Sunday 18 March 2018

Diarmuid Doyle on RTE’s portrait of people posing nude

Other than lust, procreation, charity swimming events or that strange quirk of the German personality which leads to regular and enthusiastic nudity, what makes some people bare all in public?

Why, when all your most important bits have long ago begin their sad journey south, would you put your infirmities and insecurities on display? Specifically, why would an artist’s model do it, when the nakedness is accompanied by the discomfort of sitting still for so long, or adopting awkward, highly unflattering poses?

I’m none the wiser on any of those questions after watching Naked, RTE1’s long and pointless portrait of people who pose as nude models .

Featuring some vaguely well-known names – columnist John Waters, art critic Gemma Tipton, Olympic swimmer Melanie Nocher – who had agreed to pose nude specifically for the documentary, it told us nothing about the people themselves, their sense of what it was like to be naked in front of a stranger, or indeed what it was like to be that stranger, trying to make art from subjects at their most exposed and vulnerable.

A better documentary would have gone looking for actual models, people who strip regularly at art classes all over the country every night of the week, who get paid for it, and for whom it’s a way to pay bills or get through college.

One such creature , Des O’Connor, appeared briefly last night, but was allowed to say very little. We learned nothing about him or what motivated him – money, boredom, some kind of illicit thrill? – and less than half way in, the programme makers effectively abandoned him. It was back to the personalities.

Because they’d never posed nude before, probably won’t do it again, and were allowed to do so in relatively comfortable circumstances – in front of a single artist of the same gender – they had nothing of interest to say and were reduced to soundbites.

When we first encountered Waters in the Sligo studio of artist Nick Miller, he looked like he was sitting comfortably in a nice fur coat. Later it dawned that he is a remarkably hairy man, and that Miller had effectively taken on the role of those gifted savages who used to sketch woolly mammoths on the walls of ancient French caves.

“Our clothes are really various layers of masks”, Waters said at one point, just for something to say, really. Gemma Tipton warbled on about revelling “in the naturalness and beauty of the body”. As Melanie Nocher had her posterior preserved for posterity, she made some point about being comfortable with some things and not being comfortable other things. That, I’m afraid, was as profound as it got.

By that point in the programme, Twitter was in meltdown, and not just because of John Waters’s chest. On TV3, A Girl’s Guide To 21st Century Sex was winning the award for the most explicit programme on Irish television ever. Cameras were placed where cameras were never supposed to be, literally where the sun don’t shine. Nothing was left to the imagination. People were doing things that no nude model should ever have to do. It was a relief to be able to go to bed.

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