Will they do this in Dublin?

 

Spencer Tunick is no ordinary photographer. No one else in his profession has managed to get 100 people to lie naked simultaneously in New York's Times Square in the name of art. While his early works were black-and-white photographs of one or two-person nudes in various outdoor settings, his more recent, more controversial work has upped the people quota from one or two, to one or two hundred. In the Times Square shoot and others, a carpet of naked bodies is juxtaposed against a variety of landscapes.

Tunick believes his work challenges the way many people react to the naked body, and forces us to see it not as something sexual but as shapes and forms. He thinks this is most effective with larger groups of people. "With groups of people, especially groups of over 100, you have to get past the individual nudity and see the abstract shape. The group sends a more powerful message."

One person who certainly got the message is the Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani. The mayor, deciding that hordes of naked people lying down in Times Square was not the image he wanted to present to tourists, refused to grant any more permits to Tunick unless the models were clothed.

At a recent shoot in Chinatown, dozens of police turned up, brandishing handcuffs and threatening to arrest all of the people taking part. At another (in Times Square again) Tunick himself was arrested and spent 18 hours in jail. Tunick in turn sued the city for violating his First Amendment rights, but the city appealed the decision and the case in ongoing.

In his defence, Tunick says that all of his shoots are done at sunrise on weekends, when the streets are near-deserted, and that they rarely last more than a couple of minutes. "It's ridiculous," he says. "You can shoot a movie where a person blows people's arms and legs off, but you can't take some beautiful photographs of people, not engaged in anything sexual, but simply forming shapes."

His mood lightens considerably when the conversation turns to his upcoming project, Nudes Adrift. The project, his most ambitious yet, will be shot in more than 30 cities around the world (including a number of European cities) during 2000/2001. Tunick, whose work has already been shown in Switzerland and Vienna, says Europeans are more receptive to his work.

"The history of the nude is embedded in European culture," he says, "whereas in the States the most harmless nude would be considered controversial." But though he sees Europe as more open-minded, Tunick is still cautious about where he shoots. "My work is a celebration of free countries. I'm not going to go to a religiously fanatical country. In the States I have a great civil rights lawyer representing me but in Europe I don't have that protection. So I always just hope that the people are intelligent enough to look at my work and realise that it is not about sex."

Though he has never been to Ireland, Tunick says Dublin is definitely one of the cities on his wish list and he sees the fact that he is unfamiliar with the city as a plus. "I like to see a country for the first time as an artist, as opposed to a tourist," he says. "I feel like an explorer."

As regards a timeframe for the Irish visit, the sooner the better, he says. "If an art institution in Ireland wanted to help me to get this done within the context of it being a wonderful thing for the city and a wonderful public spectacle, I would do it sooner. If I have to do it all myself, then I would have to do it underground - handing out flyers, advertising in the alternative press - and that would take a lot longer."

Anyone in Dublin interested in taking part can contact Tunick at: nakedpavement@hotmail.com

Spencer Tunick's latest work can be viewed online at: www.nerve.com/tunick