It’s been a wild ride of a summer with the social protest movement, and over the
past two months I’ve found myself a part of many crowds chanting many things.
But I never expected to find myself part of a crowd of 1,000 nude people
chanting “The nation demands that you drop your underwear!” Taking part in
world-renowned American artist Spencer Tunick’s “Naked Sea” art installation
early on Saturday morning of more than 1,000 nude people ages 20 to 77 in the
Dead Sea was both exhilarating and strangely natural.
Tunick, who has
organized more than 75 similar art installations at landmarks around the world,
including one in Zocalo Square in Mexico City with 18,000 participants, worked
for four years to make the Israeli installation a reality.
Naked Sea: Israelis ready to get naked for art
decision to shoot at the Dead Sea coincides with the New7Wonders of Nature
campaign and pleas to stop the rapid shrinking of the salty sea located at the
lowest point on earth.
Despite some fairly muted opposition at the last
minute from the religious camp – including a condemnation from Chief Rabbi Yona
Metzger and another from MK Zevulon Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) that this was
“Sodom and Gomorroh,” and a last-minute withdrawal of funding from the Megilot
Regional Council – the event went on as planned with no major
“This is not just to make art, this is to celebrate that this
is happening in Israel,” Tunick, 44, told the crowd before we undressed, adding
that he had made more than 20 trips to Israel and has family in Netanya and
Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev. This installation could not happen [anywhere] else
in the Middle East, he said.
After a disorganized hours-late start from
cities around the country, buses converged on the Dead Sea, at a location that
was a closely guarded secret, at the northern end around 5 a.m.
a short introduction – “make sure not to smile when you’re in position” – the participants rose as one and
removed their clothes.
“I thought it would be harder to get undressed in
front of so many people, but it was liberating,” said Zev, from Tel
“It returned us to a respectful connection between human beings and
nature. I mean, we were naked for most of history,” said fellow Tel Avivian
Michal, who, like many others, felt a deep connection to the Zen-like nature of
“If you hear the silence and see 1,000 naked people around
you, it’s the most beautiful moment,” Tunick said during his
Unfortunately the spiritual silence was not to be: Almost
immediately after everyone entered the water, five mechanized gliders arrived,
swooping so low it was possible to watch the pilots focus the zoom lens on their
camera, in a breach of privacy that made Tunick furious and made many
The gliders, which stayed for around half an
hour, cast a pall over the installation and made it impossible to hear Tunick’s
directions as he raced against the sun to capture the photograph.
[the aircrafts] were not welcome and not wanted, and we are not sure if these
people were just curious or if they were trying to damage the installation,”
said Ari Gottesmann, one of the two main organizers in Israel.
was investigating legal options against the gliders.
“Except for the
aircrafts, it was really successful and enjoyable – a fun atmosphere, and really
important for the freedom of expression,” said Monica Brodsky, 56, from Kibbutz
Hahotrim south of Haifa. “It was not at all sexual, but I knew it wouldn’t be
sexual,” she said.
Instead of the mass orgy feared by religious leaders,
it was a celebration of the diversity of the human body contrasted against the
stark beauty of Israel’s geography, an expression of love and freedom on the
most basic level, a joyful salute by the old, young, fat and skinny, and every
color of the Israeli and Jewish rainbow.
Aside from the planes, the event
went off without incident – fairly impressive considering the harsh physical
environment that could have easily caused serious injury to the participants.
After an hour in the Dead Sea holding different positions (certainly the longest
I have ever been in the salty water, and an experience I hope never to repeat),
and an hour standing in the sun, I started to feel a bit like beef jerky,
wellsalted and laid out to harden in the sun.
After finishing the
installations, including an all-male shoot and 150 women covered in 500 kilos of
mud donated by the brand-new -417 cosmetics company, Tunick told The Jerusalem
Post that he was ecstatic.
The installations came out “exactly as I
wanted them to,” he said.
He slammed the decision of the Megilot Council
to withdraw its NIS 150,000 contribution, less than a week before the project as
“complete, and utter corruption and lies.”
As the sun climbed higher, the
magic melted away as participants hurried to shower off the caked-on salt. In
the harsh daylight, people quickly put on their clothes, except for a few
oddballs who tried to prolong the moment that was clearly over.
permit for nudity on a public beach expired at 8 a.m., hysterical organizers
admonished the last holdouts, including a man playing the flute while nude – to
get dressed and head for the busses.
“Why are you still naked?! This is
ridiculous!” main Israeli organizer Ari Fruchter yelled at a middle-aged man
smoking a cigarette.
The exhausted and dehydrated masses trudged back to
the buses to begin the rest of their weekend fully clothed. But it certainly
felt like we had shared something special that would be hard to explain to those
who hadn’t taken part.
Tunick said that his installations aren’t just
about the final photograph, but about the “waltz of art” created by each
“Today I’m just a catalyst for more than 1,000 Israeli
artists,” he told the Post after the shoot. “This is important, even for
religious people. The safety of democracy is dependent on a society that accepts
freedom of expression in art.”