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James Turrell Nude: the naked truth

Hilary Wardhaugh

Photo credit: James Turrell: A Retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia. 2011-ongoing James TURRELL Virtuality squared 2014 Ganzfeld: built space, LED lights Collection James Turrell. Photograph: Christo Crocker. Copyright Stuart Ringholt. Copyright James Turrell Image courtesy: National Gallery of Australia.

I was dared to go to this exhibition. I was having a Twitter conversation with a few people and ended up agreeing to go.

I didn’t tell my family that I was going to be going to the show. I felt that my parents wouldn’t understand and the rest would think it is a funny and strange thing to do. I wasn’t sure that me purchasing a ticket at the NGA reception desk I was being judged as odd by the ticket seller.

I am not a nudist or a naturalist and I had no idea that the Canberra nudist club had been involved with this exhibition. If it had been advertised as a nudist event I possibly wouldn’t have gone. I perceived this more of an artistic endeavour rather than naturist event.

I love being unshackled of my clothing jewellery and make up. I love skinny-dipping in the sea. I love the feeling of the sea or breeze on my skin. I am comfortable in my own skin but do not feel the need to attend nudist activities.

So why did I go along?

I just thought I had to do it. The nudity wasn’t why I wanted to to attend. Even if it had been a Dress-Up-As-A-Superhero tour I probably would have still gone.

I have no problem with being naked in public, though I was told on the night that apparently it is illegal. This makes me think how prudish we can be as a society; that the human form is somehow something to be hidden or ridiculed, especially if we have bodies that don’t represent a ideas of perceived perfection…Perfection only possible with photo retouching. Social media censors nudity yet the internet promotes in its weirdest and often unpleasant forms. The misogynistic pornographic images of women we are constantly exposed to belittle us. Body image and self esteem all intrinsically linked to a unhappy superficial existence we have crafted for humanity.

I am 51 and feel extremely happy and comfortable with my body. I think my body image is quite positive. Yes! I have a few issues at times, mostly about my facial hair and what it will be like when I’m 80! I reckon my beard will be classified as epic by hipsters when I am old! The only other issue is how my body doesn’t work as well as it used to 30 years ago. Terrible eyesight, skin blemishes from too much sun, creaky joints….

When I was a lot younger I had an eating disorder for 2 years in my early twenties. These days I know what I went through then was crazy.

Weirdly, last night at the National Gallery of Australia, it seemed quite normal to get undressed in a room with 50 other people. We all have the same skin, albeit in various shades of beige. Recognition of my friends, in the crowd was made difficult by the lack of clothes!

Even though we were there in all in our glorious shapes and sizes, it felt like we were all equal. Prior to disrobing I had been worried about my body compared to the next person; when in fact that worry was reduced to completely insignificant. There were no clothes to identify who we were; wealthy, artistic, naturist, successful, poor, intelligent, gay, straight… all the things that seem to matter when you’re wearing clothes.

I loved looking at the other women’s bodies; pert breasts, wide hips, slim hips, round tummies, smooth backs, big bottoms, luscious legs… Women You Are Beautiful! I was also surprised to see pubic hair. I thought going by trends that no one had any left these days! So bravo!

…and then there were the men, whom I also liked to look at but not nearly as much. This I feel is quite strange for a single straight woman, but completely normal as we are constantly comparing ourselves!

When I asked a few people their reasons to see the James Turrell Retrospective nude, it ranged from an artistic expression, to being a part in a performance art piece, or just because they happen to be in Canberra and love being in the nude.

I have been to see the James Turrell Retrospective prior to this event. If I compare my experience of both times I feel my experience of the mind warping artworks of James Turrell was better when I was fully clothed. This may be because the first time I saw it, it wasn’t very busy and i had no pre conceived idea about the show. Also I could completely immerse myself in the experience, as it was quiet that late afternoon and time wasn’t an issue. However, at the nude tour, I did love 50 bodies communing afterwards, enthusiastically sharing experiences and it didn’t seem at all odd that we were all naked, quaffing bubbles.

Logistics

We were all greeted in the Gandel Hall at the NGA by Stuart Ringholt and gallery staff. We were told of how it would run. Most of us went and had a nervous wee and then we were given bags to put our clothing and personal items in for safekeeping. We were told of emergency procedures and who else will be in the gallery at the time of the exhibition and about the security TV and who has access to the footage. We were also told there were three journalists as part of the group and that a photographer will be photographing the event. The three journalists and the photographer were also naked.

Stuart Ringholt, lead us to the show through the gallery and gave us an explanation about why he does this performance pieces. His idea stems from a couple of life experiences in his early years. He decided to push himself into embarrassing and fearful situations to overcome his issues that resulted from his early life experiences.

In finishing….

To me it the James Turrell Nude tour was all about perception, which has a certain synchronicity to it considering that the James Turrell exhibition is how we see things, or at least perceive things.

We see with our brains, not our eyes some of which is purely physiological but also emotional.

“Perception is the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which we become aware of and interprets external stimuli.”

To me, the tour had many perceptive moments.

Perception of what people throught about me when I told them I was going. My perception that the ticket seller thought I was doing and I think I wanted to see the exhibition, nude.

My perception of my own body image compared to other women and in hindsight realising it doesn’t matter at all!

My perception of how the men saw me as a woman and how proud of the fact that it didn’t matter to me at the time, but also prior to the event and afterwards.

The physiological responses of my brain under different lighting conditions and my emotional response to that and my perception that being naked had nothing to do with how I perceived the James Turrell exhibition.

The James Turrell Retrospective is worth seeing, it messes with your head and is an amazing experience. You must see it!
http://www.nga.gov.au/jamesturrell

the essentials

What: James Turrell: A retrospective
Where: National Gallery of Australia
When: Showing until June 2015. 10am-4pm Monday to Thursday; 10am-6pm Friday; 9am-6pm Saturday; and 9am-4pm Sunday
How much: General admission starts at $25.50 for general admission and $45.88 for Premium entry including the Perceptual Cell experience.
Web: Visit www.nga.gov.au/JamesTurrell for prices.

First published on Hilary Wardhaugh Photography blog at www.hwp.com.au

Photo credit: James Turrell: A Retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia. [2011-ongoing James TURRELL Virtuality squared 2014 Ganzfeld: built space, LED lights Collection James Turrell.] Photo: Christo Crocker/National Gallery

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Hilary Wardhaugh

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