Spencer Tunick • Artist-Photographer, U.S.A.

A Sensational Architecture

Landscape Stories: Tell me about your imagery and language?
Spencer Tunick: I gather large groups of nude people in public spaces and document them through the use of photography and video. I am interested in figurative and abstract iconography and I try to incorporate both concepts in my work. I accomplish what I want by distributing color and shape on a landscape in a collage-like technique. I try to manipulate the variables, be it scale, sex, form, setting or otherwise to accomplish my vision.

Switzerland, Aletsch Glacier 3 (Greenpeace) 2007

Landscape Stories: You are an icon, I remember when I curated the "Sensational Architecture" exhibition (group show of the Fiesta of Architecture of Rome 06.10) a huge number of visitors came especially to see your work... How is it to be such an esteemed and acknowledged artist?
Spencer Tunick: I am always humbled by the response to my work. A lot of what drives the work is the collaborative element in each installation. Without the thousands of volunteers that pose, my art could not be possible. I hope that viewers are drawn to the human element of the pieces, that there is a relationship between art, the creation of art and the average person who may or may not frequent an art gallery. Also, I think there is definitely a curiosity from those who may have thought about posing or know someone who has. They want to see the finished product and know what it is all about.
Landscape Stories: Spencer Tunick, Terrence Koh, Francesco Vezzoli.... Lady Gaga does need and art teacher or she understands that contemporary art is becoming more known by the general public? Trade or a new way of communicating the art?
Spencer Tunick: I think there is a lot to be said for people such as Lady Gaga who really put themselves out there and use their status as a pop icon to convey some more abstract ideas that may not have been formerly embraced by the public generally. There is passion there. I admire artists that are trying to evolve beyond the norm. I mean, that's what we are meant to do It's difficult to say. I don't necessarily think that every artist sets out with the idea that they are going to be embraced by the masses. I don't know what the formula is. I know that art, for me, is a humanist experience, an emotional experience. It should also involve some risk taking. I try to express these elements in my installations. I try to always push it further, keep the work fresh and relevant. How people see or understand it or relate to it is highly personal.

Ireland 1 (Dublin) 2008

Landscape Stories: Can you describe your first installation?
Spencer Tunick: In the early days, around the mid 90s, I worked mostly on the streets of New York. I made flyers that I would hand out on the street in an effort to find participants. I would specify a location or meeting place, I would hand pick the people I handed the flyers to, to avoid the authorities. At first the groups were smaller, twenty five to one hundred people or so, often posing very early in the morning. The installations had to be executed very quickly. It was an exciting time in New York and I was still developing my style, honing my craft and trying to avoid getting arrested.
Landscape Stories: In which way do your projects represent an attempt at raising or defining social, political, and legal questions related to the topic of "art in public spaces"?
Spencer Tunick: There is a vulnerability that is revealed in the naked body. It is my hope that this vulnerability will create a truth that the viewer can relate to. The body is provocative, especially in an environment where it has social or political consequences. That is why I often use public spaces. I am trying to make humanist works that challenge some of the assumptions about nudity being interpreted as pornography or sexually driven. Some installations are more obviously politically motivated than others. My work with Greenpeace for example, where I used 600 bodies posed on the rapidly depleting Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland in 2007 and later in 2009 in the vineyards of Burgundy, France, in an effort to acknowledge the unsustainable agricultural practices there. I am motivated by beauty but also what is happening globally. I respond to it by conceiving a piece and taking the steps to carry it out and in doing so, raising awareness.

Burgundy 5 (Greenpeace) 2009

Landscape Stories: Which is your perfect city? What is your taste and opinion and preference towards architects and architecture?
Spencer Tunick: I don't know about a 'perfect' city but one of my favorite places is San Miguel, Mexico where I vacationed recently. I am very interested in the work of Mexican architect Luis Barragan as of late. Architecture has played a pivotal roll in the composition of my work. Working in public spaces brings attention to not only the bodies but also what you are working in front of. I am very deliberate in my choice of location. Form is often my motivation when incorporating a landmark or structure but a location can have political or social significance in a piece as well. Many times, it ends up being a combination of these ideas.
Landscape Stories: What is your working method?
Spencer Tunick: It depends a lot on the size of the installation. There is a lot of planning involved. I almost always make a trip to the city or area where I am planning an installation to scout specific locations and work out logistics. This can be a painstaking process, as I often have something in mind and will stop at nothing to find a location that can accommodate it. I usually work with an art institution or a museum in the area to recruit volunteers, arrange interpreters, liaise with city officials, etc. I have a team of people that help me carry out the installation, most of which are there to aide the participants in the set-up of each shot and keep the production in order. I also have a videographer, a documentary photographer and some technical crew.


Landscape Stories: Can you tell me about your last Italian project at the Mimmo Scogliamiglio Gallery?
Spencer Tunick: I recently included in the Third Moscow Biennale of Contemporary . For the exhibit I worked on my individual portrait series of nudes in public spaces in Moscow. The resulting photographs that I made on the streets of Moscow were later included in the Biennale exhibition space, the Center of Contemporary Culture GARAGE. This is the series that I showed also at Mimmo Scogliamiglio Gallery. I also photographed some of his friends while I was in Italy for the opening. We all woke up before sunrise and spent the morning, as the sun rose, making nude artworks around Milan.
Landscape Stories: Next Projects?
Spencer Tunick: There are always several projects at various stages of development but I can tell you that I am working on executing an installation on the Dead Sea in Israel in the coming year. Hopefully all the elements will fall into place and I will be able to make art in the locations I have scouted there. Stay tuned

Interview by Camilla Boemio