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Swiss City Grooms for First Nude Public Performance Art Festival

Alina Kopytsa, Elias Kirsche, "Art Walk with Nude Accent" (2014) (photo by W. Winkler, courtesy Thomas Zollinger)
Alina Kopytsa, Elias Kirsche, “Art Walk with Nude Accent” (2014) (all photos by W. Winkler, courtesy Thomas Zollinger)

On August 21, the world’s first official, naked public performance art festival will occur in the streets of Biel, Switzerland, featuring projects from 18 international artists. Local artist Thomas Zollinger conceived of the two-day Body and Freedom Festival (link NSFW) to increase beyond gallery walls the presence of the naked body as an artistic medium. While nakedness, Zollinger told Hyperallergic, “has become commonplace” in spaces where visitors may expect to encounter bare bodies, chance meetings in public zones naturally remain relatively rare. Body and Freedom Festival aims to overtake open areas with nude performers to create a more spontaneous environment in which artists may express and engage with the unadorned self while also interacting with passersby.

“Anything that is to be seen in theaters or art spaces is now also possible to be shown or performed in urban space with the exception of the naked body, which appears to remain taboo,” Zollinger said.

“The Body and Freedom Festival intends to initiate a change,” he continued. “It aims to explore the possibilities of the naked body in urban space and everyday situational life, thereby contributing to its establishment in this context as an instrument of art expression.”

Another view of "Art Walk with Nude Accent" (click to enlarge)
Another view of “Art Walk with Nude Accent” (click to enlarge)

The inaugural event features works by European artists, save for a performance by the New York-based Miru Kim, known in particular for her series The Pig That Therefore I AmOthers on the roster include French performance group le corps collectif, Russian artist Elya May, and Swiss choreographer Foofwa d’Imobilité.

The Body and Freedom Festival has not released details of the individual pieces, but the event will also feature a series of performances that involve members of the public as part of its fundraising efforts. Although Biel’s culture office and other institutions helped fund over half the festival’s cost, the organizers are seeking donations online to cover artists’ lodgings, security measures, and other expenses. Incentives to contribute include options to participate in a nude performance of one’s choosing: for 111.55 CHF (~$127 USD), one may partake in “Naked Audience,” which involves stripping and sitting on a chair on a sidewalk while watching pedestrians; 280 CHF (~$290 USD) earns one an invitation to a “Naked Lunch” during which a series of “creative activities” will unfold.

Zollinger has previously organized (link NSFW) both solo and group naked processions and “slow walks” in Biel; while those were only partially authorized, earning him fines from the police, this year’s festival has the city’s stamp of approval: according to Zollinger, Biel has shown “remarkable support” for his project. Body and Freedom Festival’s organizers, however, still had to take measures to contain the performances to specific areas. Events may occur only within select pedestrian zones and must remain out of sight from vehicular traffic. Media coverage as well as posters surrounding the sanctioned areas will also inform citizens of the exposed happenings. Still, the cultural and financial backing from the city is a significant marker of increasing openness to public nudity as artistic expression.

“It is the result of a five-year, not entirely conflict-free dialogue with the authorities,” as Zollinger explained. “Police authorization has been achieved based on the constitutional rights of freedom of art.”

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