Imagine the world as it was before Adam's original sin. Or, in Darwinian terms, imagine us, human animals, carelessly running around with no clothes on, blind and deaf to social obligations and all the regulations determined by the artificial, preposterous moral code. How does such a world intersect with our contemporary world? In real life, it seems almost impossible for the primitive state of existence to arise out of an era of cognizance, industry, and technology. And yet, here we are in the 21st century, witnessing the work of Spencer Tunick, who persistently endeavors to create these impossible worlds. Tunick tackles both social and legal issues, which seem to define our modern way of life and to enclose human behavior, constraining it within the well-known formal boundaries. Such radical ideas and projects rarely go unnoticed of course, and that is why his art has caused him a lot of trouble. Tunick has been arrested five times since 1992, and he is still facing legal issues that restrict his supposed right to work outdoors. That is, naturally, because of the controversial essence of his naked art practice – but in fact, it does nobody any harm.
So what does Mr. Tunick actually do? It is hard to decide whether he is a director, a photographer, a choreographer or a leader of a cult. Tunick makes public installations all over the world, but not the usual kind. His assemblages consist of naked humans – sometimes only a few of them, sometimes tens of thousands. But always for a good cause! All of the participants are volunteers, believe it or not, meaning that there is a concrete number of people who really have no problem going out in public, naked, performing and posing for a photograph or a video. None of this sounds completely right until you actually see his works, in person or in photographs, and when you really get a sense of what his works are all about. These people, alone or in groups, stand naked against the urban context, the cultural context that is the product of our own civilization.
But is the art of Spencer Tunick about humans, or their bodies? Decontextualized human flesh takes on a different, almost abstract form when arranged in a particular way, but it is still hard to decide if complete disengagement from its familiarity and meaning is possible. This is where Tunick puts us to a test through his naked art events - are we able to render the human body as a unit devoid of any other meaning or connotation? There is probably no correct answer. One's preference will ultimately depend on what one feels is right, or more engaging, or even less disturbing. These sights can seem equally beautiful and bizarre, equally moving and confusing, but it all comes down to thinking about what we have become, what we do, what we need and feel, as humans and as humanity. One thing is certain, whether you understand it in a particular way, whether you love it or not, the naked art of Spencer Tunick doesn't leave you unimpressed. Even if you're not that much fascinated with the concept of public nudity, there is still the practical issue, that is completely perplexing - how on Earth does he make all those people (volunteers!) stand the way he wants them to?
Featured images, in the main slider: Spencer Tunick - Munich 6.2 (Bayerische Staatsoper); Spencer Tunick's installation at Stadschouwburg theatre in Belgium; Spencer Tunick - NewcastleGateshead 4.2 (Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art). All images used for illustrative purposes only.