“There are some artists that want to slow down the world and feel that we need to have the time to be still,” said American photographer Spencer Tunick. “The still image does not give us all the answers. It gives our minds a chance to do its own imagining. This is important.” Tech pundits are currently burying the still and crowning the moving image as the preferred aesthetic experience – for example, the plethora of mindless short videos shoved to the fore on social media. Perhaps the still – as a photograph or rendered image – is dead. But what, if left to our druthers and not the algorithms, do we really long to look at?
Best known for organizing large-scale nude photo shoots and also making videos of the process, Tunick has, over the last 30 years, photographed over 75 of what he calls, “human installations.” By organizing his models across a spectrum of skin tones, hair length and colour, gender, age, and other factors, Tunick uses the nude as a palette. “For me, the nude body is like a raw material,” he said. “Another artist might use oil or clay. I love the fact that, en masse, it can be turned into an infinite number of shapes or abstractions, while the setting I choose – rural, urban, indoors or out – is like a canvas.”
By organizing this palette within architectural settings and other human-made surroundings, Tunick de-personalizes the human form, de-sexualizes it, and invites viewers to consider these temporary and site-specific events in the context of our collective humanity, the environment and our place as a species in the ecosystem. “When you see 300 people naked in Grand Central Station, or a river of flesh flowing through the beauty aisles of Selfridges department store, it makes you think about all sorts of social and political issues.” While composed and planned in detail and often resulting in a highly aesthetic but also non-exploitive, consensual, and collaborative-feeling artwork, Tunick’s photos also make it hard to ignore our exposure to and consumption of horrific historic and present-day images of assembled bodies, of corpses, and our paradoxical treatment of life’s preciousness and ubiquity.
PS: “Individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together, metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one’s views of nudity and privacy.” (Spencer Tunick)
Esoterica: Historically, the nude as subject has reigned as our most important outward and inward gaze: our number-one explorer and signifier of an aesthetic ideal, an instrument of power, objectification, and on a purely technical level, the proving ground for any significant achievement in understanding form; in sculpture, in rendering light and shadow, in anatomical accuracy and in the characteristic line of a one-minute gesture.
Perhaps it is in rendering ourselves, with the features of our species understood most intimately and collectively, where, as draftsmen, we are most universally leveled. If you haven’t tested yourself in a life drawing class, or hired your own model, move this exercise immediately to the top of your personal education. “The human body is the fleeting temple of our souls — the outward, evident skin of the human animal,” wrote my Dad. “Intuitively we know it to be something good and wholesome, and its mystery, wonder and dismaying difficulties humble us.” In Tunick’s case, the portrayal of nudity continues as an instrument of both transgression and organization, grouping compliant models into ordered and regimented systems for the purpose of aesthetic consumption. It is, perhaps, simply an extension of the nude’s historical place as a spectacle in art – at once the most beguiling object of fascination and a voyeuristic invasion – a chance to long-look at the forbidden, without consequence, to gain insight, compassion and understanding for that which we all share.
“There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.” (Robert Henri)
Have you considered a Premium Artist Listing? With each letter, an artist is featured at the bottom of this page. The Premium Artist Listings are a means of connecting artist subscribers through their work. Proceeds from each listing contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“My work’s an attempt to challenge notions about nudity in a public space and how the body is represented in our culture.” (Spencer Tunick)
October 17 – 23, 2022
San Miguel de Allende
Painting Mentor – Amit Janco: Artist, Author, Labyrinth Designer, Founder of Heartshops and Retreat on Your Feet (Creativity and Walking Retreats)
Join this 7-day journey through self-expression to unleash your bottled-up creativity, with a brush in hand – and openness in your heart. Calling non-artists too! Each day, you’ll stand up to paint; yes, you’ll be painting on your feet, and moving about – thereby activating the brain, the body and ALL senses. No need to come with a plan; watch the colors and brushstrokes come alive; and see the magic and mysteries unfold, as you greet your square of paper anew, every day. Our accommodations and studio are in an enchanting former bordello, just a stone’s throw away from San Miguel’s historic center, with its gardens, cobblestoned alleys and marvelous colonial architecture. Inspiration abounds!
We live in a fractured world. Wars, famine and power games are forcing people to abandon their homes and their way of life in hopes of finding peace. For lack of education or specialized skills, the poor are not accepted into our northern communities. They stay in the camps on the borders of turmoil, separated from local community. Animals are caught in the crossfire. Even the trees and the rocks suffer the agony of imbalance. This chaos is evident in my work. In between the rivulets of paint and the textural accidents I choose colours and forms to suggest a landscape where beauty continues to reign. We can still change the tide and build a new world harmony. Certainly, contemporary will focuses on gold instead of beauty. Yet, beauty is essential to the wellbeing of the planet. She is essential to the survival of humanity.