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Inversed voyeurism at the Daniel Libeskind Space

20 August 2013

In January I attended Guerilla Galleries‘ clothing-optional ‘100% Nude‘ exhibition at the Daniel Libeskind Space and wrote about the novelty of being naked as a gallery visitor. Little did I imagine that within eight months I would be back at the same venue with Guerilla Galleries, participating nude in a confrontational group art performance.

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Outstanding works by Jean-Luc Almond.

The catalyst was Natansky. We’d met at ‘Art & Protest‘ – the year’s second Guerilla Galleries’ clothing-optional event – and later at the London Naked Bake Ride 2013. She had called out among our life model friends for volunteers to create an ‘inversed voyeurism’ installation for a new ‘Random Acts of Artistry 2‘ exhibition.

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Natansky beneath her ‘Reflections’ masterpiece (photographer: Darren Swindells).

Inversed voyeurism had been conceived in discussions between Natansky and Tony André – el presidente at Guerilla Galleries – partly in response to the creepy voyeurs who attended previous events, and subsequently posted furtive photos to a web forum for their hairy-palmed circle of make-believe friends.

It would be a role-reversal of voyeurism, examining not only how people observe but how they respond to being watched from a panoptic point of view. It would explore aspects of the human gaze and ask if that would change when the subject becomes aware of that warranted or unwarranted attention.

The idea was that clothed artists with drawing boards and art materials would encircle a pair of centrally positioned clothed models; they would sketch the models, who hold cameras as props; at ten minute intervals, on a series of signals, artists and models would undress and the piece would culminate with all turning outward to sketch or photograph the audience.

After two late drop-outs – sorry you couldn’t be there Khadijah and Pinky – and some even later call-ups, the inversed voyeurism performers eventually came together as a magnificent eleven: Natansky, Rodger, Esther, Peter, Sabine, Chris, Ursula, Santosh, Alessandra, Toni and me.

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A space had been prepared for us on the ground floor of the exhibition: a quarter-circle of chairs surrounding a somewhat inconveniently-located computer console draped with a black sheet. We piled our bags behind the console, while those with drawing materials generously shared them around.

It was agreed that artists should sit boy-girl-boy-girl and that we would have a girl-boy pair of models. But who would be the models? Among the girls, the role defaulted to Alessandra, largely in her innocence at being last to arrive. She seemed nonplussed, if slightly bemused, and took to the role with great serenity.

Among the boys, Rodger and Peter were already regular practising artists, and Chris and Toni were keen on being artists too. That left Santosh and me equally laidback about either role. Eventually Santosh blinked first and declared ‘artist’, which left me to join Alessandra as a model.

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Here was an unexpected novelty. In addition to the unusual nature of the whole piece, I would now be modelling for artists who themselves were all experienced life models. No pressure there, then! But such was the wonderful easy-going feeling among the group – an immediate bond, I think – that the work was effortless fun throughout.

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After a cursory rehearsal – which involved little more than us all getting undressed in the prescribed sequence – we put our clothes back on and were ready to perform for our audience. We were due to begin our installation at 6:40pm, ten minutes after the gallery doors opened. As we were already in position when the first people walked in, however, I settled into a pose straight away.

Tony was filming the piece and was also our signal man. At his first double-clap, the male artists stripped off while Alessandra and I raised our cameras to capture their transition and the audience reaction. The dozen people present played it very cool.

The now-naked men took up their pens once more while the clothed models struck a new pose. Ten minutes later came the signal for the women artists to disrobe. Again, the models reanimated and began photographing before settling anew.

At the next double-clap it was time for Alessandra and me to remove our clothes. Our company of nine naked artists was now life drawing two nude models. Some visitors lingered while others came and went; in addition to the many excellent artworks on display, we were in competition with a finite supply of complimentary wine upstairs.

At the final double-clap we completed our role inversions. Artists, instead of drawing models, now turned outward and began drawing individuals of the audience. Models, instead of remaining passive under the gaze of others, now stalked the space behind the artists, photographing both the audience and the artists drawing the audience.

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We maintained these roles for the remainder of the installation. True to form, not even inversed voyeurism was sufficient to perturb the determined traditional voyeurs. One visitor stood in the doorway sneaking snaps on his phone before being challenged by the exhibition staff and obliged to delete the stolen images.

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Most visitors got into the spirit of the piece. Some, knowing they were being drawn, deliberately slowed their movements or remained static for a few moments.

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Having got into the spirit ourselves, when Tony gave a final signal to bring the piece to a close we took our applause but were in little hurry to get dressed. Instead, artworks were spread on the floor for all to admire while we chatted and posed for group photos.

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Eventually the lure of the free wine upstairs became too great. We reluctantly dressed and quit the scene of our performance.

For me personally, it may have been better had I not dressed or succumbed at all as later on I somehow managed to jog red wine down the front of my T-shirt… d’oh!
It was the only irksome moment in an otherwise superb evening.

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Piluca, artist extraordinary, transformed into an inversed voyeurism life model.

Between adventure and misadventure there was still time to appreciate the rest of the artworks on show. Favourites from previous exhibitions had returned for Random Acts of Artistry 2, including the ever splendid Piluca and Gareth Morgan. This may even have been the best Guerilla Galleries exhibition yet – no small praise.

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An Eliza Freespirit figure, not quite so free in her little cube.

The question that inevitably remains is “how do we follow that?” In a way it almost felt like the accidental emergence of a nascent life model performance collective. There is a gulf between feeling and being, of course, but it would be a fine thing indeed to make this work the platform for ever more incredible collaborations.

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From → Art

3 Comments
  1. Tony Andre permalink

    Cheers Steve,

    Great piece. I look forward to sharingit with all our mob.

    Tony

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  2. Great Article! You guys were a superb part of the show, loved every minute of it xxx

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