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I got naked and spilled my guts at Arts House's new exhibit (and you should too)

By
Nic Dowse
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It’s a cold, blustery morning, and I’m butt-naked inside a studio at Arts House. This isn’t usually how I start my mornings, but on this particularly nippy Friday I’m here to check out an upcoming installation that’s best described as ‘gently confronting audio nudism’.

The Naked Self is an interactive audio installation made from hundreds of real stories about strangers' bodies. There’s a twist though: every single story you hear has been recorded while the person was 100 per cent, goosepimply naked. Which is how I come to be standing naked in a pink, fluffy-floored booth at 10am on a Friday.

Wearing a pair of headphones connected to tablet, I stare into the booth’s body-length mirror as a tablet gently guides me through a self-examination of my body. Gawking at yourself au naturel can be tough, but in this millennial pink, shag pile booth it’s a less daunting process. I look at my body from top to bottom thinking about questions the tablet asks me: “who last held your hand?”, “who last saw you naked?” and “who will next see you naked?”.

Created by playwright Michele Lee and director and creative producer Tanya Dickson, The Naked Self is all about eliminating choice. Lee says that the installation deliberately removes choice, in response to the overwhelming amount of choices we face in our digital lives. It’s true – once you start your nude recording session you’re on a one-way street.

You’ve got one shot to create your naked audio portrait, and you don’t get to choose your topic. That choice is made by the previous participant, and likewise you’ll get to decide the topic for the next person. My tablet kindly informs me that I’ll be talking about the fun topic of 'regret', so the story I had prepared earlier is a no-go. Instead I ramble about the first regretful body-related story that comes to mind, and I finish my session feeling surprisingly confident for someone wearing only headphones on a 12-degree day.

If you’re never-nude inclined you’re still welcome to listen to the recorded audio portraits in the upstairs corridor at Arts House. There are more than 300 stories and counting, on topics such as beauty, time, inheritance and confession. You’ll hear stories about people wanting to be taller, obsessing over their weight and coming to terms with their furry backsides. All stories are unedited, and in some cases they cover traumatic content. Lee concedes “there’s a cathartic, therapeutic aspect” to The Naked Self, with the anonymity of the work allowing people to bare all, literally and figuratively. 

Ready to get your kit off and tell all? The Naked Self opens Friday June 8 at Arts House. Entry and participation is free.

'Tis the season for getting nude – Spencer Tunick also wants you to bare your body.

Or enjoy art with your clothes on when MoMA comes to the NGV.

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