In the last sunny week a project was realised in Folkestone as part of the Museums at Night festival. 125 volunteers made their way to a secret location along the shore of Kent, before stripping naked to pose for the renowned photographer Spencer Tunick. After just two days, a pop-up exhibition opened in Georges House Gallery, exhibiting the images taken for this new exciting project. Tunick is known for his beautiful mass-nude photographs, which he shoots at famous sites around the world. He has gained international recognition and a following who see the photographs as beautiful, the idea as unique, and the process as a touching personal experience.
Being naked is a natural state, yet in today’s society our bodies are kept very private, only fully exposed for ourselves and our lovers. The experience of removing your clothing in the outside world seems rare and makes most people uncomfortable. Yet something really beautiful happens when we are naked: we are suddenly all the same. People lower their guards, and are vulnerable and exposed in unimaginable ways. Bodies regain their original meaning, once again becoming natural, relaxed and asexualized. Since Kusama’s happenings in the 60s, Spencer Tunick’s work is the next groundbreaking experience, shaking societal norms at their core.
Scope Out is Spencer’s first mass nude involving individual portraits, and also the first time he used viewing scopes as part of an exhibition. The scope is a small novelty keychain, with a small photo placed at the back, viewed behind a magnifying glass. In the exhibition, each tiny portrait is shown through these peep holes, which visitors have to get closer to and inspect, providing an intimate space both for the visitor and the subject in the photograph.
At Georges House, the scopes are mounted on Perspex speckling the space of the gallery. Showing the artwork in this way challenges our way of looking at things: we must take time to examine each photograph by getting close to the peephole, otherwise nothing is seen. The private view included not only peeping into the installation, but also a beautiful gift ceremony. For their efforts, all the participants were presented with their own scope to take home with them: one of the two only copies of that photograph that exist – even digital copies of the work were not made. It is a nice and unique gesture, providing a physical object for the subjects of the artwork to take home with them, as a reminder of their experience.
Scopes are souvenir gimmicks which haven’t been widely used for at least twenty years, and bringing them back also brings back a notion of physicality. In a world where hundreds of photos can be posted on Facebook in one sitting, it is an exceptional experience for images to regain their value through concreteness and rarity. Removing fast and easy reproduction of an image removes diluted interpretation of the work and restores meaning to the image as of itself. Whether the scope images end up on social media or the internet depends solely on the participants who might photograph their image with their iPhone through the scope, which is in itself a brave act, considering the nature of the photo in our society (and Facebook regulations preventing posting nude images).
Scope Out challenges modern society with the analogue medium and the restoration of mass nudity - removing digital images from the equation. The project is focused on the two photographs which exist, and is an unforgettable personal experience for the participants involved.
Written by Sivan Lavie