The coat for eleven people : an enormous stitched cloth, without frame, with eleven empty pockets having the shape and size of eleven human bodies.
And there’s Nicola in any street in Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Brussels… an opened suitcase at her feet, emptied of the coat it carried. And how many passers-by pass Nicola on the sidewalk without seeing or understanding anything about this hawker and her invitation! For that’s where Nicola intervenes in her most disconcerting and provocative way : “Ladies and gentlemen, do you want to try on this coat ?…”. An invitation that failed-in Brussels where Nicola couldn’t find eleven people to accept, but which succeeded unexpectedly in Amsterdam where eleven youths who had suddenly taken possession of it didn’t want to leave, but live there as in a house that would travel around with them. Nicola herself had already tried out this coat for the first time at the Pop Music Festival in Wight, using it as the one and only shelter for herself and her friends. One can easily imagine that this coat was not just a communal raincoat, but perhaps also a way to experience a music festival, feeling “epidermically” tied to others. Thus the name “Same Skin for Everybody” given to the coat and its manifestations. But on the sidewalk, Nicola’s living is quite different: she’s only the spectator -the “voyeur” she says- of the happening that the coat creates ; she watches the person who refuses to enter and moves away, then she gets totally wrapped up seeing how another person enters it, how he behaves in this skin, being forced to re-think his own situation, his own experience in relation to himself and to the others with whom he’s linked : should one want to go left, the others would have to follow him or hold him back. He’s freed from his identity and from the submissive behavior that society expects from passers-by in the street. But at the same time, he’s dependent on this “singling out” of others. From the world of appearances, from the “I-don’t-know-you” attitude, suddenly there are people participating in a personal discovery of themselves and of the others : discovering a new situation, but also re-learning, spontaneously, about a new kind of link with others, in spite of each one’s anonymity.
It would be dangerous to see only a simple game or test in this undertaking by Nicola. Everything about it is simple because Nicola starts out from the simple and banal reality of an audience of passers-by on a sidewalk, certain that only this reality is true. But beginning with this reality in which she inserts herself as both creator and spectator, Nicola lets “something” happen, lets communication take place, lets an audience discover itself different and differently. Everyone is repersonalized by agreeing to penetrate the coat and he is introduced into a new and collective reality, more troubling, more restricting, more dense than the everyday reality in which we move with the insignificance and insensitivity of sheer habit. From this situation, half real and half imaginary, Nicola creates and orchestrates secondary effects through video. The film showing the situation in the coat is shown in turn to these participants, and their reactions during it become the subject of a new video recording. These chain reactions repeat and clarify the initial disturbance, while at the same time the questioning of this audience passes from feeling the experience to understanding the experience. From just one humorous situation, one moves on to a questioning of one’s own mental situation in a collective context. And it’s only at this stage that the appearance of a game completely disappears: Nicola traps the banality of daily life by having you merely slip into her coat and discover a situation there which is not absolutely free of moral options. Nicola refuses to create an aesthetic work, but she creates an aesthetic situation with the participation of unknown people, passers-by.
Nicola’s work doesn’t resolve anything, and it doesn’t claim to give any answer : she is content to invite, to ask questions. But still, it’s necessary to want to accept this invitation to penetrate the skin, the cloth, and agree to give in to one’s own amazement, to abandon what’s foreseeable and established… But it’s a fact that many trips, today, are no longer the adventures they once were. Whose fault is it ?
by Alain Macaire, November 1974