Spencer Tunick Ireland. I signed up soon as I saw the posters. 'Are you brave enough Dublin?' they asked. Hmmmm, was I? I was brave enough with back-up I decided; I didn't want to do it on my own. I racked my brain for a friend who'd be up for en-mass naked madness, and Mia seemed the obvious invitee. I texted her 'Spencer Tunick?', she texted back 'Yes Yes Yes'. And so it was settled, on Saturday 23rd June we'd be stripping to the pelt at some mystery location in dear old dirty Dublin's docklands.
The installation was to take place at 3am on Saturday morning. I had intended to go home after work on Friday to get a nap and something to eat before catching the bus from Custom House Quay to the mystery location. But I didn't. I went out after work for a pint or five, and even managed to convince the cutest person in the entire universe, Sinead, that nocturnal nude modelling was the way forward. I may have convinced her almost entirely with whiskey, but I convinced her all the same.
Nicely tipsy, at about 11pm I met Mia and her sister Anna off their bus from Galway and brought them back to my little flat for a nutritious pre-Tunick meal of cheese on toast and vodka smoothies. The girls were mad excited. 'I've never seen a naked man before' said Anna, who's just 18. She was gonna see plenty. Sinead called up after a bit, and there was much talk of all the things we'd need to bring - water, biscuits, fresh fruit - but sure there was loads of time to worry about getting it all ready. We'd just relax and have a few drinks and a chat. We didn't need to leave the house til twenty to three. What? Quarter to? Fuck. I'll grab the towels, you grab the... ah feck it there's no time to grab anything, let's just go.
By 3am we were on a bus full of soon-to-be nudes. There was lots of singing, messing, joking, and occassional flashing of the bus behind. 'Gosh, it's hot in here' someone innocently remarked, to a predictable chorus of 'SO TAKE OFF ALL YOUR CLOTHES!'
We arrived on site and spilled out into salty air and bracing winds. I was sure there'd be somewhere you could get some water. It was a bit of a hike from the carpark to the South quay, and with every step I became more convinced that Adam Sandler would be waiting round the next bend of cobbled quayside with some good H20. Alas, alack, the only water was the briney stuff stretching out to either side of us, over which the sun was rising, making an orangey Kiaora puddle. I'll be your dog, I whined, I'll be your dog. As I panted and witnessed mirages of drinking fountains and great Ballygowan giveaways, Sinead was walking an 'I need to wee' waddle and staring resolutely towards some blue dots in the distance that promised to turn into portaloos.
Hike hiked, the girls queued for the blue dots, and I asked strangers for water. All was well. We were sheparded off up the pier by a funny viking-bearded chap with a megaphone and told to find a spot to sit amid the assembling crowd. The sea was grey and stormy. The dawn light was melting over it in happy berry-hued defiance. 5am. 2500 people sprawled along the Poolbeg pier, waiting. We chatted and joked with the heads sitting around us. Smoked cigarettes. Examined the fliers detailing the poses we would be asked to adopt. Chatted. Smoked cigarettes. Stripped on command.
And suddenly we’re in this army of pasty naked Paddys being whipped by the wind as we march away from our clothes and to the very end of the South Wall Pier. In front, all these bottoms; behind, breasts, chests and bellies, faces, hair and skin. The Mullarky sisters whooped and skipped. I smiled a moronic grin at the people I'd been chatting to, clothed, just moments before. We were all in something together. Some silly stupid freeeezing thing. We braced ourselves against it and laughed. Spencer asked us to form four staggered lines. We spread out and lost the defence of body heat. Then the photographer and his crew took to the sea to set up for the shot. We were left waiting, this batallian of bizarre bodies, in the cold of Dublin harbour. I ran on the spot. Mia danced like a crazy person. Naomi jiggled to the left of me. Sinead shook out her arms and legs to the right. Frances jumped up and down. Rory and Kevin just shivered. The mexican waves died down. An empty passenger ferry glided past. Everything was funny. Ripples of laughter ran up and down the pier. 'Help' Mia shouted to the Liner 'we've been here for days!'.
Our first pose was standing facing out towards sea. The second was everyone sitting, leaning back on their palms, faces upturned, like a cult of deluded sun-worshippers. The third was everyone curled in foetal position on the cold stone. I shut my eyes. The jokes and ripples of laughter continued. Distant chuckling. 'They must’ve Tommy Tiernan down there'. Explosion of giggles. My skin was numb. I was naked, one of thousands of naked people, curled into foetal position on a cold stone pier. A moment of my waking life from which I would not have been surprised to wake up.
And so, at 6am, after an hour in the nip, we huddled and brrred back down the pier to locate our clear plastic bags of belongings. Clothes have never felt so warm. There was talk of a second installation. The Mullarky sisters opted out. My head said no, Sinead said yes. We had acquired a posse of determined Tunickers by this stage, and it became a bit ‘one for all and all for one’, so I agreed. Agreed to take my clothes off all over again and run through the newly-falling freezing rain, down the beach, and knee deep into the murky Irish Sea. Cause I’ll agree to anything.
It was a much reduced group that was so easily convinced. There were certainly less than 1000 diehards, but it was the diehard group that really got the reward I think. That manic run down the stony sand, so many un-baywatchlike bodies bounding into the water. Everyone jumping, splashing, yelling. Twirling arm in arm in a surreal parody of a ceile. I body slammed my new friend Rory making everyone around laugh, and an older fella says ‘I think you’re in shock love’. Then we all turn towards Spencer’s podium and, jumping in unison, chant that great chant of Irish accomplishment, that chorus we sing when our spirits are at their highest, that ode to inexpressible excitement: OLE OLE OLE OLE! OLE OLE!!
Hush descended as Spencer shouted his instructions at us, promising to work as quickly as possible. For the first shot we faced the camera with our heads bowed; for the second we faced away from it out to sea. ‘Everybody say cheese’ said Spencer. This low growley shivered moan of cheeeeeeeese vibrated through our bodies and the sea and up into the sky and morphed into a chilly unhumorous laugh there. Speaking to Anna about it later (who, by the way, had seen enough naked men at this juncture to last her until her twenty-first birthday at least), I was told that the sight and the sound as she watched from away up the beach made her cry.
Head bowed, scrunching sand between my toes, looking at the tensed shuddering shoulders of the man in front of me. Holding out, holding out, waiting for Spencer to saaaaaaay: ‘Okay Guys, you’re done’ and it’s like the cork pops out of a bottle of champagne and we shoot back up the beach to our clothes, fizzing, celebratory. Sand paper bodies scraping into jeans and jumpers. I’m drunk on it. Adrenaline pumping through up-all-night blurred perceptions. A soft kind of body shock tingling into warm excitement. Buzzed, just buzzed.
There was a surprise in store for those of us who’d taken the final plunge. A few leaflets were circulated detailing arrangements for a second, smaller scale, and more secretive installation at Grand Canal Dock the following night. On the bus back into town Rory, Kevin, Frances and I made a pact to be there or be square. We landed bedraggled on custom house quay. Poor Sinead had to head home for a quick shower and then go straight to work, unslept and babbling about naked sea people. Mia and Anna were ready for bed, so I saw them tucked in, and then taxied it back to town to meet Kevin and Rory for early house pints followed by a Bewley’s fry-up. Poor Kevin had to meet his study group for at midday, unslept and babbling about naked sea people. Rory and I stayed drinking til we gave up. I bus-ed it back home and smoked a spliff with Debbie. Sinead got off work and came over. The adrenaline wore off, and we finally crashed around 5.
Cousin Seanie was due up in Dubland to visit me that evening, so I arose around nine after scanty sleep to set about making the flat presentable and preparing a sumptuous evening meal of cheese on toast and salad. Seanie rocked up with cousin Saoirse, her boyfriend Anoop and two bottles of wine. I do so enjoy a civilized glass of wine with my breakfast. Sinead awakened and met my cousinly crew, and there was chats and chilling out and all round pleasantness. Seanie and I drank the most of the wine and decided to skip to Kennedy’s to get our goodly groove on. We snuck in for free. Yay! I did a very thorough job of trying to convince mo cholceathair that getting naked for Spencer was where it was at, but pints and dancing did little to ease his misgivings, so post Kennedy’s he headed on back to mine for some kip and I scampered off to meet Rory, Kevin and Frances for Spencer Tunick part two.
The last few but faithful gathered at Grand Canal Square at 3am. There were about 120 0f us. This time, having learned my lesson, I had come armed with water and chocolate biccies. The rumour spread that we were going to take over a newly built 15 storey glass fronted building near-by and pose on the balconies. First we were led to a hotel lobby to be briefed. On the way, Spencer was walking beside me and asked me how I’d enjoyed the installation the day before. I gushed a little, asked him how he’d enjoyed it. He enjoyed making the art of course, he said, but didn’t enjoy the conditions and the cold. Bit rich! He had all his feckin clothes on. So we had a little chat anyways, and he said that after the group shots he’d be doing a few individual portraits and I should hang around if I was interested. I said cool, cause it was.
In the hotel lobby Spencer divided us into couples-in-love and singles. Then we filed quietly to the big glass fronted balcony studded building, and after a little waiting around were split into groups of seven and assigned a floor. Some random drunk man on his way home from alcohol land tried to join the crowd inconspicuously and sneak in, which I thought would have been a little wonderful as he obviously had no idea what was happening and would have been pretty fecking surprised when ordered to take his clothes off and stand out on a balcony. Someone tattle-taled on him though, and as I peered from the tenth floor window I saw him stumble into a cab, like that one crippled kid left behind by the pied piper.
The apartments were plush and yet to be let. We had a little snoop around as we waited for the call to disrobe. There were two apartments and two balconies on each floor. On one balcony Spencer positioned a couple who had to kiss for the duration of the set-up. Behind this couple would be one singleton, lurking there. On the opposite balcony there were seven singles. For the first shot we would face the camera, then turn away from it for the second. The word was given. Off came the clothes, and out we stood. Nipples hard like rosehips in that glass-edged wind. This mad panorama of Dublin City and her deserted drizzly 5am streets. Hands down by our sides like shop-window manikens in storage, bare, stiff, cold, modelled unsmiling. With our arses to the camera (and the wind, thank God) we began to crack jokes and giggle again, and bear it, just bear it, bear it, until we heard Spenser saaaaaay ‘Okay guys, thank you very much’ and we disappeared rapid as bunnies scampering back down the bunny hole when thumper thumps his foot.
The gents were dismissed, and the ladies asked to stay on, should they so wish, for a roof top shot. Kevin and Rory said they’d wait for me outside. I took the lift to the top storey and joined the gaggle of girls. We stripped and started climbing the stairs to the roof-terrace. I’ll never forget the sight of all those female haunches waddling and wiggling up the steps. When we reached the roof there was this beautiful rainbow. I don’t know if Spencer managed to capture it or not, but I hope he did. For the roof-top shots all of us bare naked ladies sat down, then lay back on the person behind us, forming this imbricated pattern of curves. Then we did something similar except on our sides, with our heads on each others hips. The bodily intimacy didn’t feel weird at all. And, as someone quipped, at least it was warm! I think those roof top shots are going to be beautiful.
Pictures taken, Spencer asked those he’d approached to do individual shots to stay on, and the rest of the girl gang dispersed. I hung around and met the guy and two girls who’d been asked to do some solo stuff. We were all pretty chuffed to be asked, but so zombified from two days of Tunicking that the excitement manifested itself mostly in dazed half-smiles. We got the lift down, to where Rory and Kevin were still waiting outside. I told them I was hanging on for an individual shoot, so Kevin and I hugged our goodbyes, while Rory approached Spencer and asked him if he’d mind if he tagged along too. Spencer said ‘sure, you can hang around’, so we all piled into a van with the Tunick crew and went back to their hotel, where we had a cuppa and discussed how things were going to happen.
The plan was to find a quirky, mostly isolated location around the city, strip quick, get the picture snappy, and throw the auld clothes back on. All a bit guerrilla. Before we set out we went to the hotel toilets and removed our underwear and socks to speed up the process. Then it was out again into the biting Dublin wind to find suitable spots for beautiful shots. Rory was up first. Spencer asked us all to pull some weeds, and Rory was snapped stepping down from a graffiti edged pavement carrying a big bundle of them. It was really funny somehow. Next in line were this gorgeous looking young couple, who Spencer got to pose under a pro-Lisbon poster of Gay Mitchell MEP – one of them walking away from it, and one of them walking towards it. Pertinent political statements, innit? That shot was a bit nerve racking – two cars drove past and the drivers stared, and a drunk young man in a business suit stumbled by, though I don’t think he was in any state to compute what was going on. Spencer does a good job of keeping things relaxed.
Next up was this lovely blonde girl from Cork. We found this row of old Dublin style artisan cottages, and Spencer had her pose outside one with a blue door, just as if she were coming out of her home. It was an ethereal, fragile kind of shot. She was really angelic looking. All the same, I don’t think the little old lady I can imagine living there would have been too impressed if she came out to find a naked blonde girl on her doorstep, no matter how innocent she looked.
I was last, and we wandered around for a bit before Spencer found a location that he liked. Eventually he decided on a spot under a bridge on Pearse Street, in front of locked convent gates. Sacreligilicious. Whipped off my dress, stood where directed, tried to relax, and with a click clickedy click it was all over. Dress back on, boots back on. And that was it: the end of my Spencer Tunick experience. We took our leave of each other. Hugs all round. I trekked back to the Northside over the bouncy bridge, feckin exhausted. I wound through the IFSC and up Amien Street towards home. Everything looked different. Dublin in the dawn light will never be the same again.