We recently made a video about a nude exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). The exhibition was called Hyper Real, which is a collection of photorealistic sculptures and installations from a range of international artists, all depicting the human form. And because of the human form thing, we helped the NGA to organise a nudist event—which ended with me agreeing to host a video of the event. Naked.
And it turns out public nudity is intense. Or more to the point: being nude in front of strangers is one thing, but being nude in front of work colleagues (with a video camera)—who I constantly see in the office kitchen while I make Blend 43 and polite chit-chat about how it’s Wednesday and halfway to the weekend chuckle, chuckle, nearly there!—that kind of nudity is very intense. That kind of nudity is like the recurring dream where you’re at school naked, only it’s work, and it’s actually happening.
But anyway, turns out I wasn’t the only one having a strange day at work. Jaime Snyder, our video editor, then had to spend a whole 24 hours blurring my junk from the video, along with the junk of 120 naked strangers who attended Hyper Real.
“It was definitely the weirdest editing job I’ve done,” Jaime explained, sitting in one of our superheated editing dens. “I’d get used to seeing your penis for about half an hour, but then I wouldn’t see it again, and then suddenly it’d be back again and I’d have to get used to it all over.”
“But,” he added, “I’d like to drive home how it also wasn't that weird. The whole thing was just a lot of human bodies.”
This was also my experience, once the initial nerves fell away. For an hour we walked around work by such names as Ron Mueck, who specialises in supernaturally real silicon statues of human fragility. And being naked while looking at these artistic reflections on the human form creates a weird feedback loop. You become hyper aware of being human. You become aware of being some proto-monkey in a squidgy, hairless body who is neither weird nor sexual. And it’s kind of liberating.
“I definitely felt that too,” says Jaime. “And I thought it was interesting that so many people talked about their inhibitions falling away. Everyone talked about just being human, which I think is maybe—maybe—what the exhibition was trying to say.”
But regardless of whether Jaime and I felt the innocuousness of anatomy, Facebook felt differently. Because Facebook has an ongoing commitment to a middle-American variety of prudishness, and all videos that feature reproductive parts, including butts, have to be blurred. And Jaime explained how this was tricky.
“The process involves tracking the movement of everything that has to be censored,” he explained. “You can put a tracker on a nipple and the software—Premiere Pro—can automatically track the nipple. But if the focus changes or if there's a lot of movement, it gets confused and you need to manually tell the software where the blurred part should be. And it gets time consuming when there are 10 or more moving blurred parts in a single frame.”
He goes on to explain that crowd shots were the hardest. People weaving in and out between each other, junk appearing and disappearing. And then he’d watch a cut back in an internal meeting and realise there were still a few frames of genitalia left behind.
“One of the first priorities was to blur your penis,” he told me. “This was so we could show various edits to everyone in the video team. But in the first cut I made a mistake and [our head of video] said, ‘I definitely saw Julian’s wang.’”
So what did Jaime and I learn from this experience? Well after interviewing several people at Hyper Real, it seemed to me that the common experience was self-acceptance. Every one of the 120 people who were there were naked but no one was perfect, and that was wonderful. We all felt flawed and vulnerable, but equal, and everyone talked about this sense of throwing a weight off their shoulders.
Maybe there was something about that in the art as well. Very few of the human figures at Hyper Real were good looking in some classical Adonis way. There just seemed a thread of fallibility, fear, and maybe mortality. There was a statue of a young guy arching his back, paralysed off the ground. And an old woman curled up asleep. A pregnant woman leaning forward, with some look on her face like she was tired of exhaustion. It was humanity stripped off all pretence, and it seemed an apt setting for 120 people to find peace in their non-pretentious bodies.
So yes, I was pretty sold on nudism. I think it’s great.
Jaime, however, was less sold. “Maybe one day I could hit up a nude event like this. But also… maybe I’m just saying that because it’s the only decent thing to say to someone who showed me their wang.”
You can catch Hyper Real at the NGA until 18 Feb.