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"Inclusion, participation and interactivity are, and always have been, an integral aspect of Spencer's art. He cannot make his art without the collaboration of the participants. The experience of the individual posing in a mass group nude art installation is as varied as the body types that exist within the works. Everyone has their own experience and story that they bring to the moment and the story and interactivity is always a subtext of the work at large. Spencer's art provides a unique opportunity for artists and non-artists alike to take part in the creation of a contemporary work of installation/performance art and to become the medium itself. The way in which the participants take part in this collective artwork has a transformational effect both on the individual and the collective."]
And working on private property and with a smaller group was probably the only way to get this done during the convention?
Yes, and I'm excited about this one and coming back. I needed to make the work and keep the participants safe. So we picked a location that was far enough away that it could be executed without problems from the police and to not make it a protest of sorts. I just want to get it done. I don't want to hassle with permits, and there are probably lots of people trying to get as close as possible to the event. My work is an art action, and I just want to get it done. That's why I want to work with 100 people.
You said 'coming back,' and that works in a couple of ways. Your wife is from Akron.
Yeah, Kristin's from Akron. She was walking down the street in 1993, on St. Mark's in New York, and at the time I was doing individual group portraits on the street. I would meet people in cafes or bars or as I walked down the street. The streets were my art store; people were my medium. I would look for people I wanted to shoot. I saw her and thought she was amazing. I asked her to pose for me. I was so nervous at the time that I forgot to mention it was a nude. I gave her my card; she never called. A year later, I ran into her and I remembered asking her to pose and I did again. Nothing. A year after that I saw her again and asked her again, and in the meantime her boyfriend had taken her to an exhibition of my work. She said yes, and we just enjoyed hanging out. I never thought it would happen that way but back when I first met her, I did turn to my friend and say, "I'm married." It became a thing that day, looking at people on the street and deciding whether we could spend the rest of our lives with them. I wondered why I said it at the time, but it happened.
And you're coming back in another sense: You did a large installation in 2004 on the pier, and it was your first legally sanctioned work in America outside of New York City at the time, right?
Yes, through some people from the Akron Art Museum we connected with the director of MOCA Cleveland, Jill Snyder, and started talking about my work and she was interested in doing some work with me. I didn't think it would be possible. It just felt like outside of New York it wouldn't work. But almost 2,500 people posed. I thought it might be 300, but I was very surprised that the mindset of the body in America and people's openness to be nude and pose nude was there. There was this unconscious need for people to express themselves through their body.
What's the difference in attitudes between, say, Bogota and New York and Ohio?
I often think New York is jaded as far as everyone is comfortable and used to the body, especially now where the nude in public seems to be like it's always been there. Maybe if I never did my work it'd be different, but every photographer now has a nude on the street or in public in their repertoire. And we know about it a lot more now because of the internet. But pre-1995, you had to search obscure books in art libraries to see it. I think everyone's used to having access to the naked body on the internet, and in images, and on television, and in movies, and in magazines. There's freedom because of the efforts of Larry Flynt, as well as people like Robert Mapplethorpe, and more freedom for museums to show works inside. But outside, the body is still a lightning bolt. It's still very much a taboo area. And that's my terrain; that's my canvas. If I do a work in South America, people will embrace it because they enjoy my works as visual objects, but the fact that they're doing it, the fact that the government is open to the idea, is a major step toward many other freedoms. It's not as jaded as New York. In America, I can still be arrested in most states for what I do.
How can people volunteer to be models for this?
People will submit a photo — it doesn't have to be a nude — and I'll choose 100 women. I want people of all shapes and sizes and ethnicities and skin tonalities. People can also submit some writing on why they want to participate and those, in my experience, have been really powerful. They come with all these stories and body issues and political issues and their motivations. It's quite interesting.
Does the city know this is happening?
Not yet. That's what Scene is for. I'm very excited about this one, just to see what happens and people's reactions, to see whether they get behind it or come against it. Either way, in the end, there will be this really solid artwork that will last forever. It's not just a flash. It's something solid and hopefully meaningful in my family's eyes. I have the support of the museums there, the good people of Cleveland, those who have posed before, and I think it's going to shine a little wisdom on the convention.
For more information on the project or to sign up to pose, visit spencertunickcleveland.com.