Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spencer: Cork seems to have been better

I know this is a long post so I've tried to break it a bit: pre nudity, nudity, in the sea, overall feeling. Thanks for reading :)


1) Orientate garment so that arrow points upwards
2) Rotate garment 180 degrees laterally
3) Lift garment over head then pull down over body until head has passed through neck aperture and torso is fully covered
4) Insert left arm though left arm hole and right arm through right arm hole.
5) Act casual."
It was somehow appropriate that I decided to wear the t-shirt I got from Rick O' Shea, bearing the instructions above on Saturday morning. Rick had asked "when would you ever wear one"? and the fact that I'd have to reverse instructions 1 - 4 and keep 5 in place appealed to my strange sense of humour. So 2.30 am saw me approaching the Customs House, bag containing towel and water with considerable trepidation. What the hell was I thinking?

Buses lined the street in front collecting the waiting crowds. I scanned nervously for anyone I knew, almost hoping not to see anyone. There were hugs and shrieks as groups met up, laughter as couples nervously waited their turn, their release forms in hand. All around the place were young and not so young, male and female, sober and not-so-sober. I climbed aboard the first bus to pull up "makes a change from the nitelink" I said to the driver. "I wouldn't know" he said, "I normally don't drive this late".

Driving down the docks at night towards our location, I distracted myself with my phone. In front of me four Italian guys are joking "What, you mean this isn't the bus for the airport?" A girl and her gay friend are comparing it to a scene from Sex and the City. For me it's just like the nitelink - loud people, conversations in many languages, people shouting, me quiet.

We're on our way to the South Pier of Dublin Port. As we drew nearer I was surprised to see a queue of buses in front of us waiting to release their passengers. I had expected around a thousand would be brave enough, maybe more, but this gave me some idea of the scale of the whole thing. As I got off I caught a glimpse of the buses still waiting behind.

I had been awake all night. I'd written a very personal post that just rose within me, I'd been on Twitter and I'd been sorting out things for my talk with Grannymar in Queen's University, Belfast the next day. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so cold (something Niamh just rolled her eyes at) and I hadn't checked the weather. The chill wind that blew through the darkness didn't bother me though, I was more focussed on the fact that all around me were people I was going to be naked in front of, as they would be me. I tried not to catch anyone's eye. Two girls from Belfast were walking beside me "Aye, I just came down for this" one says, "Cork sounded so good."

And indeed it did. From the comments on the Midsummer festival blog:
Wow, exhilarating is exactly the word i've been using.
I am merely a unique, differently shaped body amongst a number of extraordinarily uniquely shaped bodies, offering our form and enjoying the experience of this slightly different and new form of formality.
and from Stereotyping's great post:
Despite the cold and the Irish embarrassment, I’ve never felt anything like it. And while I don’t think I’ve “changed” as a person, I feel enriched for having gone through with it.
These were my frame of reference for what to expect so I had high hopes. Not for the event itself but just how I'd feel after it.

Following the crowd along the pier I began to look at people, curious as to the other types around me. I was surprised by the groups of friends male and female who had come together. Much as I love mine, I can't imagine being naked in front of them. There seemed to be a lot of non-white, non-Irish there - Italians, Spaniards, Germans, Asian - all conversing in their groups and languages. I walked on, unsure of where to go but assuming the crowd were at least going the right way.

Eventually coming to the second group of portaloos, with queues of six or seven outside each one, I began to see more official - and clothed - personnel around. A loudspeaker shouted directions - go, sit, wait with your clothes, Spencer will tell you what to do. Look for the X's they said, that's where you'll be going. Go towards position one. Again, I followed. Once the crowd got too thick to walk through, I chose a spot to wait.

I sat beside the sea, staring out into the darkness. The floodlights lit the faces of the people around me as I clutched my bag, trying intently to suppress my thoughts of "Well if I leave now..." and not wanting to look up, as these would be the people I'd be stripping in front of. These people would be stripping in front of me. We talk about Irish repression and embarrassment as being stereotypical but for me at 4am it was a stark reality. I stared towards the breaking clouds over Howth and tried to meditate.

People kept on walking down. The mix of dialects from the small sample in my earshot indicated this wasn't just Dubs or even just Irish. There were quite a few Cork accents, laughing and joking. "Ah sure it was great craic on Tuesday, the laughs we had" one guy is making friends fast. "I tell you though, I needed a beer afterwards". You and me both buddy was my thought.

Security were escorting the drunks off the premises. At least five times someone either too paralytic to stand, or groups of rowdy young fellas were taken out quietly but firmly. "Burr I wanna see de boobies" shouted one, provoking a snigger from the crowd around me. People weren't quiet, weren't reflective, seemed completely non-plussed by it all. I almost envied not having someone to talk to. The lady beside me leaned in "Where do we go first?" she wanted to know. "Sorry, I don't know" I replied. That was about the extent of it.

The sunlight started streaming on the horizon as the loudspeaker came to life. A disembodied voice asked us to stay away from the side as we'd be facing the sun for our first position. "If you all look at your paper" he said "you'll see the way you should be in." What paper? Around me some people had blue A5 sheets detailing the postures for the pieces. Other people didn't have them. A lot of borrowing went on. Okay, position A standing. Grand. B was sitting with the arms back. Okay. C then was lying in a foetal position. I was cold but thought the morning sun would rise and give us more heat. "Spencer's waiting for the sun", the voice said, "then we'll start". In the background we can hear instructions being given, plans being changed. It all seems a little chaotic but there is a big crowd of us.

The loudspeaker crackles to life again "Hello everyone, on behalf of Dublin Docklands welcome to this morning's Spencer Tunick installation". The crowd stands, giving a cheer, expecting instructions "We've been trying to get Spencer to Ireland now for over ten years and are delighted he's here. When we chose this venue six months ago we didn't expect this amazing turn-out but what you're doing today is part of art, part of Irish history. I hope you enjoy it". Another cheer from the crowd is followed by a groan when we realise there's more waiting. The cold is starting to settle in.

It's about 5.15am. It's getting a lot brighter and I begin to see the scale of the operation. I can see the lighthouse at the end of the wall in the distance and Dublin Port and Howth at opposite ends of the view. The first position will be out towards the sea, we're told, the second towards the port and there'll be a mystery third position. "The sea" the Cork lads tell us "that's why he said to bring towels". I gaze out and wonder.

We all stand. It must be near time. Each time the loudspeaker crackles we're told it will be in a few minutes. When the light is right. Apparently. I wish I'd brought a warmer jacket, had a cup of tea. The only facilities I'd seen were way back at the start. That's silly I thought, they should have something here.

On funny moment for me is when I realise my fly is open because of the position I've been sitting in. I'm mortified for a moment and then laugh at the fact that I'm worried someone may have seen my underwear. Sad, eh?

I look at the girls around me. I'm glad that people seemed to have gone for the casual, not over dressed or over made up look. Some are wearing pyjamas, some dressing gowns. A petite girl near me is just stunningly beautiful. Each time I glance in her direction she seems to be looking in mine. A brunette with highlights, she's wearing clothes that hug her full figure. Suddenly I'm simultaneously gladder I'm here for the experience and more insecure about being naked. It's a strange thought.

The midsummer sun is amazing as a ferry comes into view. We all stand and clap and wave, laughing about the thoughts of those aboard if they'd see us naked. The ship acknowledges the crowd with a long blow of its horn (if that's what it is) and suddenly the loudspeaker announces Spencer. There's a cheer. "Good morning Dublin", he starts "Thank you all so much for coming out. We had more than we expected and I hope we can make this great. I won't be shooting for long so the quicker you get to your positions the quicker it can be done". He continues on and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one freezing and wishing he'd just hurry up.

Suddenly I'm sensing an awkwardness in the air. A silence begins as we count down the minutes. We're going to do it is the thought, soon we'll all be naked. You'll be able to see me naked. It's a nice silence, almost reverend as we contemplate it. And then the order comes and we're doing it. Stripping. Naked. In front of each other. Clothes abandoned we all start walking towards the lighthouse. Fully dressed security and staff show us the way. It's funny but they're now out of place.

I thought I'd do a lot more staring than I did, but not only was it FREEZING but I'm almost not aware of the fact there are naked girls. Instead I'm looking at the different skin tones, the complexions, some of the stunning tattoos. The scars on people's backs. The petite girl I'd seen earlier has a good body. Not a model's body by any means but somehow that was even more attractive. All around me people are clapping, high fiving, walking hand in hand, laughing, joking. Putting their hands in the air to show they're not ashamed.

"Jaysis lads this is great" says one of the Cork crowd, "We should do this every week. Same time next Friday?" Another amusing comment was "Lads, very nice. I saw her on the bus and was hoping I'd see her again. She's a cracker". But it's really nothing special. Apart from my nakedness (which is no longer even in my mind) all I can think is how similar to queuing for a big music festival it is. Waiting to get in.

The nakedness is not an issue - in fact it's too cold to let it. While I may not have been uber confident about my shape or size before, what I saw that day relieved any anxieties I may have had. I couldn't help but notice how many different shapes we were, how different people looked. One amusing thing was the amount of girls covering their bellies rather than their chest, choosing to be more shy of showing one than the other.

A ferry passes by. "Careful lads", comes a shout, "She'll tip to one side in a minute as people rush over". The crowd cheers and waves and shouts, rejoicing in their nudity. Ahead towards the lighthouse is a sea of bodies, their whiteness a stark contrast to the dull grey of the location. I'm stunned by the sheer amount of people.

"Okay you're going 4 deep"
come the orders, "Get into position quickly so Spencer can take his shot". We walk down towards where we think we're expected to go. Follow the person in front we were told, when they stop, you stop. Well now it's herd mentality. I'm one in a crowd, oblivious of my lack of clothes because it's so cold. We walk one way and are directed back another. Turn around walk back. Back towards the camera. It takes a good 20 minutes of to-ing and fro-ing from personnel who seemed not to have a clue before we're told it's now five people deep. More and more people are waiting to pass the camera to join the shot. I finally get into a position at the front towards the sea, staring at the sun as opposed to someone's back. That's a blessing.

And so we wait. Spencer comes on the megaphone shouting orders. I don't shoot digital he says, this will take a couple of moments. We stand waiting while the people at the front take their positions. It seems to take ages. Okay we're nearly ready to go Spencer yells, just stand in position. Don't look at me. Don't look at me. We wait. Stare at the sea, don't look at me, get into position at the front is all he seems to be yelling. I'm wondering how there can be such confusion.

Finally the shot is taken and we're told position B. Sitting on the ground leaning on our hands behind our backs. All around are people groaning as they sit on the freezing stone, hoping that this shot will take less time than the last. No joy. Hands towards the sky comes over the sound system. Some people raise their hands as others say No, he said Heads. Heads towards the sky. Put your faces to the sky Spencer yells. He doesn't seem to be happy or in any way empathetic. He just wants his shot.

We seem to be waiting ages. Ah Spencer hurry the hell up someone behind me says, me neck's getting stiff. You're lucky if that's the only thing a woman down from him says. The banter is what's making this bearable. Spencer certainly isn't as he yells at people in the front to stop kicking each other. Messers.

Suddenly there's a loud applause from down towards the lighthouse as people rise and clap, heading back towards us. Are we done? Are they in another shot? What's going on? Again it seems to be the messers. Sit down yells Spencer. Sit down we all yell sit down. It's too cold for this. Lack of communication is an issue. We're more angry than amused. We want this over with. From today's Sunday times article:
Tom Lawlor’s one reservation is that Tunick doesn’t undress himself. “I’d like to have seen him join in. He was quite aloof up on his pedestal. If he had been freezing too, there would have been more of an empathy with the volunteers,” he said.
The third shot is lying in the foetal position on the concrete. It seems shorter but God it's so so cold. I can't believe how cold it is for June. Tunick takes the shots and suddenly it's all over. We cheer. We clap, we run back towards our clothes. Walk, walk please yells a security guard. Easy for you to say says a passer-by. We laugh and look for where we'd left our bags. The walk back seems longer and as we dress we seem to somehow revert back to the embarrassment again, the more reserved. No one is rejoicing now. We're much too cold. "Jesus this is the warmest t-shirt in the world" the guy next to me announces. I know the feeling.

It begins to rain. Fecking Ireland. I'm glad it didn't happen during the first shot but suddenly, despite my clothes I'm freezing. We start walking towards the second location when it's announced that his second shoot is cancelled. The third shot is going ahead but is on the beach. In the water. And the rain.

Around me people decide to leave, to head back to the buses. It's too cold to continue. I'm torn. On the one hand I'd committed to doing this, on the other I'd done it, I was due in Belfast in a couple of hours and I was so cold. I rang Debbie, who I knew was doing it as well. Are you staying? I chatter into the phone. "Yes", she says, "I'm going the whole way". "Damn you" I say, "If you'd have left I'd have followed you". And I would have.

The Evening Herald, in its usual journalistic "accuracy" reports that 2,700 people went to the Beach. Like hell they did. I'd be impressed if it was 270. We stood beside a wall waiting to be told where to go, questioning our madness as people hurried towards the buses and a warm coffee, a warm shower. The rain came down. Once the order and directions come in, more by hearsay than by the sound system, we strip hurriedly and run down, trying to keep warm. I legged it until I was knee deep.

Spencer arrives and we turn towards him, clapping and cheering. A chant of Olé Olé Olé starts and suddenly I feel part of something. We're the ones who stayed. Come on Spencer, show your appreciation. A girl in luminous jacket on the wall claps in unison with us. Everyone else seems bored, like they don't realise just what the hell we're doing, how cold it is. I stare at a man beside me, his arms unnaturally purple. Are you okay I ask? He glances at mine and I see mine are even more so. Some bastards started kicking water. I wished I had a cattle prod. Think that's funny now, eh?

He uses two megaphones to direct us. Again it's a strain to hear him but we have to turn around, look away. "Heads down this time. Heads down. Heads down. Don't look at me. Don't look at me. Don't look at me". "We're not looking Spencer, take the bleeding shot!" is heard. "Buy a digital camera" is another. Over on Colm's blog he reports a lonely "I don't know what a tracker mortgage is". We laugh, but we're cold.

We stand waiting. And remain waiting,. Come on Spencer, the shouts start. "Would you come on, we're turning into smurfs here!" a man near me yells. Someone over the way starts "I'm singing in the rain" which we all join in on. Someone else starts Raindrops keep falling on my head. Thank God for the Irish sense of humour I think. We wait an age and I feel like he doesn't care - we're not people, we're just pieces of his art and he doesn't get the fact we're cold. He says "Right, I'm done" and we cheer as we run up the beach towards our clothes. I don't think I've ever run so fast.

In my clothes I see the texts are coming to my phone. Seán has texted a moment before so I ring him as I pass Debbie, fully clothed. We hug and start the walk back. Well, how was it? I ask, wondering if my lack of exhilaration and enthusiasm was just me being awkward? Okay she says and as we talk I realise she's feeling pretty much the same way - glad we did it but without a feeling of awe.

I think Cork may have been better for a number of reasons, both the humour of the people and the location and I hope it was better organised. For something that was in organisation for at least six months according to the announcement I have serious issues with things like the sound system for announcements, the handing out of information that could have been emailed to us, the positioning of people on an ad-hoc basis rather than organised and especially the fact there was only one small place with 2 people serving tea and coffee at the end. For a euro a cup. Surely someone should have thought there may be a need for more? Or that soup could be an option? Or that it could be free? Or that a better system for finding your clothes might help. Or even, quite simply that there could be a group of people like at the end of marathons or races cheering the people and saying well done. But no, there wasn't. One cheery girl says "Have a great day guys". It doesn't quite make up for it.

Looking at the photos today I'm wondering if it was worth it. Yes, I'm glad I did it, but I don't think I'd ever do it in Ireland again. It was too cold, seemed too badly organised, too difficult to enjoy. At least I did it I console myself with and I'm glad that some people came away from it having felt freer. I was asked when I first said I was taking part if this was art? I'm not sure I can say yes any more. The artist didn't seem to have any love for what he was doing or us as models, and so it's hard to have any love for what he's done. I look forward to seeing the shots of us in formation - that might make it worth it, but now it's just something I wouldn't even consider.

I'm glad people like Alison O Riordan writing for the Indo felt different. She says.
Taking part in a Spencer Tunick installation was a life-affirming and perhaps life-changing experience for me and I'm not exaggerating when I say that.

I'm not the most confident, have a tendency to be a little shy on occasion and I wouldn't dream of baring all in the normal course of events, so I figured if I could get through this, I could do just about anything. Yes, I remove my clothes a couple of times a day, but to be part of this unique experience and part of a powerful living art work was something else.

For me, there was a real sense of liberation simply because of the sheer volume of people willing to set aside their inhibitions and take a leap of faith together.

I dared to bare all for the sake of art, and would again without a moment's hesitation.
Fair play and congratulations to everyone who took part and shed their clothes at any stage. The courage you showed and we shared is something unique for Ireland and for that we should be proud.

Other posts about the experience:
If you were there, I'd love to hear how you got on please:

All photos taken by me, borrowed from other blogs or from here.


  1. Just reading about the cold makes me shiver!

  2. Great description Darragh, very vivid indeed. Isn't it interesting how we all experience it a bit differently? I agree about the organisational mess of it and was thinking of putting that in a separate post, not to mention a letter/email to them too. Anyway, well done!

  3. followed a link in Rick's blog and what a great story. i think i might pop in from time to time to read more.

  4. Great post Darragh. Fair play to you and Debbie. I honestly thought about it, thought maybe it would give me some more confidence or something, but reading that I know I would have been in a dire state. I don't do well with crowds to begin with, but freezing naked crowds that's even worse! :)

  5. I feel so cold now. Fair play to you for sticking it out till the very end.

  6. Wonderful post Darragh, it sounds like one of thosse experiences never to be forgotten and in a few weeks it'll be one of those funny stories you tell people :-)
    Fabulous pictures too, if nothing else, watching the sun rise over the sea must have been amazing!

  7. I have to say, I understand all of your views on the state of the organising,however, I personally had a great time, in spite of all the problems.
    I am upset I missed the in the sea one. I left early, but had I known the 2nd bit was canceled I would have stayed.

  8. Well done Darragh,

    Your report was very honest, warts and all account of the Spencer Tunick experience. Something that you'll probably never forget. Was going to do it myself but in the end didn't go but there's so much to do in life and constant opportunities to grab. Check out my page where this week I'm blogging about Salsa Dancing and the ups and downs of a single man in his thirties who needs a bit of female discipline.The address is below:

    Thanks again,

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed reading that and as a person that doesn't do cold
    too well admire your ability to continue to the 3rd part in the water. Your story is as always very well written and as Iano says "warts and all" included about how you felt throughout the experience. I'm sure it was an experience you will never forget. Its a pity Spencer didn't acutally appreciate the effort you all went too. You're mighty sir! One question, the pics in your blog - how you get them taken?

  10. An excellent post, truly excellent.

  11. Hey Darragh, I was chatting to you at the firefox party... I'm following you on twitter already, I knew the name was familiar :)

    I was at the 'installation' as well :) The most freeing experience of my life to date.. I've been on a high since :)

    The rain, wind and cold was a bit disheartening... but I thing the beach experience wouldn't have been the same without.

  12. I was at all 3 installtions on pier, in sea and on apartment balconies. I found the whole experience liberating and agree with most of what you have said. Can't wait to see the actual installtion photo's

  13. Despite the difficulties your description communicates as a positive experience overall. I think the normality of nakedness comes across despite the unusual event. It is community art in the sense that it shares the experience of making art with others. And art is not just only about having fun. I would imagine Spencer... (where is your)Tunick, was under a lot of pressure to get things done. But little things like a free cuppa or a clothes area that was better organised would make a big difference and give a more positive impression that would encourage you to get involved with a similar project again.
    I think you should have your portrait painted for your next project.

  14. I must say, I felt sorry for him and wondered if he had encountered our, er, particular brand of messing about before. He must have been under huge pressure to finish before we mutinied completely in that (unexpected?) freezing cold. I imagine he has sponsors he has to answer to, too. But yes, better organisation and a bit of motivational activity, cynical or not, would certainly have helped. Along with plentiful supplies of free tea and (GOOD!) coffee and cake. Oh yes, why no cake? :)

  15. Hi Darragh, my best mate Sinead and I were there too. We were bitterly cold, felt miserable and couldn't hear the sound system at all..Spencer sounded like he was eating the mike...but despite all of this we thoroughly enjoyed the experience..we met loads of lovely people (especially 3 guys from Portmarnock 2 Daves and an Anto who were kind enough to give us a drop of whiskey for the warmth) We laughed loads and forgot our nakedness suprisingly quickly. We were even mad enough to stick around for the water shot..ah in for a penny, at that point nobody cared about the nakedness and it all felt a little bit like being kids again..I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity .. but be sure to bring a flask of soup .. Eve