The naked eye
Does this happen all the time?, he asks. No, I say. Even for Berlin it’s unusual to see a naked woman walking down the street.
I am from Singapore, he says. You would be arrested there, he says. You could be arrested here, too, I say.
He shows me his mobile phone. I have followed her, he says. I have many pictures.
He is a collector. He is not the only one.
She is walking down the bridge at the Museum Island in Berlin Mitte, she is in her early twenties maybe, a little older maybe, and she is naked and she is parting the black sea of tourists.
In her wake, heads are turning. People stare and take pictures. I too, stare, she is stunningly beautiful, and so are her breasts, she is a gorgeous animal, I find, then I focus on the empty space around her.
There are a good two meters that separate her from the tourists around her, an invisible no man’s land.
She is walking down the bridge, and her nakedness is creating a corridor of power.
Nakedness is still something that makes you untouchable. A taboo we do not know how to handle.
They touch her through their cameras though, or through a quick stolen sideways glance. How pleased they look when they check their catch.
I watch them watch her, I catch her eye, she is so brave I find, and so beautiful, I smile, she does not smile back.
Walking through a crowd is different from talking to a crowd. You need to focus on yourself, you’ve got to keep looking straight ahead, you do not smile at a crowd, and you are only allowed to see the crowd, the swarm, the herd, never the single animal.
Otherwise you won’t survive.
Making eye contact acknowledges you are able to see the other guy, it gives him space, makes him possible, makes him real.
We often talk about presenting naked, getting in touch with the audience, opening up, connecting.
This is different, and yet it is a master lesson to learn. The lesson comes, when the show is over.
She has crossed the bridge by now and I take the one and only picture I take.
A young man walks towards her, wraps her up in a trenchcoat, three more young men gather around them, and one woman, and only now do I see the steady cam, the microphone. I approach the group and ask what this is all about.
It’s an experiment, they say. We wanted to see what reactions it would cause. Elder people seemed much more relaxed with it than the younger ones.
Young people are not relaxed, I think. All they have is no rules, and no rules does not make you relaxed, no rules makes you a nervous animal.
We talk, I tell them what I have seen, and what I do, I would like to tell my classes about this, I say, that’s great, they say, we can send you some footage they say. We exchange addresses.
All the while, she does not say a word, she still does not look at me, she just stands there, in a half open trench coat that is too large for her, she suddenly looks much smaller than before, much more vulnerable, her skin is not quite as perfect as expected, blue veins are showing on her legs, some first signs of wear and tear.
She is much older than I thought, she must be in her late twenties, early thirties, and still, she looks like a child right now.
She has changed her posture. When she was walking, she held her head up high, naked queen that she was.
Now, she is looking down, she looks bored, she does not look at anyone, she looks lost and cold, with her right high heeled foot she is drawing circles in the dust and I want to touch her, hug her, tell her how brave she has been.
But the braveness is not walking naked through a crowd. The braveness is not in performing. Not in the video that will be up sometime tonight I expect.
The braveness is all in surviving the nakedness and the crowd, is all in the afterwards, is all in the moment when you become touchable flesh and nerves again.
Keeping your head up for a moment longer, when the cameras stop flashing. Breathing in, breathing out. Letting the moment run right through you.
Something is missing, I feel, in this performance. Maybe it is the applause, the curtain, something to wash away the looks and the cameras and the mobile phones, something tangible, something warmer than a trench coat.
Is the lady a friend of yours?, I ask the group, and am asking her, really. I want to know something about her. Something to go with the image. They look at each other, there is a strange silence, the pause is just a second too long to be comfortable, and then they say yes.