It is five years since I walked through the world naked. I was in Gent, Belgium, the 3d of April 2013, staying at the house of friends who were travelling. I was enroled in a Master Programme at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. I studied Media Art & Design after having studied Art in Public Space and New Artistic Strategies for a year. That day we had to present the projects we had been working on to our teachers. I wasn’t in Weimar. The presentation date had been changed a few times and as always, the students were supposed to do whatever their teachers were telling them. I had planned this trip according to their original planning and as always, I had tried to explain my point of view to them. I was only a student though and they knew better. They thought. I am not sure if I knew better. But I thought differently. And I still do.
I had been wearing a three piece suit for 108 days then. I started wearing it on December 16. I had embroidered a big QR code on the back of the jacket. Every day I made an embroidery on the inside of the suit. Sometimes they referred to something that had happened that day, in my own life or in the world. Sometimes it was a drawing, sometimes words. Sometimes I just started without knowing what would come out of it. Every day I posted two photos on my blog, one of me on that day, in my suit, doing whatever I was doing on that day. The second one showed the embroidery. The QR code on my back linked to the blog. The inside of the suit was invisible when I was wearing it and while the outside got dirtier and more worn out every day, the inside became more beautiful. I had no idea how long I was going to wear the suit. But one day I read this in Thoreau’s Walden and that shed some light on it:
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes. If there is not a new man, how can the new clothes be made to fit? If you have any enterprise before you, try it in your old clothes. All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be. Perhaps we should never procure a new suit, however ragged or dirty the old, until we have so conducted, so enterprised or sailed in some way, that we feel like new men in the old, and that to retain it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles.”
When I read that, I decided to wear the suit until I had reached that point. I had no idea what that meant or what I had to do to become a new woman. I just continued to go on walks every day and make an embroidery on the inside of my outside.
While I was in Gent I wrote my teachers that I wasn’t going to be present physically on the 3d of April but that I would be present online and had been continuously. They had never liked my project, they never liked any of my ideas and they didn’t like me doing things out in the world on my own that were sometimes connected to other art or social institutions. They also didn’t like it when I spoke up in class and had a different opinion than they had. I had left the Art in Public Space programme when my professor used the word “narrow-minded” to describe me, not once but three times, in a meeting about a group exhibition in Sarajevo with my fellow students. I know I have my limitations and you can call me stubborn but there is no use in trying to learn something from somebody who calls you narrow-minded to put you down, or to defend herself. If said once, maybe, but three times is too much. And there was only one professor in that programme so I did what I had to do. I left. I thought Media Art & Design would be different but it wasn’t really. The professors were busy with their own projects and weren’t interested in students whose ideas clashed with theirs somehow.
I don’t mind when somebody doesn’t understand my work or even thinks I am on the wrong path. At the Rietveld Academy, where I had done my BA, I spent many wonderful hours with my drawing teacher who openly admitted he didn’t get what I was working on but also said that maybe he wasn’t capable of understanding it. We respected each other and had many things to talk about that were influential for both our ways of working and we discussed philosophy and poetry and how daily life transforms our work. There was another teacher I was always a bit afraid to meet up with because he was very strict and didn’t like my work but he always made me wonder whether I thought he was right or if I believed in what I was doing anyway. He never told me what to do. I made sure I saw him regularly. One of my favorite teachers there once said that we are in the same boat, the students and the teachers and that for the moment the students are artists with less experience. And that teachers still have a lot to learn as well.
In the week before the 3d of April 2013 I finished some texts about my suit project. I posted daily. I had worked hard that semester. I was happy about the things I had been doing. But I worried about whether I would get my credits for this project. And I wanted to get my Master title in order to make my life easier in the future. As an artist, some doors open only if you’ve got the right papers. When I had arrived in Weimar I had thought about maybe teaching there in the future. Doing a PhD. I didn’t anymore. I didn’t really fit in that system.
On the 2d of April I thought about my absence in Weimar the next day. I wondered what would happen after I would return there. I realised I didn’t really care what my teachers would be telling me. And I realised I preferred having two unfinished Master Programmes because of not being suitable on my CV than just going through the motions to be a Master with a capital M.
Thoreau had spoken. The next day I took off my suit. Instead of a photo of me in my suit I posted a photo of me walking through Gent naked.
My project had been titled A Soft Armour all along. When I travelled to Amsterdam a few days later I met a tattoo artist in the train on his way home. I asked him if he could help me. Shortly afterwards he put those words on my left shoulder. When I gave a talk about my suit project a few months later somebody asked me why I had chosen to wear the suit for 108 days. When I explained it was because apparently that was the right amount of days she told me that a mala, a string of prayer beads used in meditation, has 108 beads. It is said that there are 108 stages on the journey of the human soul
I wear my soft armour every day. It is strong but vulnerable. I like it that way. It got some scratches here and there, some bruises. It failed me for a very long time after I made a tough walk from Barcelona to Paris, my third long solo walk. It still fails me when I want to do the things I dreamt of in the past. But it helps me to do other things instead. Create new dreams.
Some people think I didn’t get very far. I am 45. I don’t own anything more valuable than the computer I am typing this on. My bedroom and my livingroom and my workspace are one and the same room. I wear clothes I find on the street. Not because I can’t afford to buy new clothes but because I like to reuse and the things I find are beautiful and surprising. My accountant told me last week that although I had answered the question “Do you work more than 1250 hours as an artist/writer” with “yes”, he had changed it into “no” because I had earned very little money. I didn’t try to explain that there are weeks when I work 168 hours and that I am not always payed in money. I just told him that when I say “yes” it means “yes”.
I walked thousands of kilometers in the last five years. I met amazing people, some of them ashamed of their ordinary lives, others proud of what they achieved but unhappy, a lot of them wanting to live differently but not knowing how to do that. I walked thousands of kilometers only to get close to the point where I started. When I was a child and had learned to walk I made myself at home in the world with ease, without worrying. My safe places were clearings inbetween trees, hollows, flattened areas inbetween the tall grass, the arms of people I loved, my books. I built things. I grew things. I was happy with little.
Today I celebrate that it is five years since I walked through the world the way I came into it.
People who think I didn’t get far are right.
Today is the first day. Again.
All images and texts about 108 days in a suit here: A Soft Armour