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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 April, 2003, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Naked truth of art volunteers

By Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Selfridges art installation
About 500 people stripped off at Selfridges
In their hundreds, they line up to take off their clothes - all in the name of art.

In the latest of a series of what one might call "strip-art" ventures, about 500 volunteers undressed on a cold and wet Sunday for an installation by New York-born artist Spencer Tunick.

A mostly young crowd posed on escalators at London's Selfridges department store as well as in various parts of the store before the shop opened to the public.

Earlier this month, 160 volunteers took part in a "nude happening" run by the same artist to launch London's Saatchi Gallery.

Saatchi Gallery "nude happening"
Dozens lay naked to mark the Saatchi opening
Tunick has held similar naked installations at outdoor venues in Montreal, Canada, and Sao Paolo, Brazil - attracting thousands of participants.

And the clearly willing participation of several hundred Britons in his UK installations is just one example of a trend that is putting paid to the image of the famous British, erm, stiff upper lip - despite the country's off-putting weather.

Of course, the idea of stripping naked for art is hardly new, as many an art class life model can testify.

But mass nudity has become quite the fashion.

In February, 240 volunteers aged five to 95 agreed to be wrapped in cling film to allow plaster casts to be made of their bodies for an exhibition by sculptor Antony Gormley.

Antony Gormley
Gormley's Domain Field attracted 240 nude volunteers
Their figures will form Gormley's latest exhibition, Domain Field, which opens at the Baltic Arts Centre in Gateshead in May.

One of the volunteers, Paul O'Neill, said he was surprised at how normal the experience felt.

He said: "I had my doubts about whether I could go through with it but there was a definite moment of no return.

"Once I had passed it I had a wonderful - if slightly surreal - afternoon."

Fellow volunteer Davie Hay said: "I found the experience very interesting, humorous, humbling, calming and something that I'm proud to have taken part in."

Usually people do it outdoors because there is an amount of tension and vulnerability in the body that comes up against the concrete world
Spencer Tunick, artist
Peter Wilson said he wanted the opportunity to take part in a large art project.

"I was hooked to the idea straight away and applied instantly," he said.

"The casting itself was unusual, but a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable experience."

Tunick is becoming famous around the world for his series of installations photographing nude crowds in urban landscapes.

Once you have taken all your clothes off, it's a very friendly and communal feeling
Mike Grenville
Bodies are composed into sculptural shapes and bizarre formations to feature on buildings, streets and cityscapes.

Mike Grenville, 53, who took part in the Saatchi event, said it had been a relaxed and positive experience.

He said: "It was just curiosity. I was interested to see how Tunick handled it and what people were there.

"We're all basically the same in different shapes and sizes. Once you have taken all your clothes off, it's a very friendly and communal feeling."

But Ivan Massow, the former chairman of London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, said Tunick's Selfridges installation upset him because it was "so transient, it disappears, it is pure idea".

He posed for two naked portraits because he wanted "to prove that concept or conceptual thought could meet canvas, something tangible", he said.

The Selfridges event was a departure for Tunick, as he swapped the open air for the interior of the store.

I was one of the people who posed for (Tunick) at County Hall and found it a very moving experience
Will Dawson
He told the BBC: "Usually people do it outdoors because there is an amount of tension and vulnerability in the body that comes up against the concrete world.

"That tension creates a desire to be nude in a public place outside.

"I'm just happy that people wanted to engage in indoor space."

Here are a selection of comments from News Online users on posing naked for an art installation.

I went to the Selfridges Installation on Sunday morning and am so glad I made the effort to get up at 5am and travel into London.

Whether you consider it art, sensationalism or just plain fun, it was one of those amazing happenings that will be experienced and remembered fondly by very few people.

I'm very glad I'm one of those 500 with a memory of a great day.

ps. I'd love to see the photos that someone took of me on the ground floor.
Tony B, England

This is so primitive. I don't see anything artistic in it. Millions of years of so-called evolution and this is what we've come to, hey..
Ali, UK

I don't have a problem being naked but I will never go in for a commercial art exhibhition like this one!!
Jay, USA

It seems to me that everybody that has taken part in one of these artistic endevours for whatever reason they see fit, has come out of it with a much more relaxed and self-confident view on life. So it must be doing some good for them. I am actually too shy to do anything like this but I'm proud of the people that have taken part in these sort artistic endevours.
Stuart Matheson, UK

I think that the comments comparing these artistic visions to Nazism are way off the mark. This art has to do with context. For example, a naked person in the shower is not strange or interesting. A naked person on the subway or city street is unique and shocking. This is the way that this art works, it places the nude form in an unexpected location in order to make the viewer think.
Andrew, USA

I can easily imagine that posing in such a setting could be freeing for those of us like me who haven't. But the vitriolic responses here also suggest to me that the wider "civilisation" has a ways to go before it releases the remains of its own self-loathing. I thank these artists (and I call them artists because we have no other word for those who discuss human healing without using words) for reminding us all of this. Even if the audacity in such shameless outpouring of "original sin" ruffled a few resistant feathers along the way.
Mark, US

You English people are weird.
Bill DiOrio, USA

I would just like to know what Andrew UK, is doing in his spare time to stop a possible pandemic, famine, war etc. Stop taking life so seriously.
Matthew, UK

As a plus size (or fat, whatever makes you happy!) woman who has modelled for art classes since my first year at university (I am now working on my PhD), I would love to pose for Mr. Tunick! His work puts the human form back into nature when it seems humanity is trying its hardest to separate itself from the world around us. So, Spence, when are you coming to the Midwest?
Stephanie Santos, USA

I think that is the most stupid thing I have ever known. People should cover their body, that's the respectful way and only naked for some reason not to be out in public, showing to a thousand people, that's weird and evil.
Ungatea Tonga, Tonga Is.

The idea of photographing a group of naked people and calling it "art" brings to mind comparisons with The Emperor's New Clothes. Strangely appropriate I think.
Jon Jennings, UK

Great free advertising for Selfridges!
G Ball, UK

I have no problem with it, but it's not very interesting ultimately. I mean, it's like a bunch of unwrapped xmas presents. Clothes are fun, and taking them off is more fun in private.
Lo, UK

I was at the County Hall Tunick shoot and wandered around the Saatchi gallery naked. A fantastic experince - as good as cycling nude around Cambridge as I have done many times. I'm having a picnic with a hundred or so naked friends in Hyde Park on Sunday 1st June to celebrate World Naturist Day - join us! It'll be fun! Meet at 11am. Everyone welcome!
Richard Collins, UK

I took part in the Spencer Tunick installation at Selfridges yesterday.

I am a naturist, but there were many people who participated who would not identify as such.

Through Spencer's work, those participants will have experienced what a liberating, community forming, non-sexual, self-confirming act it is to walk without clothes.

I'm sure that the vast majority of people who took part will have enjoyed the experience, many would probably do it again without a second's notice, and some may have learned a thing or two about themselves... one of those being that beyond the external barriers, we are all human underneath with the same insecurities, vulnerabilities, emotions, and dreams.

Maybe if the world went naked for 24 hours tomorrow, we might start finding a sense of community and understanding that seems to have evaporated in this, our supposedly progressive modern age.
Adrian Cooper, UK

I was there on Sunday - playing my part in modern art. Whilst it was originally my fiancÚ's idea to get involved, I took up the challenge. Most of the people I was near said they had not done anything like it before. It was a little weird to begin with but then you get used to it.

Most of us were quite young - 20s and early 30s. I'd have expected it to be dominated by the 40-something naturist types, but we were actually just ordinary people.

Going nude for art seems to be all the craze at the moment. I don't know why.

Now I've done it once, I'd definitely do it again.

And finally, can the bloke with the video camera let us know if Maria liked the film!!!
Edd Hogan, UK

I took part in Spencer Tunick's photography session at Selfridges. Apart from my surprise at the number and variety of people there, two things stood out for me from my experience.

The first was that, even though the whole event was very relaxed and informal, there were still unspoken rules in the back of everyone's mind: don't look below the neckline, don't intrude into anyone's personal space, and you can glance but you can't stare. In some ways, this made the atmosphere more prim than if we had all been clothed.

The second was how much easier it was to be naked among a group of strangers than among people I knew. Although there were many very attractive women there, I was never able to isolate any individual - the impression one got throughout was just row upon row of flesh. This actually de-eroticised the entire experienced, and reinforced for me how it's not nudity which is erotic, but the relationship one has with the nude person.

What one was left with was a feeling that we had all participated in an event to tell the grandchildren about (so to speak), and a great feeling of togetherness, the kind of impression you get in other walks of life (like sporting events). I'd encourage anyone else to do it: it's easier than it seems, and no one will judge you. In its own peculiar way, it was tremendous fun - and enlightening.
Stephen Coltrane, UK

Maybe if we all accepted that being nude was natural then it would help people relax a lot more and not be worried about so many other conventions that contribute to their everyday battle with stress.
Mark Searle, England

Hee hee hee! Why not? Its not as if the human body is anything to be ashamed of. It would have to be warm for me to take part though!
Jo, UK

Collective nude art is really ancestral and makes humans look more like animals than ever. In some of those shots humans could have been mistaken for pigs even sheep. One could see their collective vulnerability.
Deanna Navarro, Australia

Nudity should not be an issue in a healthy society. Humans originally wore clothes for protection from the elements, not out of "shame". In does not in itself, of course, constitute art - especially when the predominant skin colour is pink, as in the photo of the Saatchi opening !
Peter, Spain

I'd love to do it, I have no problem at all with nudity whatsoever. I see this becoming more and more popular in today's changing society.
Martyn Bailey, Sheffield, UK

Surely clothes are unnatural - we are the only creatures that feel the need to try to cover our bodies. There is no shame in showing your body as it was created.
Gonzalo, Peru

Absurd! Art enlightens ones body and soul sensationally, obscene exposure serves not the same to the exhibitionist or the observer.
Khurram Khan, Pakistan

I have been a naturist for over 30 years and have to agree nudity is very calming, relaxing and not at all sensational in any sense. It does have a levelling of the playing field so to speak and everyone does after a fashion just blend into just another body.I t is impossible to pick one particular person out in a large crowd of nude people.I have been to a beach (Blacks Beach in SanDiego)with over 10,000 good people and was very comfortable with the situation. If more people would become naturist I am sure we would have less violence in the world as we would all be giggling at each others sillinesss.
Bob Holmes, USA

It is very touching to see those piles of bodies, bodies that still have life in them. It feels like a good remedy to the memory of pictures of piles of dead bodies, like in WWII. I am shy about going, but I think this is a work of Art, It does promote life and poetry in the life group. Congratulations.
Phil, France

I was one of the people cast for Antony Gormley's Domain Field. Although it did require me to get naked in front of strangers, albeit only two other women, it was a very private and discreet experience. All nudity took place behind temporary screens and only those required for the casting process were present. I don't think even my boyfriend would recognise me from the final metal matrix. Although I'm extremely proud that I took part in Domain Field, it was definitely exhibitionism for the very shy.
Merry, Newcastle, UK

I have posed as an artist's model, and, although the experience was strange at first, I soon got used to it. If an event such as the Selfridges shoot came about in my area (South Suffolk/North Essex), I would certainly take part.

Group nudity is said to be therapeutic by naturists, and I feel that it is rather bad that our public naturist beaches are so few and far between and in such obscure locations. Surely it is only a few prudes who object to nudity - I would say the masses are either indifferent or in favour of it.
Steve, UK

Absolutely. I have not done so yet, even though I'm fine with my physique, I wouldn't impose it on others. I would certainly consider posing for Art students and for Medical Training one day.
Brian O'Dwyer, United Kingdom

Yes, I posed for my girlfriend for a piece of coursework. It was most exciting, but natural occurrences created problems in relation to the pose.
Aron Williams, Britain

The human form and the person is endlessly interesting, the more naked, the more interesting.

I enjoy nudity but much of it is very conventional. The nudity of the typical art class or life drawing/painting club is far from naked because interaction between artist and model is limited. I am a very keen life artist and my work is becoming of a very good standard (I like to think).

The installations in question are conventional in that there is a "personal" separation between artist, model and witness. However such installations do serve to remind us of our nature. We are wonderful and central to civilisation, our public spaces must not be allowed to deny this.

Discovery of other people and of ourselves is the most exciting thing in life after procreation. I would certainly take part in artistic ventures of this kind.
Brendan Webster, UK

Why not? But not if it was chilly.
Simon Mallett, UK

No, never want to, and think it's all pretty weird and everyone should settle down a bit !
Henry, UK

Examining pictures in the press from the two recent events at Selfridges and the Saatchi Gallery, I note that there is not a hairy body in sight. Are hirsute folk turned back at the door, folically embarrassed, or just less enclined towards nudity?
Justin Maxwell, UK

I wouldn't go because it is very wrong for such a thing to happen because from the time man got to know that they were naked in the garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned they went for the leaves and made the same thing to cover themselves with. And God himself made some covering for them. If it was akey to walk naked God wouldn't have done so.
Patricia M Malunga, Zambia

In order to provide entertainment for the observers of the continuous art show in the middle of Leeds Town Centre outside the Art Gallery (free admission!) I have stood naked for over three hours.
Toby Jacklin, England

Yes, I have. At school I joined in with the local art college and posed naked in a group with other art students. This was a liberating experience and I am sure it gave pleasure to many art followers. In the future I would like to join in many more of these events.
James Blackmur, England

Modern Art? Modern artists? Self-perpetuating elitist leeches, the lot of them. I could suggest that 500 people wave their bits about and it wouldn't be 'art' - it'd be filth and I'd probably be arrested. Some publicity craving artist proposes it and somehow it is different. Can't he just paint a picture for heavens sake?
Anon, UK

Ethnic minorities are not represented there. People of colour - People with their clothes on - People with sense!
Gladys Effa-Heap, UK

I don't have any problem with nudity - I am happy to sunbathe naked at the beach and walk around in my home and garden unclothed.

Tunick's work provides sight but not detail of the naked human form - this would seem just the right message to all as we're all the same really.

After all, if we were meant to be naked, we would have been born that way!
Adam H, Portsmouth, UK

Like the song goes: "Everyone wants to be naked and famous", even Presidents of the United States of America.

I find it hard to appreciate the value of this artistic project in the context of a world facing a possible pandemic, famine, war etc. Why don't the participants put energy into solving the world's problems rather than this completely self-indulgent waste of time. Get a life. PS I bet you won't post this!!
Andrew, UK

I don't have a problem with nude people - what I have a problem with is so-called modern art which rips people off. Art is about people with a special talent making the world a richer place by using that talent for the non-talented. There was nothing talented about this exhibition - I could have grabbed 500 people by telling them I was an artist and got them to pose in "interesting" ways in the nude, yet I don't have an artistic bone in my body. Please don't patronise us by pretending this is art - it is not: it is just con merchants taking gullible people for a ride.
Caity, UK

Went to the Spencer Tunick shoot last night at the Saatchi Gallery in London. It was the most hilarious thing I've done in a long time. We spent an hour or so running through what we were supposed to do while naked and then come 8 o'clock, we did it. Got to shake Steven Fry's hand (while naked; me not him; how weird).

Watching people's reactions was the most amusing thing. Ended up in a room full of people drinking champagne. The conversations generally started with the phrase "Do you know you're naked?" When people first saw you the reactions varied wildly from turning away, looking blazenly at your crotch (women mostly), giggling, smiling and politely saying hello, or being pulled into a conversation. It amazes me how many people want to talk to you when you've got no clothes on! Once you've talked to them for a couple of minutes you turn back form being (Oh my God!) naked into a normal person and they're just chatting to you.

Was the weirdest and most wonderful evening, and Spencer, if you're out there, thank you very much. Would probably never otherwise have got to see Damian Hirst's Cow and Tracey Emin's Unmade Bed, which makes mine look neat by comparison.
Mark Roworth, Brighton, UK

Surely clothes are unnatural - we are the only creatures that feel the need to try to cover our bodies. There is no shame in showing your body as it was created.

There are plenty of famous and respected pieces of art that depict the human form, so what is the problem with these newer ones? As long as there are no sexual or indecent acts being demonstrated, what is wrong at viewing naked human beings?

Perhaps the prudes need to reassess their views about their own bodies, and realise each person's body is a unique piece of art.
Alison, UK

Hang on a moment - there is more to this than freedom - freedom from what? From the wonderful expressions of colour and texture and clothing we enjoy, the glorious contrasts in the way people adorn their bodies, the way clothes swish and move and fall and give grace to the ungainly - come on you unthinking folk, mass nudity is the ultimate depersonalisation of society, the removal of individuality and all the more chilling for that. On a serious note, the Nazis used to strip everyone in the camps exactly in order to depersonalise.

There is beauty, as another correspondent wrote, in the delight of two lovers in each other's nudity because of what they feel in addition to what they are. Watch out this so-called freedom isn't in reality the prison of mass uniformity.
Diana, UK

Naked in Selfridges? Shoplifting might have been a problem though.
Ben, UK

I find this "art" very sinister. In particular, the photo outside the Saatchi gallery resembles the corpses the allies found when they liberated Bergen Belsen. The Nazis made the Jews strip before gassing them. It was one of many methods used to strip them of their identity.
Danny Bermant, United Kingdom

Dear Mr Cooper

If the world went naked for 24 hours tomorrow the British would be pretty miffed because the forecast is not all that warm. This idea that nudity elicits greater understanding of self is nonsense. There are plenty of scantily clad peoples of the world who are equally, if not more, disposed to barbaric behaviour than Western civilisations.
Geoff, UK

I think part of the reason people are increasingly keen to take part in this sort of art is that, in everyday life, nudity is increasingly becoming synonymous (at least in law and in the tabloids) with "sexual perversion". This sort of art is fighting back against that kind of oppressive approach, so I hope we see much more of it! Let's try to have the same sort of sensible approach to nudity as we see in many European countries.
Paul Stevens, UK

I participated in the installation on Sunday in Selfridges and had a great morning. I have never done anything like that before (and probably won't get the chance to again) but found the whole experience challenging and fun. The best thing about the day was a general feeling of camaraderie with everyone involved. The most uncomfortable moment however was walking barefoot down the escalators. Not easy on the soles of the feet!
Steve G, UK

I think art is a matter of perception, it all depends on how we see it and sometimes on how we want to see it. Furthermore, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. However, I would not have volunteered myself.
Mohor M, UK

Modern Art has no clothes. If art reflects the culture of the day, then this like the rest of Brit art sends a sad message on the vacuous and pointless nature of modern life and life's purpose in the mind of the artist.
Simon, UK

I have to say that I am happy to be called a prude if that's the price to be paid for having some kind of dignity and integrity. As for this being something to be proud to show to future generations, we must have lost our minds. This is just another expression of our despicable obsession with wrongly expressed sexuality.

How many of you would be ashamed to walk down your local high street naked in front of other peoples' kids? Yet it's okay to be naked in front of hundreds of others and call it art because it's in an organised setting? I strongly oppose this kind of "art" and as a Christian, I'm not ashamed to say so.
Yvonne D, U.K

I have appeared in one of Spencer's shoots and it was actually quite a great experience. We were all clothed and stand-offish at first. Once we had to be naked, the conversation started and we all had a great time. It was as though the clothes were barriers to our humanity. It was simultaneously humbling and empowering, people of all shapes, sexes, sizes and colours were gathered together as people, exposed and naked and all on the same level.
Heather, USA

The first time I stood for Spencer Tunick was about seven years ago. Posing in a small group of five, on a builder's site outside the French houses of parliament in between two lanes of rush hour traffic, before being arrested by three van loads of French military police was a fantastic and hilarious experience that has kept me in dinner party stories ever since! So, it didn┐t take much persuading for me to do the Saatchi and Selfridges shoots then!

Society deals with clothing and nudity in very set ways, so doing something outside of that blows you away - not least because despite the intense anticipation and nervousness of the build up, once you're naked it's an oddly calming experience. I did it because I couldn't think of a good reason not to - anything I came up with, from embarrassment to not thinking it's "proper" is, well, just a negative social construct, something that was totally borne out in the British press which has been predictably prudish and scoffing.
Wendy, UK

I was part of the happening yesterday in Selfridges. I was thinking about leaving right up to the point where Spencer asked us to take our clothes off, but having stayed I feel better about myself than I have done for a long time. The whole experience was deeply cathartic - I've always been worried about my body and the way others perceive me, so with a confidence that came out of nowhere I decided to stay and see what happened. With 500 other naked people around me I finally felt comfortable with myself - no one has a perfect body, and now I've seen it with my own eyes.
Claire, UK

I myself have been to a naked procession before - and top fun it was too! We really felt we were part of something special, unique. I will definitely be going to another... and another and another and another!
Carl Warner, UK

Yet another example of the complete load of drivel that is passing itself off as art these days. Get some overpaid critic with an over inflated ego saying some crap is outstanding, and a load of gullible art fanatics jump on the band wagon.

As for the stolen modern art pictures that were found by the police in Manchester, after long and due consideration (about 10 secs), I would say that the best thing the police could have done is left them there.
Robbie, UK

I was one of the few Asian nude artists at Selfridges and I can genuinely say I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Amo Amin, Harrow

Would anyone take any notice of this "art" if the people in the pictures were clothed? Isn't this "art" just popular because it's a bunch of naked people? I'm sickened by what passes for art these days. It seems that anyone that doesn't want to have a real job just becomes an artist doing something shocking or pornographic just to make a name for themselves oh and a nice bundle of cash into the bargain!!
Dave, England

So what did happen about the new laws to make being reckless about being seen naked punishable with a four year prison sentence anyway?
Michael, UK

Appalling piece of vulgar sensationalism for perverts and exhibitionists. As a creative idea it's so unoriginal. Of course this sort of thing is always good for publicity.
Keith Barrett, UK

Strange in these comments all the men support it and all the ladies either don't comment or are against it.
Alex, UK/Japan

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"His volunteers find stripping for art liberating"

Selfridges hosts naked art show
27 Apr 03 |  London
Nude opening for Saatchi gallery
16 Apr 03 |  Entertainment
Sculptor plasters naked volunteers
18 Feb 03 |  Entertainment
Canadians flock to strip off
27 May 01 |  Americas


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