Many years ago now, I did something most people might consider a teensy bit crazy; especially people who know me now as the-sensible-one-who-hardly-drinks. So crazy in fact that when I remember this incident I find myself marvelling at my youthful courage/foolhardiness.
So here it is: in the late Summer of 2001 I, along with thousands of other Melbournians, posed in the pre-dawn chill, nude, for a Spencer Tunick photo. Several Spencer Tunick photos, in fact. Butt naked in every one. Butt naked waiting between shots. Butt naked walking between locations. Naked butts, all over the place. Are you getting the picture?
Just in case you're not:
It was my zaniest, most alternative-lifestyle-embracing, lentil-and-veg-munching, green-voting, love-your-imperfections friend who sent me a link to a little article asking for willing volunteers. Shall we do it? she asked. I hesitated for a nanosecond and replied, yes. Think about the implications later, sign up now.
A good policy in life, generally. So I did.
Details were revealed to us in stages. Spencer has requested that all participants converge outside the Arts Centre at 4am. Please don't bring anything of value as you will have to leave it behind during the shoot. Please only come along if you intend to take part. My friend and I were beside ourselves leading up to the day - how many people will show up? Will there be any perverts hanging around the edges? Where will we leave the car keys?
As it turned out, none of these mattered. Approximately 4,000 people showed up, as well as a few keen members of the press and the odd bemused early morning jogger. Tunick briefed us all himself, via a loudspeaker and a ladder. There would be a countdown, then we would all strip and proceed to walk across Princess Street Bridge, whereupon he would give a signal at which we would all drop to the ground, like "puppets whose strings have been cut". 5,4,3,2,1. We start taking our clothes off a piece at a time, reluctantly at first, eyeing our neighbours furtively so as not to be the first fully exposed, until clothing starts dropping like flies and we are all out of our shells and all you can see is mostly pale flesh in varying degrees of pink. The atmosphere is incredibly peaceful and relaxed, and there is lots of pleased smiling shared between strangers. Stripped of our clothes, we are all one big mass of humanity. The barriers are down. We are all equally vulnerable. Big, small, young, old, male, female, fat, skinny, freckled, tattooed, scarred. All exposed as equal human beings; not so dissimilar after all.
We are swept along with the crowd walking towards the bridge, where we collapse at the signal and wait patiently for Tunick to take the shot. I remember thinking "I will always remember the feeling of lying here on the ashphalt". I always will. Then we all get up, brush our naked selves off, and head down to the banks of the Yarra for the next shot. By this time, the nakedness feels perfectly normal, and people are chatting away happily, joking and laughing as they make their way down to the muddy water's edge. The grass feels pleasantly soft after the road. The press take their photos, but there is a feeling that they are breaking an unwritten rule and eventually, one of them puts down his camera and strips so he can join in. He is welcomed with high fives and whoops of congratulation.
Eventually the photos are taken, the crowd heads back unhurriedly to their piles of clothes, and we all get dressed and go on with our weekend, buzzing from our collective experience.
Why did I do it?
I did it for Art, man. I did it to scandalise my future grandchildren. I did it for my lovely friend, whose utter fearlessness I envy still. I did it for my grandfather's delighted chuckle when I told him about it. I did it for Spencer. I did it for Melbourne, my lovely home town.
But most of all, I did it for me. As an act of art, as an experience, to prove that I could. For the memory.