The Base: Sydney Opera House, Australia
March 1, 2010
Photo: Heidy Elainne
From Lazerunner:
I woke up at 2am to wash my hair, make sure there wasn’t a thing out of place on my body and pick out a pair of seamless underwear. Spencer Tunick was in town to shoot The Base, giving me and over 5000 others permission to bare all in public without being drunk or getting arrested.

From 4-6am, I laid my head on my friend’s lap squashed between a spooning gay couple and a cross legged tattooed couple. Sleep was futile. As people pressed against my body and trod on my toes I attempted conversation with my friend.

“Wow these joggers are up early. That iThing looks chunky on his arm. I have one of those inch long ones for running, you know? Nanos?

“Shuffle daahhhling” says the man next to me, lifting his head from the crook of his tattooed lover’s neck where I assumed he was sleeping.

At 6am Spencer was welcomed with thunderous applause and cat calls. When the call came to undress we did so hurriedly. I was already bare whilst my fully clothed friend was yanking at her bracelet as the cast of the Full Monty times one thousand shimmied past. She wasn’t the only one with difficulties as people painfully yanked out their Prince Alberts or nipple piercings.

In the forecourt, we posed standing, lying down, with our arms up, with our heads to the sky, occasionally waving at the tourists, the media, helicopters and flipping the bird at the ferries that came too close. Then came the big moment in the spirit of Mardi Gras. Spencer wanted us to cuddle and to kiss someone. Not wanting to make our friendship awkward, we opted to embrace the German men in front of us.

“ Can I have your number after this if my phone hasn’t been stolen?” asked one.

My last pose was in the concert hall inside the Opera house. This time, I was facing the camera dead centre.

“I want all of you to face a different direction and drape yourselves!” yelled Spencer.

I perched myself uncomfortably on the seat and armrests lying on my side facing my friend who was doing the same. Then wham, the flamboyant guy in front of me decided to drape himself over my arse.

“ Lift your right arms right up in the air, wow that’s weird!”

Supporting the gay community was definitely worth it, even though I needed a mountain load of intravenous coffee afterwards. It’s amazing how some people can overcome their fears to morph into a sea of human flesh, all for the sake of art.

Photo: Lazerunner

Shelley was also there:

OK - a few of my closest pals may want to know... so here is how my morning went...

3.05am - alarm goes off - had about 2 hours sleep so hadn't hit that deep sleep yet so was easy to get up.

3.25am - leave house and walk 20 mins up the road to try to find a taxi to the opera house as no public transport is in operation this early. Its dark and kind of breezy - weird - normally stinking hot...

3.35am - taxi picks me up - I have a Muslim driver who tells me how much he accepts what people choose (its the weekend after Mardi Gras so he's talking about gay people) but advises that man and woman should be together that's the way god bla bla bla bla - he drops me off not sure what I'm involved with but knows I'm having my photo taken...

3.40am - I join the queue of what seems like thousands to register - Someone yells out to me and its a lesbian that I'm not too keen on from my Gym - I smile weakly and hurry past to join the back of the line which ends up being well over a Km long - if not 2!  I register - I get given ticket and something about concert hall photos - I follow the crowds - its dark and cold.

4.20am - I'm in my section - the ticket holders section (How am I in a section - i have no idea how I got here really?)  the guys with megaphones come around and introduce themselves - they are wearing pink Mardi Gras shirts; our guy is called Steve.  He tells us to sit down for a good 40 mins as we'll be here a while - everything is going to plan we get introduced to Spencer Tunick - he's above me on the stairs and he's a funny guy.

5.30am - everyone is sitting down - standing up - going for wees, having coffee - we're all cramped in so everyone is being pretty patient - the drunk people are slowly sobering up so things are easier to deal with - I'm surrounded by so many gay men, pregnant woman, full bush, no bush, coloured bush, hot chicks and guys, not so hot chicks and guys, old men and ladies, from the emaciated to the obese, 1 x little baby and loads of young people in groups with their mates.  There is every type of culture and nationality present - its pretty amazing.  In support of the Mardi Gras, Spencer Tunick is pretty impressed of the gay community and the straight community getting together to show support.

6.00am - nearly there - it's very very overcast in Sydney today... waiting for the sun to come up - it's freezing - the wind is icy cold!!

6.20am - there is an uproar - the people in the botanical gardens are stripping down and the nudeness begins - there are roars of support going on...

Photo: Reuters

6.30am - its time to get naked in my section - strip off 100% - no jewellery, no socks or shoes, no watches, bracelets, necklaces, wigs, sunglasses - tattoos, body piercings and reading glasses only! - put your bags aside and climb up the steps and over the opera house main area and down on the main steps - stand on the steps marked with an 'X' shoulder to shoulder.  I find some girls to bunch in with but then Spencer (who's opposite up high) starts pointing out all the gaps and gets his pink shirt guys to fix all the gaps and get people where they need to be.  I move forward a few rows and fill a hole in between this unusual hairy man and this little skinny dude who by the way has taken a great deal of care to manicure his slightly ginger bush.

6.50am - we're all in place - the media is arriving but can't get any closer than 100m.  All the Sydney harbour Ferries and whale watching cruises start up with boat tooting, nude Mexican waves, helicopters and tits and willies everywhere its kind of.... freaking freezing!!!!!

7.00am - photos have begun - face forward, arms down, no smiling, turn to your right, turn around and show some butt! raise your arms straight up to touch the sky!, turn back around - lie down on your back (everyone was like... 'what!? It's freezing and these steps are made of concrete!') so off we lie - I can feel my skinny manicured stranger shaking from the cold against my leg (we have staggered along the steps to fit everyone in to lie down).

Then comes the funny part - the embracing photo... the what???  Instructions are - grab your partners go in for an embrace/snog/kiss - no partner?grab your friends - go in for a embrace/kiss/at least cheek to cheek - oh so you came by yourself??  grab a stranger and do whatever you fancy!!! ha ha - minimum is cheek to cheek...

My options... scary hairy googly eye weirdo on my left... or grab skinny manicured boy asap!  I leap at the chance... yay! he's Irish and gay... and warm!  we hug it out ensuring that our bits don't cross the streams - may have looked funny - close together up the top faking an intimate embrace whilst both our bums stick out either side to ensure we don't have a fanny willy touch.

Someone's waving madly at me from the ground area below.... wow!  its Juzzy! what a hoot!  i raise my arms and give a wiggle like those air filled dancing tube men at car sale yards! Head down the stairs and walk so the bridge is the backdrop - a girl faints and medics get called in - look up to the sky, take a pic and its all done!

8.00am - head back up the stairs, across the way and collect your clothes - and what does this ticket get me I hear you say???  Another photo opportunity in the concert hall!  I have been allocated section x - door ten - great seats! How in the world did I end up in the same section as the I-Love-Myself-So-Much lesbian from my gym??? Anyway I have prime view of the stage from a box seat/balcony above - I grab the first seat up the front - it slowly fills up with ticket holders... It's much warmer in here... people move from complaining about the cold to how hungry they are...

8.30am - people are in place (FYI for the health conscious - we are given plastic sheets to sit on cause the seats are prickly!) - every single seat is filled, the stage is made up of a carpet of people lying down, the balcony people have to stand on their seats - front on look at camera, bum shot - face the wall - best shot which Spencer was mind blown about was at the very end - drape your body over rails, chairs, people and raise an arm straight up in the air - it looked like a giant had a massive bucket of teeny human rag dolls, taken the top off the opera house and simply poured us all in hickily pickily - awesome!
me being me draped myself over the balcony rail with my leg resting along the rail! hey why not!  I'm already here and already naked!

9.00am - its done - get ya gear on and make your way outside and back to the real world... I power walk across the bridge, jump on a train and head off to work, I apologise for being late and like the look of shock on the boss's face when I tell him why I'm late - within 3 mins of my boss leaving the office I have my second boss on the phone (news apparently travels fast) - he thinks its a hoot and is already scanning basic first shot photo's that have been released trying to find me!

Do I think that when the final photos are released whether you'll be able to see me or not?? If its a frontal shot... DEFINITELY - as far as I could see I was the only idiot that went to the beach and got very sunburned the day before... my hot pink skin contrasts well with my very white 'bikini' I'm wearing... Did i realise it was a hair down event?  No... so when I fixed my hair up all pulled back... only to have to take it out - what do you get - a crazy outta control lion's mane - think set pony tail hair that's been back teased... so yeah... I think you'll be able to spot me...

Do I feel different?  nah - I think some people found it liberating and amazing, I just went with the flow - great way to start the day I must admit!  I only saw one weirdo - I just happened to stand beside him! ha ha.  There were definitely a few show ponies out to show their wares, but the majority of people were plain old normal people - seeing a naked doctor rushing through a naked crowd to a naked girl was fun, hearing a naked police woman advising she wasn't allowed to wear her badge was good and the fact that the 'ozzie ozzie ozzie' chant died in the ass very quickly - simply magical!

So thats it - I've been naked in public for a longer period of time than i've been naked in my own bathroom - would I do it again? Hell yes!  Would I avoid the beach the day before... possibly...

John writes:

Photo: AP
Great experience: the Base, Sydney Opera House March 1 2009

We were told to arrive from 4am at the Sydney Opera House for the installation. This was to involve setups both in front of the Opera House and inside the concert hall, and in the Sydney Botanical Gardens nearby.

Getting there by public transport meant leaving home at 2:30am and taking a night bus to the city centre. The weather was overcast with intermittent rain and about 16 degrees celsius. Others were wearing warm clothes but to me it made more sense to stick with shorts and a T shirt – after-all we’d be completely naked soon and I may as well get acclimatised.

Well before 4am constant streams of people were heading in the direction of the Opera House and a long queue had already formed. Within 10 minutes the queue had extended right back tho the commuter ferry terminals at Circular Quay. Clearly this was going to be well attended!  Making new friends and chatting filled the time while waiting..

Soon the queue began to move. Those with completed model release forms went through quickly. Earlier arrivals like myself with completed forms were given tickets to the Opera House. We were then divided into two groups – those without tickets went to the Botanical Gardens and those with tickets to the east side of the Opera House steps.  Instructions were given by megaphone at various times and with variable audibility. We were to wait till sunrise – a couple of hours.

Soon after 6:30 - although overcast - the light had increased enough for the shoot to begin and the long awaited instruction to undress was given to the people in the botanical garden. Suddenly greens, blues and reds became a mass of pinkish-white - to the cheers of the group in the Opera House grounds. Naked bodies began to stream toward the photo-shoot area. Next it was our turn to get naked. The enthusiasm was palpable. Clothes were off in very short order and stowed in plastic bags. We all headed to the Opera House steps and were lined up under Spencer’s instructions. Quite a while was spent filling gaps and arranging the participants in photographically desirable positions. Intermittent chilly breezes produced some shivering bodies and a few mild protests.

Setups included facing the camera, facing the Opera House with bottoms to the camera, then facing the sky toward the city skyline , with arms held up. We had to lie down on our backs on the cool steps arranged head to toe. Spencer announced that we were to embrace and kiss our partner, lover, friend or a stranger. Clearly some of us who had come alone were hesitant about this and were eventually allowed to stand with heads on each other’s shoulder cheek to cheek in lieu of kissing.

A new arrangement was needed for a setup with the Harbour Bridge in the background. Spencer spent some time perfecting the positioning and replacing some of the participants from the botanical gardens group who had begun to leave.

Several times the crowd of us on the stairs gave a mass wave to passing commuter ferries and to the hovering media helicopters.

At one point Spencer called for security for an incident at the fence on the Circular Quay side – I did not see what happened. Presumably someone was trying to enter the area. Only participants were allowed in and no one else.

Although the registration information said we would be nude for only a short time it was actually about two and a half hours – but nobody minded. All the better actually.

We were next to collect our clothes but stay naked and head to our allocated seats in the concert hall. Because some of the participants with tickets had left others were asked to take their place.

As the concert hall was filling a young couple did a brief spontaneous dance on the stage to cheers from the rest.  It looked great - all the better and more beautiful without clothes. A very agile young man did cartwheels across the stage again to cheers. It was a time to celebrate. It was an amazing feeling to sit in the concert hall naked. I doubt there had ever been bare butts on those seats before. Although we had been instructed that no cameras were allowed this wasn’t enforced and quite a few shots were taken.

Because some had left – probably for other appointments - there were not enough participants by this time to completely fill the concert hall so we were arranged to eliminate gaps. Those on the stage were to lie head to toe on their backs for much of the concert hall setup. Multiple poses were taken with various instructions. For the final one we stood on our seats and then “fell” into  random poses across the seats with faces away from the camera.

To sum up – a great experience with a wonderful spirit of equality. All ages, shapes, colours and sizes, straight and gay , single or in relationships, together in a few hours of magic.

Niina gave us her account of the morning:

Spencer Tunick: The Base

My alarm went off at 2.30 a.m. – after a quick shower, breakfast, and packing of essentials we were on our way to the Opera House. Travelling on an empty M2 motorway was bliss, in fact we didn’t get any traffic until we hit the city centre and from there on it was a crawl. At 3.50 a.m. Eek!

When approaching the entry to the Opera House car park we could see hordes of people moving towards the forecourt, and we began to wonder if we were going to be let in. After queuing for a park we quickly ran upstairs to find the queue stretching all the way past all the ferry terminals almost to the other side of the Circular Quay. Great, latest event information mentioned of a capacity of 2000, we thought we didn’t stand a chance. Alas, we queued up, and kept moving at a relatively brisk pace towards the forecourt, and we couldn’t believe our luck when our model release forms were collected and we were welcomed in!

We were ushered inside the Botanical Gardens area, where the volunteers advised that the first to arrive had been handed seating tickets for a setup taking place inside the Opera House, but that everyone in the garden area would take part in a setup on the steps of the Opera House. Yay! We really had made it! Now the only thing left to do was to wait for the sun to come up and to stay warm. I feel a bit sorry for that one overexcited bugger who got his gear off before 5 a.m., he must have had great time once the installation started.

As the time to get in the nuddy drew close, we were given instructions on loudspeakers on what to expect, where to position ourselves on the steps and the forecourt area, and especially to remove all clothing, jewellery, glasses (which you could take with you, but remove for the photos), and to leave “Hi mom!” signs and novelty wigs behind. Then after a couple of hours of waiting when the call finally came to take your clothes off it all happened, pun intended, in a flash. People couldn’t wait! All of the sudden there was a sea of naked men and women all around you, and it all felt quite natural.

Walking to the forecourt we all got a massive cheer from the seating ticket holders who were still in clothes, now there’s a first for a naked appearance from yours truly. We picked our spot almost at the left edge of the picture, standing on the first step. For those living outside Sydney, the forecourt is right next to water and sweeping winds blow through the space; if you happen to be standing there naked, you will feel the chill. Nervous jokes and quickly established camaraderie kept us warm, and a local tour operator displayed great entrepreneurial acumen by running their whale watching boat right to the water’s edge twice during the shoot to take a better look at us.

Photo: AP
After Spencer Tunick had all 5200 of us standing in a large v-shape exactly how he wanted, instructions started to roll: “Don’t look at me, don’t look at me! Hands down, hands down! No smiling, it looks jerky!” He took shots of us standing facing front, facing back, facing back with our hands in the air, and to particularly please everyone, lying down on the forecourt and the steps. Did I mention it was a bit chilly?

Thankfully after this the artist asked us to stand up, and then decided to break his tradition by taking shots of the crowd embracing each other. The call was to either kiss your partner or friend, or for total strangers to do what ever they wanted. I think it took Spencer Tunick a couple of goes to get it all right as there were instructions to find someone to hold, otherwise you could not be in the picture. I was lucky to have my husband there, and I think he shared the feeling judging from the shivers.

For the last setup we were spread out from the v-shape across the forecourt, and we were instructed to stand up and either to look up to the sky, or turn your face up in to the sky and close your eyes. By then the nerves had all melted, and between the setups people were cheering to the media and waving to the helicopters buzzing above (a special mention to you guys, we couldn’t hear a thing with you there).

Walking back to the Botanical Gardens after the shoot all relaxed but naked felt a bit surreal, yet very comfortable. We had all just started our respective Mondays by making art history and doing something I doubt we’ll experience again (at least in that same location). The best part of the whole experience was the physical reminder of the fact that we come in all shapes and sizes, ages, skin color, with and without scars, able bodied, disabled, pregnant, gay, straight – you name it. Life is not made with the die cutter used to create popular culture, nor should it be.

While putting our clothes on we heard on loudspeakers an invitation to stay for an additional shoot to take place in the gardens, but after almost five hours of being cold, tired, nervous, and exhilarated we decided to give it a miss. We had done what we came for, and hopefully in a few months time we’ll have a copy of the photo to prove it.

This blog entry is from Ms. Darlinghurst

I remember watching a documentary about Spencer Tunick years ago and being utterly amazed. An unknown artist at the time, he convinced hundreds of people to get completely naked in public, all in the name of art. I always said if he made it to Sydney I’d get involved, perhaps quietly confident he’d never make it down under.

On Monday 1st March I ate my words and joined 5200 people at the Sydney Opera House to get naked and pose for Spencer Tunicks latest installation 'The Base'.

Having registered weeks in advance I tried to avoid thinking about the technicality of the shoot (being nude) and rather what an amazing, once in a life time experience this would be. As the day grew closer my nerves increased and the reality of exposing all my glory in front of thousands of people was becoming more apparent.

I asked almost everyone I knew to do it with me and was met with varying reactions and excuses but none dare to bare. Finally after weeks of pleading my friend S agreed, she even managed to convince her friend G to join us.

Sunday night before the event I set my alarm for 3am to make the 4am registration. I can’t remember the last time I saw 3am sober and it’s not something I’m keen to do again.

At 5am it was still dark and as we sat huddled on the grass waiting for the sun to rise the thought of getting nude wasn’t too scary. An hour later the sun was up, it was completely light, I could see everyone around me very clearly and the nerves kicked in.

An announcement came on over the megaphone “ok everyone it’s time to get naked, please take off all your clothes, jewelry, piercings. If you weren’t born with it, take it off, everything except for tattoos”.

People started ripping their clothes off and I started nervously peeling away the layers.

It was a cold morning, no doubt more challenging for the men than us girls. Looking around as we walked to the bottom of the Opera House my first impression was just how surreal it looked. Thousands of naked people, short, fat, tall, skinny, very old people with grey hair, very young people with no hair, so diverse yet so similar.

Supported by the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras there were a lot of couples, same sex and straight. People had crazy tattoos and obscure piercings. We saw strange tan lines, stark white skin, a pregnant woman and woman with a baby in her arms. There were women who had fake breasts and there were women who’d had mastectomy’s and were missing breasts.

We shot a few different positions but the most intimate was ‘the embrace’ which involved hugging or kissing your partner, friend or the random next to you. Both S and G have boyfriends and instantly clung together. If you didn’t have a partner you needed to get out of the photo.

Next to me was an older man in his early 40’s, gay or straight, I’m not sure. He was a complete stranger and I hugged him naked.

It was cold and I could feel my nipples rub against the man’s bare chest. Our cheeks pressed against each other we held the position for about 15 minutes (which is a long time when you're hugging a stranger nude). It was one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had and surprisingly after the initial awkwardness it was actually really nice (warm at least).

After ‘the embrace’ we were finished and everyone ran for their clothes.

I put my suit on and walked to work just like any other day. The only difference was, I had been naked in front of 5200 people, stepped outside of my comfort zone and challenged myself more than ever before, all before 8am. If I can do that I can do just about anything.

Ms. Darlinghurst's blog can be read here.

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