(I'm the model under the letter M, above)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Gil's Party: The Spencer Tunick Experience Party Installation

Gil's Party: The Spencer Tunick Experience Party Installation, Prested Hall, Feering, Essex, 14 October 2011

Unusually for a Spencer Tunick installation, the participants (there were about 25 of us) at this event, in effect, commissioned Spencer to create several works of art for his Party Series. We each agreed to purchase a limited edition 14x11" print,  to fund Spencer's costs. Each print, from an edition of around 30, will be personally signed and numbered by the artist, and at £220 costs a fraction of its expected market value. As we were a small group, we are almost guaranteed (if we wish) to be recognisable in the finished work, and although £220 sounds a lot, it was cheaper than travelling to an overseas installation such as the recent Dead Sea: Naked Sea event.

I drove down from Cumbria with my wife, picking up Lynn en route. We arrived at Prested Hall in Feering, where we were soon met by Roland, Karen and Howard, at 6.30pm in time to eat before Gil's Party began at 8.30

Prested Hall Hotel ( image from prested.co.uk )
Gradually Gil and the other participants arrived and at 8pm Prested Hall was closed to other guests, so for the rest of the evening we had the venue to ourselves. As well as being one of only a few Real Tennis locations in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, Prested Hall also regularly hosts nude swimming, and several of us went for a skinny dip and sauna whilst we awaited the arrival of Spencer. 

When Spencer arrived, he quickly assessed the venue for possibilities and decided on the three set ups. They were: Real Tennis, Gym and Pool.

For the first photograph on the Real Tennis court, we were each given a racquet to hold, and balls were scattered amongst us. We all faced the same direction, towards Spencer who was at the service end, with half of us sitting down on one side of the net and the rest standing on the other side. The second photo was similar but we were closer to the net, pressing our faces into it.

Real tennis (image from prested.co.uk)
We moved on to the gym, where there were a number of running machines. The men lay face down on the treadmill  and the women stood on our backs in a running pose. This was painful, but bearable – for a short time anyway! Next, we moved to another part of the gym and each given a large exercise ball to hold whilst sitting on the floor or on weight machines.

Finally, we move to the pool. There have been other Tunick installations utilising pools, so Spencer needed to come up with something original for the final set up.

He instructed us to enter the pool and gather together in a compact group. “I want you to be like sperm in the water. I want lots of movement. I want you to dive down and move about but don't float. I want you to stay underwater and move about and not bump into each other so open your eyes” We all burst out laughing, not believing he was serious, then we realised he meant it! We asked him for more instructions – how long do we have to be underwater, how deep do we need to dive, is there a lifeguard on duty......

The pool (image from prested.co.uk )
A few participants couldn't swim and a few were uneasy about taking part (some were wearing contact lenses), but most of us decided to give it a go. On his instruction, we all dived, but once underwater we obviously couldn't hear any instructions! We surfaced, spluttering and gasping for breath. The non-participants said it looked amazing. Spencer asked us to do it again but please don't float. He said to breath out before diving to reduce buoyancy. We trie a third and a fourth shot and I was getting better each time as I realised I could make out others quite well and could swim about without colliding.

Although this was the end of the set-ups, Gil suggested a final group shot in the pool to include those who were unable to be in the “swim like a sperm” shot. Karen and Howard, together with Ruth (there always has to be a Ruth... but that is another story) had already moved to the end of the pool and were floating on their backs with their legs out of the water on the poolside. Somebody noticed them, and suggested we all do the same. We all lined up along one end of the pool, and Spencer took the photo from the side of the pool looking along the line.

The installation was complete. Some went back to the bar to socialise, others went for a final sauna. A few of us stayed at the pool for our own photography. Spencer signsed lots of autographs, and showed us the unpublished images from the first Gil's Party in Cambridge, 2010. Eventually Spencer had to go back to London, and we left too to drive to Cambridge for the after-installation party.

Participants view the Gil's Party 2010 images, with Spencer (in black) looking on. Photo: M Rowe
So, it was over for another year. Thanks to Gil for organising the project, to Spencer of course, to Mike and his staff for being our hosts at Prested Hall, and to Robin for the post-installation party. And to everyone who took part and made it such a memorable event.

Gill has already been offered a venue for next year's party. We had 25 participants this year, let's see if we can make it 50 next year!

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