World renowned artist Spencer Tunick – famous for staging mass nude photographs – will return to Melbourne in July for a series of new works.
The New York-based artist first visited Melbourne in 2001 for the Fringe Festival, photographing what was then a record 4500 naked people with the city skyline as a backdrop.
This time he's chosen for his canvas: Chapel Street.
It's no Sydney Opera House – the site of Tunick's second Australian work in 2010 which saw some 5000 people amass naked in front of the world famous building during Mardi Gras – but it is a major coup for the ailing retail precinct, which has suffered record vacancy rates in recent months.
Tunick was lured by the local traders' association for its new winter arts festival, Provocaré, which launched last year as a way to liven up the strip.
"I had very fond memories of the experience that I had in 2001 working in Melbourne," Tunick told The Age, saying Melbournians were "braver" than most because so many had gotten their kit off even though it had been cold and raining on the morning of the event.
"Chapel Street reminds me of the East Village in New York, Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and San Franciscos Haight-Ashbury but all combined into one juggernaut," he said.
People of all shapes and sizes (over 18) are invited to apply to be a part of Return of the Nude, which will happen over two days at four locations in the Chapel Street precinct, which runs north to south through South Yarra, Prahran and Windsor.
Over a career spanning more than 25 years, Tunick has staged 125 mass nude installations in 25 countries, photographing tens of thousands of volunteers in their birthday suits. He has been arrested for it five times.
Critics say he's a one-trick pony chasing publicity; fans say his work transcends difference and foregrounds the humanity in our industrialised lives.
Either way his popularity is undeniable, with those who model for him saying it's liberating and unforgettable. None of them gets paid but everyone receives a print of the photograph in which they appear.
Got a great Spencer Tunick story? Will you be posing for a second or third time? We'd love to hear from you – email us.
In 2007 Tunick staged his biggest ever installation with 18,000 people posing naked in Mexico City's central plaza.
However the artist said it was "not so much about the numbers" but about engaging people and creating "a new dialogue … about the body in a public space".
"They [the volunteers] want to be challenged not only by the act of participation but by being part of an idea," he said.
"There's this wonderful communal element in my work and this wonderful tribal element, and I think thats how people connect – and they can connect on a very pure level, a very even playing field."
City of Stonnington has given $94,000 seed funding to the Provocaré festival for the first time this year after last year's test run. The festival is otherwise funded by the Chapel Street Precinct traders' association and a number of private sponsors including media partners.
John Lotton, who heads up both Chapel Street Precinct Association and Provocaré festival, called the inaugural 2017 festival "a resounding success", with some 10,000 visitors to the precinct over 10 days. This year's festival program was "20 to 30 per cent" bigger, he said, with more to be unveiled in coming weeks.
Want to get naked for Spencer Tunick? Register at provocare.com.au/tunick. Provocare is on from July 5 to July 15 in Chapel Street and surrounds.
Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age.
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