Art | At Vienna stadium installation, ‘you will only be nude for a short period of time’

Vienna, Austria | We imagine the avant garde photographer Spencer Tunick like an over-exercised goalkeeper setting up a defensive bulwark at Ernst Happel Stadion, site of the Euro 2008 final. He needs 2,008 nude people in the wall, requiring much earnest flapping of his mitts to get the desired alignment.

This is the number of participants—and footballs—that Tunick has requested for the May 11 “installation” at the pitch named for the renowned Austrian international and Feyenoord and Holland trainer.


Somewhat like matching swatches in a paint catalog, potential participants in Tunick’s installations are asked to rank their skin tone on a sliding scale, between pink and darker shades. (© www.spencertunick.com)

More than 70 times Tunick has overcome logistical challenge to stage the politically provocative mass nude photo shoots—in Buenos Aires, for example, positioning his subjects in the fetal position on a city street, referencing victims of the earlier dictatorship (see filmmaker Arlene Nelson‘s site related to the 2003 documentary Naked World). He spotlighted global warming by bringing participants to Aletsch glacier near Bettmeralp, Switzerland, in 2007. Each person in Vienna will be asked to bring a football. Whether placement of the balls will be strategic or required for the taking of simultaneous life-affirming throw-ins is unclear.

The organizer, the Vienna art center Kunsthalle Wien, provides only limited information to potential subjects:

Only participants will have access to the stadium. You will only be nude for a short period of time. The installation will happen Rain or Shine (the stadium’s seats are covered). … You will be contacted one week before the installation with more information and arrival time. Kindly check your email junk box if you do not receive an email from us by one week before the installation.

It would be hard to conceive of a more potent demonstration of the differences between European and American sporting cultures. If Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII produced a salacious “wardrobe malfunction,” what Tunick plans—with full backing of Österreich am Ball (Austria Has the Ball), the group charged with developing a pre-tournament cultural program—is akin to an incendiary bra- and knickers-burning, enacted 2,008 times. (Not everything passes muster in the Viennese art community—Alfred Hrdlicka‘s depiction of Jesus Christ and disciples engaged in an orgy during the Last Supper last week had to be relocated from an archdiocese museum.)

As part of the countdown to the tournament, on the Austrian side, cultural organizers last summer put together “Kick & Sun,” a three-month-long tournament at open-air swimming pools and bathing areas—yet more football with the potential for kit mishaps.

The goal of Tunick’s Vienna project is “to capture and combine the spirit of sports, the grand sweeping waves of stadium architecture and the abstract relation of the human form to modern structures,” says the artist’s programmatic statement. Perhaps unconsciously, he pays homage to the spatial elements that historically have formed part of the strong Viennese football traditions. David Goldblatt in The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football (see Jan 5) writes of the city’s “peculiar social and geographical ecology” that allowed street games to flourish between commercial properties and factories beginning in the late 19th century:

Within and between the new Vorstädte there were large areas of unregulated, unclaimed common land—from half-finished building sites, to open fields, to semi-agricultural commons; it was here that Viennese football boomed in innumerable kickabouts and neighbourhood contests made all the more important by the use of the same spaces for carousing, drinking and socializing away from the authority of the state and one’s parents.

That nudity is part of football and the history of sport is inescapable. Supporters must realize that, in the bowels of the stadium they inhabit before a game, 22 nude individuals (plus substitutes) prepare to wage a confrontation. Traditions of nude competition at the ancient Olympic Games having been rethought over time, the nude form now only occasionally seeks full presentation in the person of the match streaker: enough of a presence over past decades to have gained plasticine tribute in the table game Subbuteo.


Tunick directed participants in Vienna using a bullhorn. Once posed, they were cautioned against moving or laughing. (Reuters)

Updates

  • The photographs taken on 11 May will be on view at the Kunsthalle starting Jun 23. Some 1,800 participants were posed lying down on stadium seats and holding footballs over exposed areas. Nude people were not allowed on the grass.
  • Chilean journalist Consuelo Saavedra credits a Tunick installation in Santiago in Jul 02 with ushering in the start of a domestic destape, described as a “blend of uncovering, untying and liberalizing, all at once” (“Naked in Santiago: A Look at Chilean Media,” ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America 3 [spring 2004]: 16–17). Four thousand—a “happy mass of flesh”—gathered on a frigid Sunday morning nearly 30 years after the national football stadium served as a detention and torture center during the 1973 coup d’état (see Katherine Hite‘s article, “Chile’s National Stadium: As Monument, as Memorial,” in the same ReVista).

    Tunick, writes Saavedra, likely “could not believe the scene in front of his lens”:

    Neither could millions of Chileans who watched this collective catharsis on television: grannies, couples, children, naked people of all sizes and ages and social classes jumping and hugging each other while shouting “I feel free” and “I have nothing to hide.”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (1)

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  1. Sven says:

    I participated at this nude event in Vienna. It was an extraordinary happening …

    Funny I found this site.

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