Sunday 21 January 2018

Naked ambition puts snappy undressers in the frame

Hairy bums aside, getting nude for art was a fantastic experience, writes Alison O'Riordan

Alison O'Riordan

Would you get your kit off -- every single bit of it -- and pose in the nude with more than 2,500 strangers of all shapes and sizes? No matter what the weather? Well, I was foolhardy enough despite my body image insecurities to bare my ass for art.

I just wish I had realised on the eve of this creative art project, when I spent hours in the bedroom checking myself out starker's in a full length mirror, that ultimately we are all the same regardless of our physical size, colour or sex. Here I was worrying about my white bits, my wobbly bits and my private bits, but to be honest there were too many "bits" on view for anyone to take notice of my nakedness after the first moment.

This "day out" was one for life's confident exhibitionists but many among the 2,500 who took part were like me -- shy, retiring and faint-hearted; in search of a kind of freedom they had never experienced before.

We gathered around 2.30am for the dawn spectacle under grey clouds and a chill wind and made our way on the bus from the Custom House deep into the heart of the Dublin Docklands.

There, we shook off our sleepiness and stood around in the chill morning air exchanging our apprehensions and anxieties. Some were swigging hipflasks of vodka for Dutch courage and to ward off the chill wind before baring all.

And then the call came, at about 5am, from Mr Spencer Tunick, to get naked pronto. The volunteers couldn't get their clothes off quickly enough. In jig time they were all in their morning glory.

I waited as long as I could, and reluctantly ditched my layers of clothing piece by piece. It seemed like an eternity. I was so tempted to reach for some of that three leaf clover growing out of the granite, but I resisted the temptation to cover up as the crowds came from behind, and swept me away to the first shot at South Wall. There wasn't a lot of rehearsal, just a couple of instructions. We were told to lie down and stand up in various poses as Tunick snapped away. I won't forget the foetal position set-up in a hurry, where I had the misfortune of being stuck in between several men's hairy bums which didn't leave a lot to the imagination.

Three shoots were planned, but that had to be cut to just two because of the poor weather and lighting. The second shoot took place on a beach near Poolbeg Power Station and passing freight ferries coming into Dublin Port honked their horns in support of the naked mob.

Taking part in a Spencer Tunick installation was a life-affirming and perhaps life-changing experience for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that.

I'm not the most confident, have a tendency to be a little shy on occasion and I wouldn't dream of baring all in the normal course of events, so I figured if I could get through this, I could do just about anything. Yes, I remove my clothes a couple of times a day, but to be part of this unique experience and part of a powerful living art work was something else.

That this happened in Ireland at all is an indication of how far we have travelled from a prudish, nudge-nudge nation.

Twenty years ago, it would have been unimaginable for 2,500 people to literally enter into the swing of things. You would have been lucky to get more than a couple of dozen committed naturists.

There may even have been protesters.

Tunick is a world-renowned contemporary artist who specialises in what he terms "site-specific nudes". He is best known for his elaborately-posed still and video images of multiple nude figures in public settings. He has taken mass nude photos in more than 75 cities around the world including Montreal, Melbourne, Lyon, Santiago, New York and Mexico City.

For me, there was a real sense of liberation simply because of the sheer volume of people willing to set aside their inhibitions and take a leap of faith together.

I'm looking forward to getting my limited edition photograph for taking part.

I dared to bare all for the sake of art, and would again without a moment's hesitation.

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