Doctors, care home workers, teachers and more arrived in their hundreds at London’s Alexandra Palace for a new artwork. They all dutifully wore face coverings. Just nothing else.
The socially distanced nude art installation is the work of Spencer Tunick, an artist who has been organising and documenting large crowds of cheerfully naked volunteers for more than 25 years.
Commissioned by Sky Arts to mark its transition to a free-for-everyone channel, 220 people from all walks of life, including jobs which have been at the coronavirus frontline, gathered on a by no means warm Saturday morning for the photoshoot.
Titled Everyone Together it was, said Sky Arts, the first major participatory artwork since lockdown and a celebration of freedom and participation.
For one doctor, taking part was also about a wider health message. The 30-year-old man, who worked in intensive care during the height of the pandemic, said: “I think it’s incredibly important to reach people in different ways about mask-wearing and other precautions than the didactic way that can sometimes happen, so I think this is a great project.”
Organisers said the event was scrupulously compliant with Covid-19 guidelines, including temperature checks and being arranged into position, whether standing or flat on their back, in a one-way queue system via megaphone.
Tunick said the commission had been “liberating and life-affirming”. He added: “The reality of masses of people close together – shoulder to shoulder, skin touching skin – may be something of the past for now, but still the desire is there for that natural connectivity, perhaps more so now than ever.
“The work is about breaking down barriers.”
Philip Edgar-Jones, the director of Sky Arts, said the intention had been to create a landmark cultural moment that invited Covid-safe participation.
“While the pandemic has presented challenges to the cultural sector, we’ve also seen a great deal of innovation in the arts, and thousands of people have created their own artworks or reconnected with their artistic abilities. The sense that the arts is for a self-selecting group of people is disappearing, and that can only be a good thing.”
Sky Arts is available on Freeview and Freesat from Thursday. The channel also announced new programmes, which include an exploration of the right to offend, by Irvine Welsh; the conductor Charles Hazlewood marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethovenand Sky Arts Book Club Live.