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Is gathering thousands of people together to pose nude on the rooftop of a supermarket in Prahran considered art these days?

According to Woolworths, apparently not. They put the kybosh on world-renowned photographer Spencer Tunicks latest project, where he planned to shoot his “hero image” of some 10,000 naked participants. The move has divided art lovers and politicians.

Spencer Tunick's photo shoot at the Opera House in 2010.

Photo: Peter Braig

"Any rooftop in July in Melbourne's going to be reasonably chilly, I would think, but I'm sure they'll find an alternative venue," said Premier Daniel Andrews.

Woolworths perhaps doesnt want customers seeing unsolicited shots of meat and two veg while they shop for their meat and veg.

Critics have long debated whether Tunicks mass displays of nudity qualify as art, porn or exhibitionism. Perhaps I can be better judge of that than most. I joined the thousands who stood stark naked on the steps of the Opera House at 4am for Tunickss art installation The Base, in 2010.
I stood way at the back, my spectacular mane of chest hair framed against a sea of waxed, puckering skin.

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A brisk breeze froze our dangling participles. One wag thought Tunicks work should have been called Blue Poles instead of The Base.

Meanwhile, Tunick stood down the front taking photos, barking instructions. The shoot was both confronting and uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. The first uncomfortable moment was when Tunick ordered us to hug the people next to us.

Thousands of naked people crouch in Mexico City's main Zocalo plaza for Spencer Tunick in 2007.

Photo: AP

Fortunately, my immediate neighbours, four women from England, were willing to hug this hairy wild colonial boy.

More awkwardness was in store when Tunick ordered those at the back to come down near the front. We stopped a mere three or four rows from Tunicks camera.

Now Tunick was possibly asking too much. It was one thing to pose nude amid the anonymity of all that flesh. It was another thing to risk being identified not only by Tunicks cameras but by representatives from assorted other news agencies, TV crews and more. No one wanted to see their goodies front and centre on the evening news.

By the second hour, the crowd was becoming restless. We had become acclimatised to the idea of being nude. We were no longer shocked or scandalised. We were cold, tired and hungry.

Was our five-thousand bum salute art? Certainly, we suffered for it. There was something undeniably artistic about all that flesh, which seemed to merge into one giant entity.

Was it exhibitionistic? Perhaps. Part of the appeal of appearing in one of Tunicks works is to say that you have done it.

Was it pornographic or erotic? It didnt feel that way .. at least not to me. Yet I did hear tales of more than one chap cursed by Priapus.

Fortunately, you couldnt pick out those Blue Poles in the final photo.

Charles Purcell is a Sydney writer.

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