Former Tate Curator Simon Wilson Lays Bare The Spencer Tunick Experience In His Account of What It's Like to Strip for Art's Sake
RECKONING OF EVIDENCE
The terms of the human body, some might say, are determined through a theoretical dissection of both the private environments and public atmospheres in which we live. By terms, the rules and evaluations of bodily condition, I mean to establish a division of perception. The first divide is that of the social body, the perception of our bodies in relation to a larger intellectual and sexual community, one that views each other in groups. The second divide is the condition of our nature, a perception of the body without relation or comparison, a singular entity that is independent, formless, and free. This segregation of seeing is general, yet universal because it capitalizes on our differences.
However, it is in the freeing of both natural and artificial bodies that art is created. Some artists depend on the predisposition of their subjects to provide the work with its primary message and meaning, other artists rely on a temporal and physical freedom, an ability to use objects while also freeing them of their social significance and thus endowing them with endless possibilities of form. Spencer Tunick, an installation artist and photographer, struggled to achieve this freedom as a working artist in New York City. This artist is most famous for his installations, often characterized by masses of naked people arranged together in domestic locations, and in countries from every continent of the world. Removed of sexual implication or intention, the nudes are used primarily and only as intended by the artist, as an exploration of the shape, contour, and texture of the naked body. Spencer is fascinated by the metamorphosis of the human body into a form, and the effect that his chosen locations have on this new shape (and vice versa) . In this way, the naked bodies are Spencer’s clay, and he uses them in the same manner that a painter uses oils or a sculptor uses marble.
This way that the artist looks at the body, is a radical contradiction to Western society’s view of the nakedness. In the eyes of some of his critics, Spencer’s works—showcasing mass nudity— invade social privacy and degrade the sacredness of the body. Tunick challenges traditional ideas of intimacy, and asks us to free the body of sexuality and view it aesthetically for the purpose of his art. The social body cannot exist, most specifically in the nude, as anything other then a sexual thing. This is our naked condition.
The analysis of form, while an engaging arc to follow, can also reveal an inverse exploration of the body. An examination of the deformed. This word, Michel de Montaigne addresses in his essay Of A Monstrous Child, suggesting that the existence of a social body is formless, but far from free. He describes the figure of a boy, below the breast he was fastened and stuck to another child, without a head, and with his spinal canal stopped up, the rest of his body being entire. Montaigne paints for us, a portrait of the boy’s physical form, or rather his de-form. With fastened, stuck, and stopped as his verbal interpretation of a Siamese twin, he illustrates how a human body, or form, can be imprisoned by abnormal disabilities. For the deformed, there is an ownership of one’s difference, an ownership that is visible and undisputable. Through a scenic description of a deformed child, Montaigne uses the different shapes and contours of the child’s deformed body in order to create a visual contrast between what is ordinary and what is unordinary.
The perceptions of the nude and the deformed both manifest out of a concept of the social body, and the ideological contrast and visible conflict that is created in their presence. In Of A Monstrous Child, Montaigne asks us to consider the way we look at the body, and at each other. Montaigne suggests:
What we call monsters are not so to God, who sees in the immensity of his work the infinity of forms that he has comprised in it; and it is for us to believe that this figure that astonishes us is related and linked to some other figure of the same kind unknown to man. When we view something contrary to custom we assign them a monstrous quality.
We infer based on something’s lack of ordinariness that it is disgusting or somehow linked to something inhumane, in some cases one might say uncivilized. In light of Montaigne’s theory, that we assign the unordinary with a monstrous condition, we can see the viewpoint from which art critics, the government, and the public, condemn Spencer Tunick’s work with naked bodies. Because it is not socially ordinary; it is irregular to see that many nudes amassed at one time, the art possesses a grotesque quality for the viewer.
This assigned foreignness can be designated as a kind of artistic racism, a public perception that handicaps from seeing and experiencing different forms, whether artistic or natural. There is an error in our perception that our perception of the human body is somehow flawed. We call contrary to nature what we call contrary to custom. We are trained only to be accepting of the regular, and it is this blindness that prevents us from seeing the prodigy in that which we have never seen before. It is possible that in our naked form, in our deformed, that we are not only exposing our vulnerability, our skin, our scars, our flaws, and our genitals. But we also are exposing our secrets.
Sexuality manifests most physically in the form in the human body. Kenneth Tynan, author of several sexually thematic plays, including OH! Calcutta, a show done entirely in the nude, has expressed in his published diaries a personal infatuation with sexuality, and an interest in its relationship to society and history. In an October entry during 1972, just a few years after OH! Calcutta closed, he ventures to further his knowledge and fascination through psychoanalysis, and provides us with the perspective of what some might call, an artistic sex-maniac. Unlike Spencer Tunick’s work, Tynan embraces the human body’s sexuality as its primary and most important function: the body cannot be freed of its sexual condition. He criticizes Freud who hypothesized an ideal sexual act, from which all deviations [sexual fetishes] were heresies to be purified by confession and rooted out. Tynan finds Freud’s interpretation of sexual goodness—an interpretation of intercourse in relationship to society and nature—to lack an understanding of the human relationship with body. He reveals a kind of disgust for the psychoanalytic world in relation to sexual nature, classifying Freud’s writing as scorching fire, a method of analyses that distorts our human nature by searing its purpose and condition in society. This modern sexual relationship is evident most clearly for Tynan in a Euro sexual openness, a perspective that embraces fetish and profane desire as our most fundamental and primitive form of sex, seeing the human body only as a form with sexual signification.
- Stefani Germanotta
Reckoning of Evidence