Spencer Tunick - Emil Salman
Spencer Tunick in Tel Aviv, September 14, 2011. Photo by Emil Salman
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The Megilot Regional Council yesterday voted against helping fund artist Spencer Tunick's mass nude photo shoot at the Dead Sea, set for Saturday morning. One of the reasons for withdrawing its original promise of monetary support, officials said, was that the main theme of the project was not environmental protection, as they had originally believed, but rather freedom of expression and individual rights.

Around 1,000 Israelis between 18 and 77 are expected to strip down to their birthday suits for the shoot, which will be held at an undisclosed beach on the Dead Sea.

Arranging the logistics for the event, including funding, has been a two-year process.

"The core of Tunick's artwork ceased to focus on the environmental issue, which was the reason for the council's original decision to support the project," the regional council's media adviser, Gura Berger, said in a statement yesterday. She said the project's main subject was supposed to be "the relationship between art and the Dead Sea, between the environment and the artist," but that in the past several days the people behind the project brought up other issues as their focus, such as freedom of expression and the rights of the individual.

Figures in the regional council also admitted that they failed to find funding for the project and that promised state allocations failed to arrive.

A number of Knesset members have called for canceling the project, called "Naked Sea."

Tunick, who has held mass nude photo shoots at sites around the world, called the event a "litmus test" of freedom of expression and enlightened views in each country. He told a Tel Aviv press conference yesterday that there have not been very many obstacles to organizing the shoot in Israel, adding that after the shoot he will breathe easily and thank God it happened in the only place in the Middle East where it could happen.

Daphna Holtz-Lechner, legal adviser to "Naked Sea," said yesterday that the Megilot Regional Council must meet its commitment to the project, adding that the council's reversal does not jeopardize the photo shoot.