Hull 2017 Principal Partner KCOM employees share their memories of taking part in Spencer Tunick’s ‘Sea of Hull’, as his artworks go on display at Ferens Art Gallery.
In many respects it was a pretty average Saturday morning in July.
As the sun broke over the Humber, the clatter of workmen doing the weekend shift filled the air, the rumble of lorries heading toward the docks started building to its usual dull crescendo and shop workers trudged through the streets, the morning after the night before, to open up for the day.
If it wasn’t for the 3,200 naked blue people filing through the city centre it could have been any other Saturday.
By the time the rest of the world was grinding into action the blue flood of humanity had already been marching through the streets, lying on the pavements and crowding onto bridges for several hours; all walking, posing and prostrating themselves on the floor to the orders of a man surveying the scene from high above on a cherry picker.
His name was Spencer Tunick, and the giant art installation he was overseeing was called Sea of Hull.
The results of Tunick’s vision have now been revealed as an exhibition of his photographs has opened to the general public from today (Saturday, 22 April). Now’s the time when the thousands who turned up bleary eyed and cold at 3am and then dared to bare all – while painted one of four shades of aqua blue – will see if it was all worth it.
For the KCOM employees who took part, the event will live long in the memory. From the initial trepidation about getting naked in front of thousands of strangers to the shedding of socks, shirts and inhibitions, Sea of Hull was a unique experience that left an indelible mark on those who helped make it happen.
For Maria Sellors, KCOM propositions manager, being part of Sea Of Hull was all about being a part of Hull’s City of Culture year.
“The reason I did it was to be part of a legacy for Hull and being part of something I will probably never be part of again,” she says.
“It’s something I’ll be able to look back in years to come and say ‘I did that’. When I’m on my death bed, looking back, it’ll be one of the things I’m most proud of doing.”
After the initial embarrassment of stripping off, it didn’t take long to feel comfortable among the tide of painted humanity, says Maria, as people of all shapes and sizes took to the streets in their allocated shade of blue.
“For me, it was liberating and empowering,” says Maria.
“There was a real sense of community and camaraderie. Once you were painted you lost your inhibitions quite quickly; you just ended up chatting to people as if they were fully clothed.”
Some weren’t totally convinced taking part was a good idea at first.
Corporate communications assistant Alex O’Mahony only decided to go with the flow at the last minute.
“We almost didn’t go,” laughs Alex, 28, who took part with her mum, Kate. They were allocated the deep blue shade codenamed B2 on arrival.
“But at the last minute we thought ‘Why not? Let’s just go for it!’ and went along.
“I’m really curious about the exhibition now. I want to see how it turned out and whether he will use some of the photographs we have already seen or if there will be loads of new ones. Trying to find yourself in the pictures should be interesting.”
On the day Spencer Tunick came, Hull made headlines around the world.
From Australia to the US, news bulletins around the world carried reports of the mass blue art installation and the tidal wave of flesh that had poured along the pavements.
On Saturday, 9 July, 2016 Hull’s reign as the UK City of Culture was still some months away, but the arrival of such a momentous event made it feel for many as if the starting pistol had been fired for what was to come.
For Alistair Lamyman it was the moment when Hull’s reign as the 2017 UK City of Culture finally came into focus and the city realised the full potential of what it actually meant.
“I think it symbolised the cultural reawakening of Hull,” says KCOM sales executive Alistair.
“We’d just had the Place de Anges show and then Sea of Hull in quick succession and suddenly everyone was thinking ‘Hold on, what’s all this? This isn’t what Hull’s about. Is it?’
“And then people started to realise that Hull was actually a pretty cool place and what the City Of Culture could be. It was a taster for 2017 and a pretty exciting time. It was like ‘Wow, so this is culture. Bam!’”
As the Sea of Hull images go on display as part of the Skin exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery (22 April – 13 August), alongside works by painter Lucien Freud and sculptor Ron Mueck, Hull is about to relive the most colourful day in its history.
And, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there should be no reason to feel blue about that extraordinary Saturday back in July. It was, after all, the day when we started to believe in the crazy, exciting and quirky possibilities for Hull’s cultural rebirth.
KCOM are a Principal Partner of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. They had exclusive access to film Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull installation – visit kcomhome.com/seaofhull to watch the 8-minute video.