Stuart Ringholt's Naturist Tours

· Tuesday October 25, 2011

Stuart Ringholt makes art of the awkward and uncomfortable by deliberately placing himself in confronting or embarrassing situations. Whether it be wearing a prosthetic nose for a day or standing in a city square with toilet paper hanging out the back of his trousers, Ringholt seeks out and examines emotionally turbulent experiences most of us would rather avoid and/or forget. In his latest work, however, Stuart invites his audience to share in his process and his product.

Contrary to all of the above, Ringholt’s contribution to ACCA’s Power to the People exhibition - a naturist tour of the show itself - feels… well… natural.

Participants are invited to experience the collection of contemporary conceptualism completely unadorned – creating an artwork in and of itself out of blank human canvases. And while it may sound like a gimmick, there is a distinct nobility in the artist’s earnest attempt to normalise nudity.

Standing in ACCA’s cavernous lobby, we assemble as a charismatically bumbling Stuart Ringholt runs through some general house keeping; dos and don’ts just in case some of us need to be reminded that just because we consent to being nude together doesn’t open the door for any other lewd or untoward behaviour. This is easily the most nerve-wracking part of the whole experience. Imagine you’re being rallied together on a school excursion except everyone is a stranger and you’re about to see one another’s junk.

In true field trip style, team leader Stuart advises us to head to the bathroom before entering, to avoid a nude dash later on. Shoes are permitted in order to keep our feet clean and he’s brought along brand new pack of underwear in case anybody wants to participate in one of the central works in which plush animal dress-up attire is provided.

Time to get undressed. We walk into a dark projection room and get down to business, one by one emerging re-born into the harsh glare of the gallery proper. I’ve never understood the public speaking technique of picturing the audience naked until now, but as bodies of all shapes and sizes emerge into the space, any existing anxieties melt away.

The challenge now is to simultaneously consume the body of work on display and the one we’re taking part in.

The exhibition itself is conceptual and participatory by nature: a pair of copper plates on which to stand so that they may eventually wear down revealing all that have stood before; a yellow, endless, periscopic hall of mirrors with a peephole to the iconic, once controversial Vault or “Yellow Peril” sculpture in the ACCA courtyard; the aforementioned animal costumes and more. And in perhaps the most pertinent piece to this particular exercise, a young woman sits at a desk, typing what she sees in staccato, poetic, single sentence statements.

After some quiet perusal the group assembles and an informal discussion ensues. Stuart talks about his art and others’, we all talk about how we’re feeling and before you know it we’re back out in the light of day fully clothed and I hardly recognise a soul. It’s strange to think that anonymity can be achieved alongside such intimacy.