I have a vivid imagination. I have imagined myself doing a whole host of weird and wonderful things. Nowhere in my imaginings did I put myself in the middle of my hometown, Hull, in the early hours of the morning, naked and painted blue, along with over 3,000 other people. Turns out even my imagination has its limits.
You might very well be asking ‘why?’ and to be completely honest, in the few days leading up to Saturday 9 July, when I was crawling out of bed at 02:30, I was asking myself the very same question.
The Ferens Art Gallery commissioned the artist Spencer Tunick to produce a work – Sea Of Hull – as part of the 2017 celebrations when the city will be UK City Of Culture. The details were scant, but compelling. They were looking for volunteers to sign up to take part in a mass nude art installation in the middle of the city. All you had to do was register your interest. I signed up immediately.
Afterwards people were more than astonished. I am the kind of person that does not use the changing rooms at the gym unless there is a private cubicle available. I spent most of my school days trying to come up with ever inventive ways to try and avoid the communal showering after games lessons. I worked myself up into a frenzy at the notion of wearing a swimming costume around the pool in Corfu last year. I am not a size ten (not even close). I have skin so pale that I’m often asked if I’m feeling ok. I am quite honestly the last person you would put forward as a candidate for getting her kit off for no good reason.
But there I was, nude, covered literally head-to-toe in blue body paint, wandering around the city centre, lying on the pavements, bending over and touching my toes (and yes we were all horrified that we had to do that) as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
I’ve been told by lots of people that what I did was brave but I disagree. There’s nothing brave about taking your clothes off – you do that every night before you get in bed. There’s nothing brave about getting your photo taken with a group of people – that’s something that happens at most uncomfortable mass family gatherings. But I do think I was bold, I do think I was daring and I do think I was pretty ballsy.
Did it feel uncomfortable to be pushed out of my comfort zone? Of course it did. I never thought I’d be stood there as naked as the day I was born asking a complete stranger if I’d missed any bits when I was slapping on the body paint. But was it worth being pushed out of my comfort zone? Undoubtedly.
When I got home and had scrubbed myself clean, I went online to a slew of press photographs showing the scale of the installation I had been part of. My breath was taken away. I was part of something amazing. I am part of history. This will always be remembered and talked about and I can say I was there.
What are the lessons for organisations? Tunick is the true visionary here; he inspired us, he sparked something inside us, people that would normally never do this kind of thing, and made us want to be part of it. The world needs people like Tunick. Someone who is able to overturn the natural order of things, question normality and be brave enough to put all of that out there with the utmost faith that people will respond to his cry. Equally he needed all of us. He needed us in order to see his vision come to life. By motivating each person and daring us, we came together to create a sea of people and the effects of what we did that day will ripple throughout Hull’s history.
As for me, the sense of empowerment that I felt as a result of taking part is impossible to put into words. Without being too melodramatic I am a changed person. I genuinely feel like there is nothing that I can’t do. So, my advice to you would be:
Whatever it is that’s scaring you, just do it.
If it seems too weird, do it.
If it seems too crazy, do it.
Be bold. Be different. Stand out.
Originally posted on SPARK THINKING