Spencer Tunick in Bruges (Brugge)
7th of May, 2005
by Cornelius
It was a pleasant surprise, to hear one month before about Spencer's contribution to the Corpus05 art festival in Bruges and the possibility to participate in that event. We admire his work for a long time and always imagined to be part of it once, which may be understood from our experiences as naturists. Nothing as good as being free from clothes without shame or fear. We live in Holland and unfortunately we only heard afterwards about the installation by Spencer in our own country (Breda), some years ago. Bruges in Belgium is close, a few hours' ride. Now, everything appeared ideal: the date was within the school holiday period, Bruges is an attractive destination anyway and we share the same language with the people there. We took the children with us, we booked a hotel room and spent some very pleasant time in this medieval town until finally the Saturday arrived that the installations would be held. Unfortunately, my wife was right in her monthly period and suffered from headaches. Also, we realized the announced arrival time at the Municipal Theatre of 3 AM at the latest was extremely early, to leave the kids alone in their room. For this reason, I had to go by myself and promised to give a precise account. This also was the reason for writing this experience.

To the theatre

We had studied the announcements carefully and filled in the "model release form" that was emailed, after registering at the Corpus05 website. I had already asked the hotel desk whether I could get out at 2.30 AM, which was no problem. When the alarm went off at that time, I took off my watch and ring, chose the cheapest clothes I had with me and left without money, mobile phone or any other precious item with me, as requested. So I walked through the dark streets of the small town, considering that I was already naked in some way, which would be practical in case of a robbery. But everything went fine, it was about a mile distance to the Municipal Theatre and the last part clearly several other persons went in the same direction, I noticed. Arriving at the theatre at 2.45 AM, the place in front of the building was rather full with maybe two or three hundred people. I went to the far left side of the building, which seemed less crowded. I noticed large prints on the doors at that side, on which "Mannen" was written, meaning "men". That was appropriate for me, although there was some confusion around when the arriving couples realized that had to split up. Close to the barrier, I waited for some time, there were a lot of personnel in conspicuous orange T-shirts around, preparing tables in front of the entrance. People were discussing the organization, which apparently was well thought-out. Women were to be admitted separately and somewhat earlier than the men, to ensure a real theatre-like balanced audience. Men and women should also sit more or less alternating. Indeed, at about 3 AM, women at the other, right side of the entrance started entering the building, passing a table to present their model release form. The men had to wait for about a quarter of an hour, lots of ladies entered the building during that time. Suddenly, it was announced that first 25 men could enter who were above 50 years of age. The request caused some confusion, the crew responded that others would follow soon, although there was also a lady stating that anyone who could not enter the theatre would still be able to participate in the outside event, later on. That was not very reassuring, obviously. Nevertheless, when the 25 older men were admitted, a few minutes later other men were allowed in, 10 at a time. I was rather at the front near the barrier and I was very happy to be in the third group of men entering the building. I handed over my form and I received an instruction leaflet in a strange lilac colour. I entered the building and a girl handed me two large transparent plastic bags, stating "one for your clothes and one to sit on". That sounded promising! It immediately reminded me of the well-known naturist etiquette never to sit on any surface with your bare bottom, without a towel of something like that. Nudity was not far off, apparently. Next, some other people looked at the colour of my leaflet and indicated that I had to go for the "parterre"(ground floor) of the theatre. In the corridor that followed, I was received by a friendly woman who said "I'm looking for just one man for this place, would you like to come?". I immediately agreed and she led me into a very classical theatre box, with three rows of two seats, all the persons present pointed me to one empty seat, right in front. I took my place, holding my plastic bags. First, I was amazed by the sight of an extraordinarily well-lighted theatre, with large additional lamps shining at the audience. The hall was already nearly full of people. This theatre was really wonderful, a majestic classical hall with no less than four balconies. Only after a while I started looking at the other persons in the box, maybe I had been little rude not paying any attention to them until then. I smiled friendly to the women sitting next to me, she was good-looking and of about the same age, in her forties. Also right at my back was a friendly woman. We all were a little shy and impressed by the situation but after some minutes we started discussing the plastic bags to sit on. "It must have been a condition from the theatre's side, to avoid complaints from future visitors," I stated and the two women agreed. The woman next to me suddenly said: "Unbelievable that we shall all be naked soon, don't you think?" "Indeed, unbelievable, it is a rather normal audience still now, soon it will be totally different", I responded. Preparations on stage were going on and I immediately recognised Spencer giving directions. Looking more precisely to the audience, it maybe was not entirely as usual. Although the men and women were as intended nearly alternatingly seated, maybe even more women than men were present. Most people were not exactly dressed as one would expect in a theatre, wearing extremely casual outfits. As it was remarkably warm in the hall, some people took off their sweaters. Some girls were in tiny undershirts already and I noticed also a few were barefooted. Although this may have been a little unusual in a theatre, it probably would have remained unnoticed by any uninformed observer.

The first undressing

The theatre became very full at last, in front of our box several girls were standing. After maybe 30 minutes, Spencer welcomed us and started explaining about the "setups" he had in mind. This would involve standing on the chairs, first looking forward and later backward, alternating in different rows. Although people tried to concentrate on what he was explaining, it was not totally clear. Probably, everybody was too excited about what was going to happen. Spencer also announced another event, later that morning, with three hundred women in small boats on the canals of the city. Again, I noticed people were not too much interested in this point. What would happen now and here? Instructions about the plastic bags followed again, which were all too obvious. Everybody was really nervous. Finally, Spencer spoke the words we all waited for, remarkably nonchalant: "OK, you can get naked now". Everyone started stripping, very rapidly, as if it were a race. While I took off my T-shirt, I saw naked body parts appearing everywhere in the hall and a large number of bras on female backs in front of me. While some people immediately appeared naked in less than a minute, others were taking some more time. Looking around me, I took off my shoes, I did not wear socks, then my trousers and finally my underpants: I was naked. Many girls were still elegantly untying their bras or taking off their g-strings. But in less than two minutes, only naked bodies were visible. People started looking at each other, friends and strangers, seeing their bodies totally uncovered in the bright light. In our box we also looked at each other. I decided to stand up and turn around, to demonstrate that I did not bother they could see my penis. The others were still sitting. For the women, this implied showing their uncovered breasts, for the men, if they remained sitting, it was not really particular what they showed. In the large hall, the hundreds of naked people were an astonishing sight. Many different shapes and sizes, remarkably similar skin colours, blending into a uniform mass. Maybe the similarity was one of the most striking aspects. The alternating presence of a pair of breasts was also remarkable. People were talking, sometimes shouting, walking to each other in the corridors. Inhibitions gradually became less. It was a wonderful period, of getting adjusted to the total nudity of each other. Right in front of me, the young girls had also undressed and were standing naked, on their bare feet, lively discussing what they observed. I was somewhat surprised when I clearly overheard their comments on some of their friends, being either "shaven" or not: "Julie is, look". Inevitably I looked in the direction she indicated, there was a naked girl standing against the wall, she indeed was without pubic hair. I could not see whether the girls in front of me were shaven or not themselves. It just illustrates the rather relaxed atmosphere, it felt safe to be naked in this enclosed and protected space. After a while, Spencer asked the Corpus05 personnel to leave the hall, as he would start making pictures. "We call for you if we need you," he said. When they left and the doors were closed, the sensation of being nude together became even stronger. No shame is left when you all are nude, in such numbers. Spencer once more requested us to be fully naked, without any jewellery or watches or even glasses. Several people started removing these items. The woman next to me said, "So we must be as naked as possible". A whole series of pictures was taken subsequently, Spencer giving precise instructions and everybody following these accurately, it was remarkably silent. Spencer explained we had to blink at his instruction, to avoid having closed eyes on the picture. So he started reiterating, "Close your eyes, open your eyes" followed by the clicking sound of his camera. Once he added: "Now all say: Aaaaaaaa", and people responded loudly "Aaaaaaa". "I'm only kidding", he went on, which caused a hilarious laughter and cleared even the slightest tension that was still present. In a very relaxed way, we were asked to take several positions, sitting and standing, looking forward, exposing our "full frontal nudity". The long rows of men and women, standing naked next to each other produced an impressive view. Contrary to popular belief but in agreement with the general experience of naturists, none of the men had any sign of an erection, this just doesn't happen in public by simply observing even hundreds of fully naked women. Finally a large series was taken, looking backward, turned away from the stage and bending over. This resulted in a formidable sight of endless rows of nearly identical bare bottoms in all the rows and in particular at the balconies. It was truly amazing when you managed to catch a glimpse of this sight, while bending yourself in this special position. You could not distinguish men and women, I noticed, which also will be related to Spencer explicit request to the men, even before undressing, to keep their genitals in front of them when bending… Some of the more backward rows had to stand on the chairs, which had to be done carefully. Indeed, one lady fell of her chair, which caused a bleeding wound and some disturbance: people shouted to Spencer about this. The lady was taken outside the box and there even appeared to be some first aid personnel present. After the "bare bottom" series, it appeared the session was over. It was announced that it would take some time before the outside installation would start, because it was still dark, about five o'clock. It meant we could dress again and the lady on stage also informed us about the circumstances outside, with a lot of people waiting in the rain already.

Waiting for the next event

So apparently it had started raining, which was unexpected to me. I decided to be rather slow in dressing and leaving the theatre, as it was quite useless to stand in the rain too long. We all got dressed again, taking the clothes out of the plastic bags. Most people left slowly, there was no need to hurry. Many people were rather impressed by what had happened, the mass nudity, their totally shameless acts of posing in many different ways, some were talking but most were rather silent. In the entrance hall, people were gathering, sitting on the stairs, looking for toilets. Looking outside, there was a lot of rain and a lot of people. After some time, Spencer appeared in the hall, speaking to the people present there. Most of these still carried their plastic bags, demonstrating their role in the nude event. Spencer spoke to many persons but in particularly to younger girls, asking whether they were from Bruges. If they were, some of them received a pink leaflet from a plastic bag Spencer was carrying. As I followed him on his tour in the crowd, I heard him explaining about a personal invitation for an event, Sunday morning, "something with chocolate". After half an hour, at about half past six, a lady with a megaphone explained to us that due to the bad weather, the outside session would not start until six o'clock. Some people went outside, I also made a short walk, there were not too many people left on the square and it drizzled. n the theatre, there was nothing available to drink but I decided not to go outside for a coffee, although I would certainly would have liked that. Better stay close to the place here, you never know. Also I considered that going to the toilet in the next period could well be difficult. Time went on quickly and a few minutes before six, there were final announcements inside the theatre. We would leave for a short walk, to the Niklaas Despar Street, which would be the place to undress, after which we would go to the Belfort at the Markt Square. That sounded good, a kind of a mass wardrobe in a street. At six o'clock sharp indeed everybody went out the theatre. Rather suddenly, there was a large crowd now on the square. I must have missed some part of the organisation, I realized, many people were carrying plastic bags but they most did not come from inside the theatre. There were barriers all along the street. The crowd slowly started moving through the street next to the theatre, it was a huge mass of people. I wondered where they all came from, they must have been assembling somewhere else. We made a calm walk, there were some policemen standing next to the route and barriers again. Some people looked at us from the other side, I wondered whether they knew what we intended to do. After a few turns we entered the Niklaas Despar Street, slightly curved with some rather luxurious hotels at the left side of the street. I was in the middle of a really large crowd, gradually filling the entire street. We stopped moving and started waiting. There was rain again, many people had umbrellas with them and generously provided shelter to others. Two friendly guys with large umbrellas also kept me nearly dry. Not much was said although all people were very friendly to each other. Several people appeared at the windows and on the balconies of the hotels: they were greeted by the crowd, everybody shouting and waving to them. Obviously, these persons were amazed already then, unaware of what would happen somewhat later… Due to the bad weather conditions, it took still more time before there was sufficient daylight. We were waiting for more than half an hour in this street, the rain sometimes was rather heavy and the temperature was low, I would guess 6 to 8 degrees centigrade. People tried to go for the toilet in the hotels, apparently this failed, they kept their doors closed.

Undressing in the street

Rather suddenly Spencer was on a ladder, using a megaphone he explained his plans: we would walk towards the Belfort Tower and at some moment we should "freeze". "We are already freezing now", was the obvious remark among the crowd. He also emphasized again that we should be completely naked, without anything on our bodies. These remarks were a bit reassuring to me, as I was really wondering whether the installation would be held, considering the rain and the temperature. Some doubt remained, as we still had to wait for some time. But suddenly and unexpectedly, Spencer was again on his ladder and I clearly heard him speaking the magic words: "Take off your clothes now and walk to the Belfort Tower". Truly amazing moments followed. First there were some reactions: "Right here? Now?" but most people did not hesitate and began to make the necessary movements to get rid of their clothes. In a few seconds there was bare skin visible all around, I also took off my sweater, T shirt, shoes and finally my trousers and underwear together. I was naked but I had to put everything in the plastic bag, which took some time. Looking around, there was nudity everywhere already, with only occasional bras and strings still visible. On the balcony of the hotel I saw a person holding a camera but looking so totally amazed that I wonder whether any of her weak flashes came out well. Some people started moving to the end of the street and when finally all my clothes were in the bag, there was already some empty space in front of me. I looked for a spot to put my bag, the walls of the houses in the street where all packed with hundreds of fairly identical bags. I walked some time towards the end of the street and found a rather empty spot under a shop window where I laid all that I had with me. Now, I was fully stripped, with noting left on my body, walking barefoot to the corner. It felt great and although it obviously was cold this did not really bother. At the corner leading to the Vlaming Street and the Belfort Tower, there was a barrier on the left side with clothed people looking at us, the masses of naked people. Pictures were taken continuously, flash light was all around. I also passed this corner, in the stream of naked persons and deliberately looked to the right side, you always hesitate to be photographed by strangers when you are naked. The Vlaming Street was getting full of naked people, all were excited, laughing, shouting and shivering. The cold became more intense, some wind was blowing and it drizzled. Walking along the street, my bare feet in the puddles, together with hundreds of naked persons was clearly a wonderful experience. Looking around and in the reflections of shop windows, one saw all variants of persons of the well-known two types fully mixed together: the one with the two breasts in front and the one with the hanging penis. It all looked great, in spite of the cold, which reminded me of the cooling down stage after sauna visits in winter: icy but you can sustain it for some time. We walked down the street, until we were so closely packed that we had to stop and about at that time, Spencer announced that he would take pictures. High on his cherry picker, he gave some instructions, difficult to hear but we all followed what others did, more close to him. First standing and looking forward, finally squatting on the street. A remarkable position, a sea of bare bottoms in front of me when I raised my head. It did not take long, quite soon it was announced that it was finished, this resulted in cheering and applauding, all people raising their arms. Only slowly the crowd moved back to the Niklaas Despar Street again, our wardrobe. I clearly remember all the bare feet, when you looked down in the street. There was a real remarkable sense of solidarity, all people looking happily at each other as if they were friends for a long time. Really slowly and looking around me I went to the corner again, where still photographers were taking pictures of the naked persons who had to pass there.

Considering what has happened

It was a bit sad to dress again, although this feeling was somewhat compensated by the idea of getting warm again and also by the satisfaction of the experience. I had done it, a naked session on the streets, posing for Spencer Tunick! My clothes were still rather dry, I noticed people having difficulty of getting on their wet clothes. Dressed again, I friendly greeted the Corpus05 personnel who did a great job in difficult circumstances and walked back to the hotel. Bruges was wonderful, on this quiet Saturday morning at 7 o'clock: I had chosen a very quiet route and the old, wet city looked as in a fairy tale. I met a few people and had the idea I could look through their clothes, realizing the only thing everyone always carries with him or her, is the nude body. Though one of the most beautiful things, too often it is completely hidden. It is such an intense feeling of being without clothes at places where this would never be allowed. We are all continuously intimidated, by ourselves. It is the art of Spencer Tunick to show what is the power of nudity, what an exciting effect is produced by the naked bodies of humans, how identical these are and how this uniformity is capable of producing stunning effects. It feels great to be part of such art and you share this intense feeling with hundreds of strangers. For a short time, all shame disappears, as clearly nothing happens when you walk down the streets fully naked, even in the cold and the rain. I got into the hotel, my family was still asleep and let me in. I went to bed and slept only for an hour or so. Amazingly, I did not feel tired anymore for the rest of that day until late in the evening. When we had breakfast in the hotel, rather late in the morning, I noticed a young woman sitting alone at a table and I vaguely remembered her face, most likely from the theatre. She looked up and also stared at me, smiling. I'm almost sure she also realized I had seen her there. There was also a party of two couples, hilariously laughing and a few times I noticed they referred to being cold and wet and… naked. Later that day and the following today, the event was appearing in the news on television and in newspapers. I had been part of a real news item, I realized. There had been 770 people in the theatre, 400 women and 370 men. I had been one of these 370! In addition, on the street there had been 1950 persons who participated in the nude event. According to a newspaper, 701 women and 1249 men. Again, I had been one of them. The two events had been very different: the calm, relaxed and warm session in the theatre, the wild, furious, crazy and cold event in the streets. The organizers opened a forum on their website, which became full of accounts of the experiences, by some people described as the best moments in their lives… Could it be repeated, it was asked many times. Some people suggested organizing similar happenings in summer, at the single Belgian nude beach or even at the Brussels Market Square. I wrote about my experience of living naked for days, together with many people, at naturist campsites: however, naturism is much less familiar in Belgium than it is in Holland. I'm afraid events of this kind are very difficult to imitate, it all comes down to the special combination of visionary art and careful organization that is unique to Spencer and his team. He simply should go on, doing installations everywhere, continuously. He simply is obliged to do this. He will also be recognized for this, even more than he is at this moment. He is liberating mankind of its selfimposed prison of clothes.

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