Group strips for art and tourism at the Dead Sea

A new day dawns at the Dead Sea with more then 1,200 nude people floating in its healing waters. (Spencer Tunick)

More than 1,200 people ― from Israel and abroad ― stripped and floated in unison last month in the Dead Sea for an art project titled “Naked Sea,” by artist Spencer Tunick. Since 1992, Tunick has organized and photographed individual and group nude scenes in such locations as London’s Selfridges department store, Buffalo’s old central train station, and the Aletsch Glacier (the largest glacier in the Alps).

His latest installation, at the lowest point on earth, was created at dawn on September 17 to promote voting for the Dead Sea as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature (a contest that ends on November 11, 2011).

Tunick has said about his installations that “the individuals en masse, without their clothing, grouped together metamorphose into a new shape. The bodies extend into and upon the landscape like a substance. These grouped masses which do not underscore sexuality become abstractions that challenge or reconfigure one’s views of nudity and privacy.”

Of his latest project, which I previewed last May, he said that Israel was the only country in the Middle East where he could create such art and that it would give the world “a new image of Israel as an open and vibrant democracy.”

Years before Tunick’s Israeli shoot, Israeli artist Sigalit Landau created art videos in which she appears nude in the Dead Sea. The first, DeadSee (2005) shows Landau floating in a spiral of watermelons that slowly unwinds. Another, Stranded on a Water Melon in the Dead Sea (2009), shows her trying to maintain her balance on a watermelon. Her work has appeared in such major art venues as New York’s MoMa, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and the Venice Biennale.

Running for peace and tourism

Sprinter Giusy Versace, who lost her legs in a car accident, hands the peace torch to Israel Tourism Ministry Deputy Director-General Ahuva Zaken as they leave Bethlehem. (Israeli Tourism Ministry)

Several hundred Israel, Palestinian, and Italian runners took part in the John Paul II Bethlehem-Jerusalem Peace Run, on October 24. The run was organized by the Vatican pilgrimage organization Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi and Israel’s Tourism Ministry. The run began at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, pausing at Rachel’s Crossing for a soccer tournament between the Italian, Palestinian, and Israeli runners. Then the marathon continued to the Notre Dame Church in Jerusalem.

Among the runners was Giusy Versace, a sprinter who lost her legs in a car accident and runs with prosthetics. Participants also included Italian football stars Albertini Demetrio, Di Biagio Luigi, Tommasi Damiano, Peruzzi Angelo, and Bonavina Diego.

The run provided a rare opportunity for Israelis to visit Bethlehem. Though tourists can move freely between Israel and the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, for years the Israeli government has forbidden the entry of Israelis into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Similarly, Palestinian entry to Israeli-controlled areas has been severely limited.

It would be nice to think that the run was a first step toward a time when not only tourists, but Israelis and Palestinians too can move freely between the two parts of the tiny piece of real estate both groups call home.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. Photograph of Naked Sea courtesy of Spencer Tunick. Photograph of the John Paul II Bethlehem-Jerusalem Peace Run. No portion of this text may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of Esther Hecht. No portion of these photographs may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Spencer Tunick or the Israel Tourism Ministry, respectively.

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2 Responses to “Group strips for art and tourism at the Dead Sea”

  1. Judy Labenson Says:

    Landau’s DeadSee is interesting, engaging, lively and funny. Tunick’s photo looks like so many dead bodies floating in the Dead Sea.

  2. David Says:

    I think the Dead Sea floaters is a lovely image.

    You are probably familiar with Margaret Bourke-White’s photos where she repeats elements – in her case forks or bits of machinery rather than bodies.

    Mass photographing of nudes reminds me of a judge at a photography club I used to belong to who said that photographs of nudes was a mixing of two hobbies.

    The John Paul II Bethlehem-Jerusalem Peace Run sounds great. Better to stretch out a little and say hello than to sit in a box.

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