WhatsOnStage Logo

Everyday People: Life In the Raw at the Lowry

WhatsOnStage logo
As part of their tenth anniversary celebrations The Lowry collaborates with American Artist Spencer Tunick to create one of his installations in Manchester. This involves large numbers of volunteers being photographed posing in the nude in well-known locations. Getting a place isn’t easy. There are 5,000 volunteers so being on the short list doesn’t guarantee success - you have to show up on the day and hope for the best.

There are two events on 1st and 2nd May. My guess that I’ll have more luck with the second turns out to be correct – the former is over-subscribed by 250 people whilst only 350 show up for the latter. Registration, at 3.30 in the bloody morning, is daunting but one has to suffer for art; a phrase that will come to mind throughout the photo shoot. As I leave at 2.15am the all-night bus flies past me ten minutes early. Great. Rather than risk waiting for the next I decide to work off my frustration with First Bus by walking the five miles to The Lowry.

The advice to volunteers to dress warmly turns out to be wise. The early morning is cold with a biting wind. I get to The Lowry at 3.40am and feel embarrassed to be the only one there until a police officer directs me to a bloody great queue wrapped around the building some of whom stared queuing at 11 pm the previous night - when I was actually making my way home from The Lowry! We are a fairly homogenous group-almost entirely white although there is a good representation of age and genders. I’m stunned to find how far some have travelled. York and London are mentioned. For some people this is the third (and I’ll bet the coldest) installation in which they’ve been involved.

Think I am the last person to register. My cynical assumption that the early registration is for the benefit of the organisers turns out to be incorrect. Within 40 minutes we’re on our way in heated coaches. Well, slightly chilly buses but they do warm up. We debate where we will strip – on the bus would be a squeeze perhaps there will be a tent? If only.

The first shoot uses the Railway Bridge and barges at Castlefield as a background. We meet Spencer – he seems nonplussed that the strict security has kept us from being told the concept of the event. He explains that we will adopt the poses of the characters in Lowry’s paintings. He probably keeps his promise that the photographs will be taken quickly although, subjectively, it didn’t seem so at the time .The penny drops that we are going to have to strip in the open at the site. Spencer gives us a countdown and we take a uniform deep breath and comply.

Any embarrassment about my own naked body or interest in that of another person is obliterated by the sheer physical discomfort. The surface underfoot comprises whacking great cobblestones that hurt like hell when you walk. When the wind blows across the waterfront it adds to the biting cold. The word’ Freeze!’ becomes less an instruction and more a description – some of us are actually shivering. When we are asked to turn and shake hands a cry goes out that we are already shaking. We mingle and, when instructed, stop and pose. It isn’t easy to see the connection with scenes from Lowry but after awhile we’re just glad to get dressed again. Over hear the first of many really funny remarks as a woman turns to her husband to ask  "What do you mean your nipples are cold?"

The shoot at The Lowry is delayed, as noise cannot be made until after 7am. The proceedings are less painful. We strip inside the building and the surface is smoother. It is fun to see the reaction of the early morning joggers. This time the pose, stooped and bent as we walk, is easier to recognise as one used by Lowry. Don’t know how the final pose, turned around and bent right over, will seem on the final photograph but up close it looks very strange. ‘ At least I can say I’ve shown my arse at The Lowry’ comes the remark.

The lengthy journey and warm coach send me to sleep as we travel to the third location. At Manchester Airport we pose inside a hanger that, even if chilly, keeps the wind off. It is hard to see how Lowry is reflected in the group posing on the steps of, and pointing at, The Concorde .The large viewing window gives an aircraft full of passengers an eyeful: ‘ They have to go to Spain to get their tits out.’

The final, and worse, location is the large car park at Eastlands, which has the gasworks in the background. The gravel surface is like walking on broken glass and the wide area attracts strong winds. We are organised into tightly packed groups of thirty adopting the hunched walk. It takes a long time and leaves us very cold.

Inspiration seems to strike Spencer and, as most of us dress, he takes a group of women to pose in two of the double decker buses. It turns out to be a striking view. Each woman is posed naked (back and front) in one of the windows of the bus. I don’t know if its art but I know I really like it and am sure that when the bus arrives to take me to heaven it will look just like those two. It brings me full circle from the frustration of the missing bus at the start of the event to the exhilarating glimpse at its conclusion.

The Lowry deserve to be congratulated on the imaginative events staged to celebrate their anniversary but will struggle to find one more impressive than Everyday People. It was a privilege to take part and I look forward to the exhibition of an event that I will long remember after the memory of the discomfort has faded.

The exhibition of Everyday People opens at The Lowry on 12th June 2010. I’m the good-looking one by the way!

- Dave Cunningham


Tagged in this Story