Being Naked and Being Human

Being Naked and Being Human

It started in Oslo, on a muggy summer Sunday with a hint of rain in the air. After two weeks on board an expedition ship I was relishing the chance to be walking around outside, with an entire day at my disposal to explore a city I didn’t yet know.

Oslo has a fantastic amount of attractions, but my aim that day was the city’s Frogner Park. The place is famous for its bizarre set of sculptures; two hundred and twelve of them in fact, all carved by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland.

Welcome to the Vigeland installation

Being Naked and Being Human

This surreal park is the life’s work of a man fascinated by the human condition. Everywhere you look, there are stunning bronze and granite nude sculptures of men, women and children which show the most everyday emotions and interactions that a human can have: fear and anger, love and happiness, annoyance and excitement.

There are statues dotted all around the 80 acre park but the majority sit along both sides of a bridge; surround a large ornamental fountain; and climb their way up a dizzyingly tall tower which was carved entirely from one granite block over a period of thirteen years.

Being Naked and Being Human

Created between 1924 and 1947, the Vigeland Park is now a lasting legacy to the sculptor’s vision – and because the vast expanse of green space is open day and night for any visitors who wish to see it, it’s also an extremely popular spot to wander around and people-watch.

Both real people, and sculpted ones.

Being Naked and Being Human

When normal people become utterly fascinating

Vigeland’s skill lay in his ability to create beauty out of the mundane moments of daily life. His stone carved, larger-than-life bodies are both naked and unconcerned about their observers; they simply sit or stand while living, breathing tourists mill around them and pose for photos.

Yet the beauty of this park really occurs when visitors start to relax. As the initial fascination for the sculptures passes, they soon become climbing frames for young gleeful children; their pedestals becoming leaning posts for relaxed couples who watch teenagers practicing parkour on the stone balcony just below.

Being Naked and Being Human

Being Naked and Being Human

There’s something so calming about being around bodies, and these ones are more special than most.

I stood amongst old men cradling their ageing wives; children riding their mother like she was a horse; a tender moment of two foreheads pressed together; single figures sitting in contemplation.

Being Naked and Being Human

I watched as real-life bodies mimicked the lean muscles of figures carved from granite. Couples sat quietly, not realising how similar they looked to the statues beside them.

Being Naked and Being Human

I couldn’t help imagining that these statues were expressing the secret, inner lives of the tourists around me. After all, we all look the same underneath, right?

Food for thought in The Vigeland Museum

On the outskirts of the park is the Vigeland Museum, which used to be the sculptor’s studio (and is also where his ashes are now interred). Vigeland’s original plaster casts of many of the outside sculptures I’d just seen are displayed here, and without meaning to I spent hours lost amongst the figures.

I don’t normally have such a visceral reaction to art, but in this silent space I saw the sculptures differently.

Away from the crowds their message became something else completely: their stillness, happiness, and sadness had another level of impact. As the sunlight streamed across intricately carved faces and limbs, I saw strength displayed in situations I didn’t yet understand.

Being Naked and Being Human

A crying family caught mid-run made me think of war and turmoil and struggle. A perfectly tiny baby lying on the floor made tears spring into my eyes. And a couple holding each other by the waist gave me such feelings of simultaneous young love and heartbreak that I couldn’t look away.

Being Naked and Being Human

It was incredible to be surrounded by so much static human beauty, and I felt like Vigeland had understood something vital about the essence of who we are, simply by stripping humanity down to its nakedness.

So with all these stunning sculptures in mind, it’s perfect timing to explain what I’m doing this weekend: heading to Hull on the English coast to be part of modern art myself.

Something a bit surprising, involving Spencer Tunick…

The ‘Sea of Hull’ is a huge event set up by Spencer Tunick, an American photographer who specialises in human art installations which require all participants to be completely naked. He’s done them in Bogota, Sydney, Mexico City and Barcelona; on the bridges of Amsterdam, next to an Austrian glacier and in the chilly waters of the Irish coast.

Being Naked and Being Human

For his latest installation, Tunick is bringing a thousand willing volunteers together in the streets of Hull, next year’s City of Culture, where he plans to paint us all in different shades of blue to emulate the colours of the ocean.

Hull has a maritime past which stretches back centuries: Tunick’s been quoted as saying, “It intrigues me that in some places where there are major streets or parks today, previously there was water.” His plan is that a mass of body painted people should “create the idea of a sea of humanity flooding the urban landscape.”

Basically, we get to channel our inner water-loving Smurf while pretending the paint makes us look slightly less naked.

Being Naked and Being Human

But why exactly do I want to get naked in public?

As soon as I knew this event was happening, there was no doubt in my mind about getting involved.

Nudity has always been something I want to embrace more of. The few times I’ve swum naked has resulted in a beautifully liberated feeling; and my bare breasted experience in a Moroccan hammam prompted all kinds of female empowerment and gratitude.

Plus I did actually do a naked photoshoot at university, as part of a naked charity calendar to raise money. Along with a courageous group of my fellow bar staff we covered the windows and stripped in the campus pub where we worked, then stood around with pint glasses strategically placed and tried our best to fake nonchalance.

There may also have been a fair few shots of Dutch courage (tequila) beforehand.

Being Naked and Being Human

Of course it’s a bit nerve-racking to bare every bit of your body in front of a thousand strangers – but they’ll all be naked too, which helps.

For me, the major factor driving my enthusiasm is doing more things which scare me. I read a quote recently which said, “everything you’re brave enough to undertake will change you, just a little,” and it really made me stop and think. It’s so easy to back away from challenging situations, but taking part in this artistic act of public nakedness is undoubtedly going to challenge my views about privacy and nudity.

Not to mention allowing me to be a part of something much bigger than myself.

Being Naked and Being Human

While walking the Camino last year, I discovered that one of my Spanish Camino crew took part in Tunick’s shoot in Mexico City in 2007. As we walked through Spanish fields layered with fog in the early morning dawn light, Ruben told me excitedly about his experiences with the American photographer who stepped lightly between bodies with a megaphone, delivering careful instructions on how they should pose and what he envisioned.

I was fascinated, and so impressed by this hiking grandfather who had such a wonderfully confident story to share – yet I never thought that I’d be taking part in the exact same situation a year later.

Clearly there are changes in the air. See you in the Sea of Hull!

Being Naked and Being Human

Are there any artists who you’ve felt an immediate connection to? Would you ever take part in a mass naked photoshoot? (Or have you already done one?!) 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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12 Responses to Being Naked and Being Human

  1. Hide In My Suitcase July 7, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    It’s never crossed my mind to do it!
    Don’t think I’d go searching for any possible way to do it! But if the opportunity came my way, I’d give it a serious thought!
    Maybe it would motivate me to take advantage of my today’s gym membership sign up! 😀
    But yeah, as you said, we should be doing such things that scare us or we’re not automatically prepared to do. And at the end of the day nudity doesn’t hurt anyone!
    Good luck!
    Yannis

    • Flora July 11, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      I think it’s one of those things that when the opportunity arises you have a split second reaction – and mine was absolutely to snatch it right up! You’re completely spot on too; in the right context & setting nudity doesn’t hurt anyone :)

  2. susan July 8, 2016 at 1:53 pm #

    Fascinating, looking forward to seeing the end result of all those water-loving Smurfs :) Enjoy!

    • Flora July 11, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

      Ohh I’m so excited to write up my experience in a Smurf sea 😝

  3. eternalarrival July 9, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Wow! I’ve enjoyed being naked in public places like Japanese onsens and Turkish and Korean baths, but I don’t think I’d have the guts to have anyone photograph it! I like the comradery of being around a bunch of women, not worried about the male gaze, just as you are. It’s such a freeing feeling.

    • Flora July 11, 2016 at 1:44 pm #

      Honestly I think the photography part felt quite minimal – it was more surreal just standing in a city’s main road surrounded by a few thousand other painted bodies 😝 I totally agree with the camaraderie too: having a privately communal space for women to feel comfortable with their nakedness is something that’s perhaps missing in English culture…

  4. alexa.al July 9, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

    Very nice post!

  5. LC July 11, 2016 at 8:45 am #

    Super ballsy, Flora. Hope it all went well!

  6. Rosemarie Driscoll July 14, 2016 at 6:22 am #

    I love you photos! It really shows the surreal feeling of the place! Hope you more adventures in the future!

    • Flora July 15, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks so much Rosemarie! It’s definitely quite a surreal place :)

  7. lookategpttours October 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    very nice post i like it

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