apart from the major installations Tunick has also worked with everyday themes and have conquered normal spaces to transform the same to make them a part of his nude installations. He has never stood away when it came for planning installations to create awareness for the environment.  He has worked remarkably with Greenpeace once in 2007 and yet again in 2009 to spread out the word against the effects of global warming by putting up an installation of 600 people at the Aletsch Glacier, Switzerland and similarly working with 700 people at a vineyard near Macon, France to spread awareness regarding the climate change which is creating problems with the French wine production respectively.

Moving on with the mundane and urgent everyday issues and places Spencer has also worked with galleries and has been part of several world renowned festivals as well to demonstrate his work and install the men and women in different patterns to adorn his frame.  In 2003, Tunick first stepped into London for a formal evening installation and invited A list celebrities for the event as well. While glamour filled the Saatchi gallery adorned by celebrity guests 160 volunteers stood nude for the installation and later moved all around the gallery chatting and conversing with the others without showing any urgency to get dressed up.  The entire idea of sealing mortals in their most compromising pose and thereby trying to capture and preserve such moments transforms them into immortals and also unleashes the real world of humans. Tunick, with every shoot, leaps more towards the past and tries to pull out the hard naked facts from which the entire humanity tries to veil them and what seems too uncanny and uncomfortable as well.

June, 2008 saw Spencer Tunick at the Blarney Castle, Ireland. He first made use of props and tried to create an art within art pattern working with his nude art frames. He made use of roses, gold coins and Blarney stones to create the installation pattern making use of nude individuals.  He continued his experiment to the next day and worked with only women to create that perfect picture by making them kneel down in foam in front of a graffiti wall.

Tunick have been part of the Big Chill 2010 and had, for the first time, worked with body paints to add a flavor to his first European festival installation. Deriving inspirations from artists like Yves Klein, Mark Rothko and Ellsworth Kelly, and keeping in view of the BP oil spill in the Mexican Gulf Tunick used yellow, pink, teal, blue and black colour body paints to bring out the necessary effect in his installation. He effectively arranged the naked humans in patterns according to their colour codes and tried to paint using his camera.

The phenomenon called Spencer Tunick has seeped into the veins of the naked individuals quite well and today they are ever ready to strip for him and can roam about in their own skins without much of a thought. The people who have posed for him have opened up fan sites, blogs and pages to let the world know about their endeavor and reveal the man who is behind every picture. Today just knowing about Tunick is not enough, reading through his fan blog entries and accepting the true spirit of the people will help the world sit up and understand the sheer effort and patience Tunick puts in, each of his installations.

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