Like a surreal dream, amazing, incredible just a few of the reactions from people participating in the record-breaking live art installation #seaofhull at the weekend. Having talked myself into signing up in my blog about Spencer Tunick’s challenge to the city to strip off in the name of art, I’m really pleased to announce that I was one of the 3,200 people, filled with trepidation, who gathered in Queen’s Gardens in Hull early Saturday morning.
Taking part with a close friend certainly helped, we kept looking at each other, anticipating the call to finally remove our clothing. We were going to do it no matter what. When that moment finally came there was a brief minute of panic, but everyone else around us were disrobing and applying the blue paint. It was a case of get naked and get blue, as a matter of urgency, or get left behind. Furiously daubing myself in blue water-based paint there was no time to be self-conscious, there was no time for all those fears I have about exposing my body, to surface.
There were no comments about how I looked, only whether I’d managed to cover all the hard to reach places. We helped each other and very quickly we were walking passed the duck pond to the site of the first photo shoot. The inspiration behind Sea of Hull came from looking at the maritime pictures held in the Ferens Art Gallery, taking the blue colours from the paintings, Spencer made his image on a giant scale, the blue bodies creating spaces in the city where once was water. It created a striking image that sea of blue, against the familiar urban landmarks.
There was nothing remotely erotic or sexual about it at all. We were moved enmasse to specially chosen sites around the city centre like a huge blue family. The feeling of unity and camaraderie was unlike anything I’d ever felt. Liberation, exhilaration, anticipation all rolled into one incredibly beautiful and moving few hours.
“That was brilliant! Very surreal and liberating, no-one seemed arsed at all about stripping off. I’ll never forget being one of thousands of naked smurfs for the night!”
There were people from different communities, countries, social demographics, age groups, all blue, all as one, all experiencing Sea of Hull, as a group and as an individual. My reasons for taking part? I’d hoped I might find some resolution to my continuing body image issues, diagnosed with gender dysphoria my trans body spends the majority of its time covered and non-gendered. Clothed I might face prurient comments and remarks about my gender, naked I faced none. Not one question or hurtful comment or even an uncomfortable stare. Liberating? It was like utopia, for a brief moment we were a new society of blue, unburdened by concerns about appearance.
“I was there, the best thing I have ever done, so liberating.”
Trying to marshal 3,200 people around the city was some task and Spencer managed it with the help of 2017 staff and volunteers and his experienced team. Shouting instructions to us and the team we all moved and posed laid down looked this way and that as one group. And when Spencer’s Americanisms came out we corrected him in unison. ‘When you get to the green stop sign stand on the sidewalk‘
“TRAFFIC LIGHT! PAVEMENT!” came the response from thousands of exultant blue faces.
One of Spencer’s team seemed to be always being hollered at, by Spencer, to move us, to be somewhere he wasn’t. ‘Run Steve Run,’ Spencer cried through the megaphone atop an elevated platform. Without fail, every time he was mentioned the entire crowd, would echo his name in the early morning. “Steeeeeeeeve!”
All concerns about standing naked outside familiar municipal buildings forgotten, we were having far too much fun. Mexican waves, one group did the hokey cokey half way down Alfred Gelder street, psychologists would have had a field day observing the way we became like a giant hive mind all acting and speaking with one mind.
Having championed the Swing Bridge long before it became an award-winning landmark of the city the final location was the most moving for me. Standing on the bridge as it moved into the centre of the River Hull as part of a global artwork, hearing the ships bells ringing out I finally felt I was experiencing something of artist Nayan Kulkarni’s vision for the bridge.
The aftermath was just as surprising as the work itself, seeing blue-painted people making their way home, beeping from cars, cycling down Spring Bank, catching a bus, it was just magical and surreal. I loved it. The looks on the faces of people just coming into work, bemused, wondering what on earth was going on. We were stopped a number of times on our way home by people asking what had happened to us, one thought we’d been attacked by spray cans, another just curious as to the sight of all these blue people, emanating from the city centre at half eight on a normal Saturday morning in Hull. Of course little did they know it had been anything but normal for us.
“In these times of uncertainty, the thought of unelected Prime Minister, increased hate crimes and troubling economic outlook, members of our city came together. Regardless of age and shape, we put aside our fears, helped each other to paint ourselves blue and walked the streets of our city together. We laughed together, shivered together and all loved Steve. For the sake of art. It was beautiful, fun and life-affirming.”
I didn’t take part in the second installation, the fully nude, unpainted scene on the banks of the Humber with the Humber Bridge dominating the skyline would have been a move too far for me right now. Maybe next time. I do feel like a different person, being part of Sea of Hull has had an effect on me.
The news of the giant nude photo went viral within a few hours with #seaofhull trending worldwide and across national and international news outlets. That evening I caught the bulletins, saw the streets of Hull on the national news and I said to myself I was there, I was part of that. I did it and so did so many others and I’m proud of us all. If this is the kind of opportunity being presented to us as we get ever closer to our year in the cultural spotlight then bring on 2017. I can’t wait.