Me: I saw the nude sydney shots on tv at the gym and
regretted that we hadn't done it.
C: Ahem, it's this Monday morning, Mr Brave!
Me: Really? I thought it had already happened!
C: Yes, really!
Me: Hmmm, wonder if it's too late to join?
C: I hope not.
Which is how we ended up on the Opera House steps on Monday morning.
Fancy highbrow reason: I’m interested in the aesthetics of Tunick’s photos, which remind me of the Doré illustrations of souls in the Divine Comedy (“I had not thought death had undone so many”).
Alternate reasons: I thought it would be fun and I was quite interested in seeing a whole bunch of naked people up close. Also, I couldn’t back out after those text messages on Saturday morning.
It turned out to be lots of fun, and also weird. Not surreal; it wasn’t 5,200 naked people riding lobsters and aubergines as the sails of the Opera House melted behind them like runny cheese. I’d describe it as carnivalesque, in the sense of an exceptional occasion where the normal rules don’t apply.
The soundscape of a crowd of naked people, it turns out, is unexpectedly strange. When we were given the signal to strip off in the Botanic Gardens there was giggling coming from all directions. Once in position on the steps, a chorus of “woo!” would ripple through the crowd whenever a gust of wind picked up. It wasn’t as cold as media coverage suggested, but the gusts were pretty brisk. The same thing happened when someone got the idea to slap themselves to warm up: the claps would ripple out through the crowd. Rounds of applause started up and spread every ten minutes or so, even though we couldn’t always tell what they were for. One woman near us fainted, and hit the stone of the forecourt with a horrible smacking sound.
And when a boat blew a short blast on its horn, a wave of puerile tittering passed through the cloud, as if farts were more of a problem among naked people, or anyway more funny. But we were all in a silly mood.
As always happens when one is part of the story rather than part of its audience, the media were basically annoying, especially the helicopters.
Lots of people said in interviews that there was nothing sexual about it, so I guess those people are not like me. Making jokes with naked strangers is really the ultimate ice-breaker, and for the rest of the day I felt like I’d broken the ice with everyone, not just the people at the Opera House. The effect is still there, if not as strong. So my attitude toward people in general has not been my usual blend of shyness and wariness.
About tattoos: they don’t look that good on nude people, perhaps because they are designed to peep around the edges of clothing, and also because most tattoos just don’t look that good in the first place. Why is it that such a permanent artform has such kitschy designs? There are exceptions, like the Asian guy with a downright beautiful tattoo of what looked like maybe Thai script winding around his torso and arms.
I like Tunick’s photos but the experience itself seems to be a worthwhile artwork in its own right. The SMH quoted from this article:
Tunick’s work isn’t art, and no one who actually considered it for a moment would say it was. There’s no interesting “thought” underlying his work nor is it a provocative challenge to what art is.
–Jonathan Jones, Guardian May 2007
Hey, that leads to a new version of Russell’s Paradox:
If part of your definition of a work of art is something which provocatively challenges what art is, is an artwork which doesn’t provocatively challenge what art is still a work of art? No, because it doesn’t PCWAI, but by not PCWAI it is challenging your definition of a work of art, so it IS PCWAI…