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May 14 2010

Charlie Brooker's Screen burn: The Naked Office

'After watching them walk around clothed, you don't want to see this workforce naked'

A few weeks ago thousands of volunteers stripped off to pose for Spencer Tunick, for what must be his 500th photographic study of several thousand nudes. How many sets of genitals do you think he's laid eyes on throughout his career? The man must've seen more shivering naked bodies than Caligula in his prime.

Whenever one of Tunick's stunts makes it on to the news – ie each time he does one – the report is rounded out with a few soundbites from participants in which they explain how "empowered" and privileged they felt to help form a work of art. Good for them, because I know for a fact that if I took part, I'd spend the whole time staring at tits and bums, thinking, "Look at all these tits and bums", with one half of my brain, and answering, "I already am", with the other. Art wouldn't really come into it.

That's why I'm suspicious of any attempt to "empower" individuals by encouraging them to strip off, a psychological journey television is especially fond of, since human nature dictates that the viewer is going to want to stick around till the end just to see what the lead character's pubic hair looks like. Millions of viewers would sit through a four-hour live discussion about quantitative easing if the participants promised to flash their arses at random intervals.

Gok Wan pioneered the "healing striptease" format, and at least seemed to be doing it for reasons that were directly related to body image. Since then, we've been subjected to BBC3's Naked, Sky's The Real Full Monty, and now The Naked Office (Tue, 9pm, Virgin1), in which office workers are gradually cajoled into coming into work with nothing on, because – hey! – it'll make them a more cohesive team, right?

Overseeing the experiment is a ridiculous self-help guru called Seven Suphi (pronounced "Seh-venn Soopee"), who repeatedly claims her mission is to "help individuals unleash their full potential". Her job consists of getting the volunteers to play various bollocksy team-building exercises and trying to pretend that turning up to work naked on Friday to have your genitals filmed and broadcast wouldn't be a crazy thing to do. Seven doesn't get naked herself, incidentally. She's not stupid.

Several problems immediately present themselves. For one thing, the first episode doesn't really take place in an office. Instead, we're on the premises of an organic food delivery company, which means most of the action takes place in a chilly warehouse full of cauliflowers. Furthermore, after watching them walk around fully clothed, you don't particularly want to see any of the workforce naked.

But perhaps the most damning indictment of the whole enterprise is this: most of them don't actually get naked at all. OK, so one of them does – strides around bold as brass with his penis bobbing hither and thither like a giraffe with a broken neck in fact – but the majority of them cover up their raciest bits with underwear, stickers, or strategically positioned briefcases. One bloke doesn't participate at all, presumably on the basis that it's humiliating and pointless.

Nonetheless, the whole thing is packaged up as an inspirational journey which has transformed the way they do business and blah blah blah. What's worrying is the thought of office managers watching at home thinking, "Hey, that's a good idea!" and organising their own Naked Fridays. Most desk jobs are perfectly soul-destroying enough without the prospect of having to stare up a co-worker's bumhole each time they bend down to pick up a paperclip.

Besides, where does this "openness" end? Once you've done Naked Friday, what other taboos are there to break? Masturbation Monday? Farty-Nosepick Tuesday? How about Bin-Shit Wednesday, where everyone has to use a makeshift toilet in the middle of the room? That'd be so empowering, it'd move you to tears – and could change the atmosphere in the office so profoundly they'd have to open the windows for a full 10 minutes. The possibilities, and human stupidity, are endless. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 08 2010

Spencer Tunick to undress Salford

Photographer who specialises in large-scale nude installations is asking for 1,000 volunteers to reinvigorate the spirit of LS Lowry. Cloth caps not needed

Just a week after coaxing 5,200 Australians to pose naked on the steps of Sydney Opera House, photographer Spencer Tunick has announced he will tackle an altogether chillier and more industrial location: Salford.

To mark its 10th anniversary, the city's Lowry has commissioned Tunick to create a one-off response to the artist who gave the gallery its name. But where LS Lowry depicted the folk of Lancashire in cloth caps, bowler hats and workers' clogs, Tunick is calling for 1,000 "everyday people" to leave their clothes behind and pose for a series of large-format photographs in eight different locations around Salford and Manchester in early May. The images that result will be exhibited at the gallery from 12 June.

Michael Simpson, the Lowry's head of visual arts and engagement, said: "Tunick's work not only reflects and records the landscape of an area, but also its people. This exhibition celebrates our achievements and signals our continuing ambition."

Tunick has created nude installations featuring ever-larger groups of people in locations as varied as Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Cleveland, Ohio and Vienna. He said that working in Salford and Manchester was an "intriguing prospect".

He added: "LS Lowry's paintings, depicting the mass of everyday people who contributed to the industrial machine of the 20th century, also provide an interesting frame of reference in terms of the compositional possibilities of the installations."

The press release reassures wannabe participants that they are taking steps to deal with the possibility of a chilly northern May bank holiday: participants will be ferried between the different locations in "heated buses", it says.

Volunteers can now register their interest in participating at © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 04 2010

Not everyone is an artist

Interactive art is gaining ground – but whether it's Spencer Tunick's nudes or Antony Gormley's plinth, no masterpiece was ever created by committee

The rise of interactive art seems to make sense in our digital age. It seems only right that art, too, should twitter. And so the noughties saw the rise of art that involves real people – as many of them as possible. Spencer Tunick and Antony Gormley led the way in persuading volunteers to strip off or be cast in plaster, or stand on a plinth and be webcammed.

Some forms of interactivity are obviously good for art, as they are good for society. The more democratically ideas and information are shared, the more accessible art will be. Sites that allow artists to promote themselves without going through the rituals of the art world are great because for every dud who gets publicity through alternative channels, there is also the chance of raw genius sidestepping the institutions that force art and artists to conform to fashion and supposed good taste. In theory.

So democracy is great – except when it shapes the actual work of art. I do not believe a great work of art has ever been created by communal consensus, let alone by multiple editors. There will never be a wiki-masterpiece. This is because art, if it has any value at all, is the product of deep and often rationally incommunicable perceptions, and to try and explain or share those perceptions in a communally created artwork will negotiate and re-edit them to banality.

But, I hear you roar, there are obvious objections to that claim. What about devised theatre and the films of Mike Leigh? But the reason Leigh's pieces work so well is that talented actors are doing the interaction: what you are seeing is not a democratic free-for-all but an elite. Good art is the product of talent. All the forces in our culture that weaken our belief in talent deny this fundamental fact, but it always returns to haunt us.

Participatory art is a denial of talent. It panders to a cosy lie, that everyone is equally able to create worthwhile art. What chance have we of nurturing those rare wonders in our midst, the born artists, if we claim this infantile right to put on a badge that says "artist"? © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 03 2010

Spencer Tunick's flesh photography

See cheeky exposures by this US artist, famous for his bare-bottomed group shots

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