By Stefano Bonino First published on the LSE Religion and the Public Sphere blog – read the original article Far removed from the cinematic and media depictions of Muslims as angry and threat…
The alarm woke me at 0230. I got dressed into the old clothes recommended in the joining instructions, left my hotel room, and stepped out into the dark night.
I walked the 10 minutes to the rendezvous, past the late night revellers and in step with couples wearing onesies, tracksuits and a variety of outfits that could only mean they were heading in my direction.
We were all in Hull to take part in a Spencer Tunick art installation Sea of Hull. For those who don’t know, Spencer Tunick is famous for using naked people as brush strokes on his canvases of usually urban landscapes.
Hull is the UK’s City of Culture in 2017. Tunick’s commission is part of the show. Not only that, but the presence of thousands of naked people in city streets is guaranteed to generate publicity for the big event next year. It certainly worked. I saw pictures in the German publication Der Spiegel the same day.
What possessed me to put my name forward and make my nude modelling debut at the age of 61?
There were a number of factors. I went to university in Hull and have retained a great affection for the place. I wanted to contribute to its City of Culture achievement. I also have ancestral links with the city. But more than either of those things, I wanted to be naked in public without fear of arrest.
I can’t really explain this. I can only suggest that it’s like making a statement that I exist as part of nature. The removal of normal social constraints would be, I thought, quite liberating. And while that felt true of my personal motivation, the event itself was actually more reaffirming of our social instincts.
We signed in and were given a see-through plastic bag with a letter and a number on it. I was B2. I walked to Queen’s Gardens where thousands were already gathered in their assigned quadrant – B1, B2, B3 and B4. Each participant was handed a tub of coloured body make up – a different colour depending our your quadrant. Mine was a fetching light blue.
As a singleton, I found myself in a throng of couples and small groups. Given what we were about to do, I found the idea of striking up a conversation with anyone quite inhibiting. We stood around for a long time.
Then we were briefed by Spencer himself. We returned to our quadrants, told to strip off and apply our make-up.
The gusto with which 3,200 people shed their clothes was impressive. Like we’d been waiting all our lives for this moment. Within minutes we were head to toe in blue, purple or green. Men and women of all ages and sizes. Some were even in wheelchairs.
The make-up had a peculiar physical effect – like we had turned into statuary.
But the gradually overwhelming sense was that we were a community. We were sharing an experience with total strangers, yet felt we belonged to something bigger than ourselves.
The humour developed and spread. Its premise: that we were some kind of alien religious cult and Spencer was our god. When Spencer barked at us to “face the wall” we imbued it with quasi-mystical qualities and chanted: “The Wall. The Wall.” One of Spencer’s assistants, Steve, was continually referenced by our god, so every time Steve was asked to do something we responded with an unearthly ecstatic moan – Steeeeve. Steeeeve.
When we made our way up a street to our last installation – 3200 naked people in coloured body paint – there was a group of young folk on a balcony overlooking the scene. Someone shouted up to them: “You look weird!” And within the humour was a grain of truth. For that hour, we were mainstream. People in clothes were outcasts.
One question most people ask about being naked in a crowd of naked people is whether it is erotic. I guess the fear is that proximity to another naked person could trigger an unwelcome physical or emotional response – an erection or crushing embarrassment. It didn’t. I was struck that I could stand next to a beautiful naked young woman, appreciate her, and not be aroused. The cold air temperature probably helped. But it was more than that. A sense of community. A sense of togetherness that transcended our usual everyday emotions and reactions. A sense that their humanity, their ‘humankindness’, mattered a great deal and was worthy of care and preservation. Respect and trust was an unspoken contract between us.
Afterwards, my blueness washed away down the shower drain and eating breakfast, I felt a sense of elation. I had been part of something extraordinary. Life-affirming. Human. I would definitely do it again.
We are getting smaller and we are bringing it on ourselves. Wake up people!
Here are a series of articles which illustrate the way in which business vocabulary has entered into our way of talking about ourselves and our relationships:
This is from Forbes magazine and suggests you treat yourself as a product and a brand.
This is from the Wall St Journal and shows a family who have pinned a mission statement to their fridge and have agreed targets for each other.
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I’d never heard of Whitehead before. I am intrigued (as ever) by thinkers who challenge normative thinking and excited at the possibilities such thinking can create.
Recently I interviewed Leemon McHenry about his book The Event Universe: The Revisionary Metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead (UK) (US), the newest addition to the Crosscurrents series. The book is available for pre-order and scheduled for publication in July. Leemon’s other books can be found here.
Chris Watkin: You write in the preface that The Event Universe has been a long time in the making, and indeed it is clear that the book is the fruit of sustained and persistent reflection dating back to the mid 1990s. What set you on the journey to writing The Event Universe, and is it the same book you had in mind from the beginning?
Leemon McHenry: The Event Universe is pretty much what I had in mind from the time I began to think about what problems I wanted to tackle. I didn’t think I’d ever get…
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Source: Fitting Nowhere
Working inside a large bureaucratic organisation where means and ends are largely dictated by political considerations outside the organisation’s ability to influence, I can see the corrosive effects of the race from judgement. Thinking is done by an elite few, disseminated to the many who provide the service. Our own experience and judgement not only count for nothing, but are positively discouraged through sanctions. The behaviour this engenders is that it is safer to follow the rules than to think for ourselves. A good example of what can happen is illustrated by the demise of the Liverpool End of Life Care Pathway. It was a framework which nurses and doctors followed without understanding the underlying judgements that created it in the first place. The Pathway became discredited. In our complex world we seem increasingly to defer to systematised experience and not to trust our own. Just look at the proliferation of people selling quick wins and how they do it: Ten steps to a fitter body; the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We are encouraged to learn from others in order to overcome the limitations of our own cognitive abilities and the narrowness of our experience. We are social animals and have a natural tendency to calibrate our thinking in response to our social surroundings. Perhaps if we improved the quality of our thinking instead we might avoid the trap of alienation outlined in Chris’s blog.
Crouch’s thesis is that the financialisation of public institutions reduces the meaning of what they do to a limited number of numerical targets and performance indicators often of a financial kind. This has the effect of also reducing the spectrum of knowledge we need fully to be employees, citizens and customers and constrains expert judgement. It has the effect of trumping all other valuations of particular organizational or social problems with one supposed truth, that of the bottom line or a financial target.
One example he gives of the consequences of financialization from the UK is the monetary incentive offered to GPs to refer more patients with suspected Alzheimer’s disease for further medical tests. The incentive is problematic on a number…
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How do we train our brains to overcome depression and anxiety? If we think we can cure (remove the symptoms) then we could be setting out on a path to failure (increased depressed and anxious feelings). Being aware, observing our feelings as they arise, seems to work for most people. Here’s a blog from someone living with depression and anxiety and the story of a plane flight. She did really well. I celebrated with her.
I had an epiphany.
No, wait, please don’t go! I promise it’s not as lame as it sounds.
Last week, I got on a plane and flew hundreds of miles to see 15 people I’ve known via World of Warcraft for just shy of two years. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, it was terrifying and exhilarating.
But my epiphany began on the plane, specifically when it first started to move away from the gate, and my carefully crafted facade of calm shattered into a million shards. We were merely taxiing through LAX and I felt like I was about to have a heart attack as the stewardesses were finishing up their safety routine. My face had that queasy, loose feeling you get when you know all the blood’s been drained out of it.
I was at a crossroads.
As I clutched my armrest, wondering idly if I’d get…
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