Between noon thursday 12th and noon sunday 15th of march 2015, three days and nights, artist Nana Francisca Schottländer lived in a shop-window in the busy main shopping street Strøget in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The name of Nana Francisca Schottländer performance was Please Be Here Now and the main theme was the body as private, public and artistic material. The inhabitation of the shop window was meant as a “live, embodied discourse on different aspects of our way of being in the world.”
While living in the window, Nana Francisca Schottländer attempted to do everything you normally would in your home: sleep, brush your teeth, wash yourself, read, think, eat, drink. She received selected guests and conducted conversations and staged activities. Everything while observing the passers-by as much as they observed her.
Nana Francisca Schottländer had a large notebook with her, but also used her own body and the surfaces of the space, walls and windows to write on. People passing by also wrote messages on the windows. (Edit: Schottländer’s own daily notes have now been published at http://pleasebeherenow.dk/.)
The shop window with its mirror floor, the mirrors on the wall behind Nana Francisca Schottländer, the glass windows around her and the many written messages, meant that the performance was, literally, very layered. On top of this the performance extended itself beyond body, glass cage and street into the world wide web, where it was live streamed on the website pleasebeherenow.dk.
Nana Francisca Schottländer had also asked three photographers to document the event: David Morrow, Georg Jagunov and myself. We divided the days between us, and each of us covered approx 24 hours.
There were a lot of things going on at the same time. Mirrors, projections of passers by and reflections in the glass. All the words, the thoughts, questions and communication. The guests. And the spectators. So many spectators.
The experience was sort of surprising to me. I went there as an observer, eyes open. But even so, it became an eye opener in a lot of ways. One of the things it made me realize is how we tend to approach things as matters to be judged and assessed. We cannot really see or experience anything without first deciding what we think about it.
Nana Francisca Schottländer started and ended her performance naked. I spoke to a friend of mine about this. It turns out, that a very primitive thought had popped up in both of our heads. Instead of simply seeing a body as a body, we had started to think about Nana Francisca Schottländer’s body compared to our body, and we had started assessing it, and judging it/our own.
Children look at the world with general curiosity and openness, and much less judgement. Children instinctively know that we are all different, and one thing need not be better than another. But when we grow up this changes, and our experience of the world becomes filtered.
The gaze and judgement of the spectator was one of the things which interested me the most about the performance, and which I ended up focusing on as a photographer. Many people go to Strøget to shop and to be entertained while hanging out with their friends. A lot of different types of people come there. When they stood before the window, they started discussing things.
People that I would never normally talk to started asking me, the person with the camera, if I knew what was going on. Why was this woman sitting in the shop window? In general it was the first thing everyone asked when they came. A lot of people also asked what she hoped to gain from it? Some people said they hoped she was getting paid a lot of money. A lot of young men had heard she was naked, and were disappointed to find that she was not. Some of them went directly from expressing this, to making some comment about how her appearance wasn’t pleasing to them anyway.
Many people looked and sounded hostile. Some people seemed to find the whole thing somehow disgusting. But regardless of how negative people sounded, most of them didn’t want to leave. They wanted to be there, as if they found great pleasure in having something to talk about. In general there seemed to be two kinds of people – those who were closed off towards the experience, and those who were open.
I hadn’t prepared myself for all the questions, and at first, I found it hard to give people what they wanted. I would point to some quote Nana Francisca Schottländer had written on the window. Two very friendly girls explained to me, that they were not able to read English. At this point it dawned on me that it wasn’t just that many people have never thought about this artsy/philosophical stuff before, it was also simply a question of very different backgrounds and how we communicate.
Nana Francisca Schottländers project was hitting a nerve because we live in a time of selfies, a time of extensive staging of the self on social media, where a lot of young people watch reality shows and dream of becoming the next tv-celebrity. Once you expose yourself in a window, people immediately feel they should have and express opinions about you. It seemed to me that many people experienced Nana Francisca Schottländer’s presence in a reality-tv show context.
I felt like protecting Nana Francisca Schottländer from this, I felt worried she could hear the vicious crap some people were saying about her appearance. But on the other hand it was part of the thing she was exploring, as described on the website: “The inhabitation explores themes such as a consumerist gaze versus a reciprocal gaze, mirroring, staging(s) of the self, vulnerability and the immediate bodily resonance and exchange arising between the performer and the people, passing by the window.” Off course, the shop window is the place for the consumerist gaze, and people were deciding if they would buy her or not.
The last night, between Saturday and Sunday, I showed up to take some pictures, and I felt scared to be alone in the dark street, where crowds of drunk men were shouting and banging aggressively on the window, asking Nana Francisca Schottländer to get undressed, pulling their trousers down to press their asses against the windows and shouting a lot of very rude things.
The vibe was very unpleasant, and I really didn’t know what to do. I was afraid of taking photos in case I would provoke these young men further. For a long time I kept my distance and hoped they would move on. When that didn’t happen, but the situation seemed to escalate… I ended up walking up to the window, leaning against it with my camera in hand. I don’t remember what I said. My body was trembling. I just started talking to them.
One young guy pushed his mobile up to my ear, so I could hear some angry man shouting in arabic. “What is he saying?” I asked. “He is talking about your family” the young guy answered. “Does he know my family?” I asked. One of the guys asked if I would photograph him. He was very excited about the result. Soon I was taking portraits of several of them, and the vibe had changed, they were all smiling and happy. I promised I would mail the photographs to them, if they promised to be nice to my friend in the window.
When I look at the photos now, they seem to look like young, sweet, handsome boys. What I really learned from that, is that the exclusion, the glass window and the lack of understanding, communication and proper contact, is what really provokes people. As soon as we were able to reestablish the power balance and connection – we had to collaborate to take the photographs – everything was ok.
There were also many really moving encounters. So many different people stopped to write and watch. I saw many young girls smiling and laughing while exchanging messages with Nana Francisca Schottländer. A lot of people from very different parts of the world seemed happy and excited about the experience. I was immensely impressed with Nana Francisca Schottländer who remained very calm, friendly and open during the whole thing.
I don’t know what people took from the experience, or what Nana Francisca Schottländer personally took from the experience. But I know that it made a huge impression on me. That I personally learned something about openness and how we meet others.
The words on the walls and windows began as statements and questions, quotes from theorists and thinkers such as Merleau-Ponty, and soon developed into communication, with people writing more questions and answers on the windows. By day 3 the writing seemed to have turned into a kind of protective shield, but on the final morning, it seemed to me to have almost completely closed Nana Francisca Schottländer in. At this point it felt like she had almost been silenced by the graffiti which had been painted across the windows during the night.
As Nana Francisca Schottländer later described it, people were projecting themselves upon her, rather than remaining open to seeing her as she was. This is probably what most of us tend to do. I think this experience can stand as a reminder of what we lose out on by doing so.