With desert peaks stabbing the sky and a thin blue ribbon of the Dead Sea shimmering in the distance, ghostly figures of about 200 men and women—in white from head to toe—became visible from behind an outcrop.
Each of them was naked. Which can only mean one thing: World-renowned New York artist Spencer Tunick was back to photograph his latest installation.
Known for coordinating large-scale nude photographs in public spaces, from the Swiss Glacier to the stairs of the Sydney Opera House, Tunick enlisted a longtime friend and colleague, Ari Leon Frucher, here to help in his efforts to build a Dead Sea museum. is also. . Actually, the shooting is happening at the same place where the museum may one day stand.
Artist Spencer Tunick oversees the photo shoot by the Dead Sea. Credit: Youre Lieberman/Granthshala
And so, around 2.45 p.m. on Sunday, the participants – aged 19 to 70, and mostly Israelis, although some were also from Switzerland, Britain and the US – walked awkwardly on the rocky moon in the structure set by Tunick.
The white paint he wore – specially made for the artist – was designed to turn his body into conceptual pillars of salt, the biblical images of mineral formations visible in the Dead Sea and Lot’s wife. The figure is a reference to both, which, according to the Book of Genesis, was turned into an actual pillar of salt as punishment for seeing the destruction of Sodom by God.
Tunick hopes to link this installation with two previously held in the region in 2011 and 2016, in which participants were seen standing in the waters of the Dead Sea or buried in its mud up to their waists.
Artist Spencer Tunick is known for staging nude photographs on a large scale around the world. Credit: Youre Lieberman/Granthshala
“By linking an environmental issue to the (human) body, (it) shows the vulnerability of the body against nature—and at the same time, the vulnerability of nature that is caused by the body,” Tunick said. “Mankind can influence a vast ocean. And I think that showing this association of the body against the Dead Sea – very delicate – which is equally fragile, will bring a new energy to work and to people’s interactions.”
To the untrained eye, clouds, dusty haze and strong winds were not conducive to shooting. But Tunick begged to differ. “There is nothing like foggy mountains,” he said, referring to the background. “The weather is perfect.”
Unlike the chalky white participants, the tunic was dressed in black. He stood atop a camper van, giving instructions to his “art warriors” via a megaphone. “Everyone is in front, walk towards me,” she said at one point. They are dutifully bound. “A little more. Muscle man,” he said, delicately, “proceed that way.”
Tunic directs participants from atop a camper van. Credit: Youre Lieberman/Granthshala
One of the participants was Gil Shavit. The 63-year-old engineer from Hararit, northern Israel, said this was his second time at a tunic shoot. Shavit felt “fantastic”, he said. Like everyone else, he was wearing nothing but white body paint.
Tunick is also optimistic – not to say relieved – that as Covid-19 ends, life is returning to some form of normalcy. “I thought my job would be over,” he said of the pandemic. “I thought I’d have to lay the stones over a vast area and start working on the earthworks. I can put it in the ‘people’s work’ now, as long as they’re inoculated.”
This is not to say that tunic installation is a simple process. For starters, he cannot shoot wherever he wants. “The only place I can do my job in the Middle East is Israel,” he said. “If I was asked by Cairo’s tourism board to do a job in front of the Giza Pyramids, I would say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat.”
Tunic pictured on location in Israel. Credit: Youre Lieberman/Granthshala
Time constraints meant that this latest installation was more limited than the previous shoots. Tunick said the numbers were also limited as they only had 200 cans of special white paint.
For men and women who made the cut, the elements, rocks, and sheer physical toll of standing naked for long periods of time weren’t the only challenges. In a smaller country like Israel, there are other, more potential threats. Karen Bar Gil, an art dealer at Tunic in Israel, said that during one of the previous shootings a participant called her name for help – only to realize it was her children’s (very naked) dentist.
This article was updated to remove mention of participants with cold shivering.
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