Spencer Tunick: Folks Shouldn’t Have to Strip Naked to Save the Dead Sea

With new exhibition opening in Tel Aviv, famed American artist, who photographed nude volunteers alongside sinkholes at Mineral Beach over weekend, spoke of his special bond with Dead Sea.

Nude volunteers surround sinkhole at Dead Sea, September 2016, photographed by Spencer Tunick.
Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick returned to the Dead Sea over the weekend and photographed 15 volunteers in the nude next to sinkholes that have opened up along the Mineral Beach. The project was part of his artistic efforts to raise awareness of the ecological disaster occurring there. Tunick says that ideally, there should be no need for people to have to pose naked to get the message across to the public. But people are not getting involved enough, they’re not demonstrating and signing petitions, he laments. “The sinkholes were caused by human actions. This is not a natural process,” he notes.

On the eve of the opening of a new exhibition of his work that includes photographs of installations from Israel and other countries, Tunick held a press conference at the 4 Florentin Space art gallery in Tel Aviv, at which he revealed a “secret installation done without permission and without support” and spoke about his special bond with the Dead Sea.

Noting that he’d been visiting there with his family since the 1970s when he was a boy, he said, “If anyone told me that national parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone were in danger of closing, I’d work to get the message across there. The Dead Sea is an amazing natural phenomenon, just as spectacular as the California Sequoias,” he told Haaretz.

Nude volunteers posing in Dead Sea sinkholes, photographed by Spencer Tunick, September 2016.
Spencer Tunick

He says he consulted with experts on sinkholes before positioning the participants in the photos – either lying next to the mouth of the sinkhole or partially sunk into their own sinkhole against the backdrop of the Dead Sea.

Art collector and high-tech exec Ari Fruchter produced Tunick’s Dead Sea installations. Five years after the first one, shot at Mineral Beach in 2011, he discovered that the beach had been sealed off. When he climbed the fence to take a closer look, he found a horrifying sight: huge sinkholes that were practically swallowing the various structures on the beach. Last weekend, he invited Tunick to come see for himself and to study the conditions, and he helped him photograph the new installation there.

Fruchter says that the claim that the Red-Dead Canal between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea would solve the problem was misleading. “The world became convinced that Israel and Jordan were finding a solution when the opposite is true – there has been no progress at all.”

Nude volunteers posing in Dead Sea sinkholes, September 2016, photographed by Spencer Tunick.
Spencer Tunick

Sending a message to Israeli gov't

Tunick says, “I expected government support for the project but Ari told me that the government isn’t keen to alert people that there is no access to the northern beach and that the streets are collapsing into sinkholes. He asked me to create works that would change the discourse and send a message to the Israeli government: You’ve been blessed with this magnificent natural wonder and you’ve turned it into a place that’s dangerous to go near. The sinkhole I saw at Mineral Beach was so huge it could swallow up this whole gallery.”

Dr. Clive Lipchin of the Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management said at the press conference: “Israel only wakes up after disasters happen. Just like the parking garage collapse raised awareness of construction site safety, the government won’t wake up until a bus traveling from Jerusalem to Eilat is swallowed by a sinkhole, and it’s clear to everyone that it’s just a matter of time until that happens.

“On the Israeli side alone, we’ve documented more than 10,000 sinkholes,” Lipchin continued. “The sea is drying up and receding and we need to restore 1 billion cubic meters of water to it each year. If we don’t do that, we’ll lose the Dead Sea and eventually the access to Masada will be blocked – these are the biggest tourist sites in Israel besides Jerusalem. Beyond the ecological disaster, we’re also talking about a serious economic blow. The Dead Sea Works are part of the problem and they can also be part of the solution. The government has to get involved, and the international community, and our neighbors, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, which share the sea with us. It’s an international water source that should be addressed regionally.”

MK Yael Cohen-Paran (Zionist Union), chair of the Knesset’s Lobby for Saving the Dead Sea, pointed an accusing finger at the factories that operate in the area.

“The world is losing a natural gem due to the actions by Israeli companies with the support of the Israeli government,” she said. “A new sinkhole opens up daily, on average. Bathers no longer have access to the northern shore of the Dead Sea except for the Calia Beach. This is the result of a lack of vision, a lack of long-term thinking. These are processes that began before the state was founded, and we’ve been seeing the results for the past 20 years and still there is no vision for how to fix it. The industrial plants are certainly powerful players in the economy – the tycoons want us to keep letting them exploit the country’s natural resources for the sake of their profits, but the time has come to take them on and to halt the ecological deterioration.”

Tunick’s new exhibition was set to open Tuesday evening at 4 Florentin Space and run for two weeks.