Spencer Tunick: The man who put the nudes into Newcastle

In the largest British event of its kind, 1,700 people posed naked in Gateshead for an installation by the American artist Spencer Tunick. Helen McCormack surveys his body of work
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The Independent Online

More than 1,700 people volunteered yesterday for US artist Spencer Tunick's latest naked art in Gateshead - the largest number of participants in any of his British projects - easily beating the 160 who bared all outside the Saatchi Gallery in 2003, and the 600 who took to the escalators of Selfridges on Oxford Street in 2003. He has created similar installations in Barcelona, Melbourne and Montreal.

"It was really, really liberating," said Keeley Henderson, 24, a student from Sunderland, who took part with her mother, Susan Henderson, 53. "I don't think anyone felt at all vulnerable."

The great unclothed stopped at the Millennium Bridge, before going on to Dean Street, where Tunick wanted to fill the road with a "thin sliver of bodies". Three hours later, the artist said he was delighted with the results, and that the participants had helped him make some "wonderful work."

Tunick said: "Those who took part have really achieved something. It is a life-affirming experience and something to celebrate.

"This was interesting for me in that I shot from a far higher vantage point, which was pretty fascinating, although it was hard to command from that height."

Naked City: Spencer Tunick in NewcastleGateshead was commissioned by the Baltic Gallery and BBC3. An exhibition will be shown at the gallery in January 2006

The naked truth

George Oldham, 65, from Hexham, Northumberland, is a former architect with Newcastle City Council.

"My wife's first response when I told her I wanted to take part was, 'What will the children think?' She didn't want to do it, but I had no such trepidation. I was really keen.

"I went alone, but you soon get chatting to people. I didn't see anyone looking uncomfortable, and it didn't inhibit conversation in a way you might expect it to.

"You tend to think these things are bit OTT, but when you are among it, it does feel as though you lose your self. You feel part of a group who are doing something quite exciting. It was a lot of fun.

"The being naked bit was actually quite an important part. You knew what the final product would be quite high art, that it would be something worthwhile. It's not just talk: it really does transform the landscape.

"Spencer is generally quite directorial and for the end shots was very conscious of not having anybody with any tattoos or distinguishing features, so that no one stands out.

"We all had our heads down ready for the pose and he gave someone his marching orders to go to the back. No one looked up to see what his distinguishing marks were; when Spencer tells you to keep your head down, you keep your head down.

"There was no feeling of any individuality. You do feel as though you are a blob of paint on a canvas."