In what resembled a cross between a music festival and a religious pilgrimage, a crowd of one thousand Israelis entered the Dead Sea on Saturday to pose for a picture wearing nothing but smiles. Directing the photography event with a megaphone from atop a lifeguard’s tower was Spencer Tunick, the American Jewish artist who in the past has staged events at a glacier in Switzerland and the Opera House of Sydney, using the local reaction as an indicator of social tolerance. “In other places the works are accepted as a litmus test for how free a country is, or how open a country is, and how full of rights a country is.” Tunick told reporters.
Tunick hopes that media coverage of the photograph will draw attention to ecological problems surrounding this lowest and saltiest body of water on Earth. While the Dead Sea has been around at least since Biblical times (Aristotle referred to it as the sea “in which no fish could live”), its water levels have historically been so volatile that geologists have frequently used nearby sedimentary deposits to better understand the Paleolithic climate of the Middle East. Now, as sources to the Dead Sea from the Jordan River have been re-channeled and underground layers of brine have been flushed out, the Dead Sea has been shrinking for decades, and eventually may run completely dry.
Critics of Tunick’s project have drawn attention to the work site’s “Sodom and Gomorrah” quality. It may not be an accident that the project’s work site wasn’t far from the actual Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were destroyed in the Book of Genesis for the irretrievable corruption and sexual licentiousness of their inhabitants. Gilad Limor, one of Tunick’s models, seemed to respond to this concern in interviews, saying: “We have overcome a very serious obstacle with this installation.” “I believe we now are able to introduce art in Israel that uses the naked human form without having to worry about it being considered pornographic.”