phile under: illusion of intimacy

Five Questions for the Woman In The Box

Halfway into her month-long project, Cristin Norine deftly sidesteps the darker aspects of public living.

By Anne Adams With Christin Norine November 16, 2010

Meet Cristin Norine, the very visible inhabitant of Public Isolation Project, a glass-walled gallery exhibit on 6th and East Burnside (between RonToms and Plaid Pantry). Conceived by multimedia artist Joshua Jay Elliott, PIP requires Norine to live in a metaphorical fish-bowl for an entire month, letting passersby observe her activities 24 hours a day. To get her attention, they tap on the glass, text her, or message her on the internet. Meanwhile, to court burgeoning national interest, Norine recently filed this CNN report:

Yesterday, she graciously responded to Culturephile’s five questions—but didn’t exactly answer all of them. Notice that question 4 encourages her to acknowledge her own attractions and repulsions to members of the public—yet she quickly reframes it and only discloses her actions. In response to question 3, she denies any awareness of voyeurism, preferring to believe that a sleaze-free Lower Burnside passively watches her stretch and sleep.

A project like this one is designed to be provocative, intimate, and challenging—but people who live in glass boxes are apparently very reluctant to throw stones. With her savvy, soundbite-safe answers, Norine seems to close the blinds on some ugly-but-relevant sociological observations. Then again, maybe she personifies the social-media meme: revealing her form, but oversimplifying her feelings.

1. What is the hardest activity for you to do publicly: sleep, exercise, or email?

That’s easy. Sleeping is by far the hardest thing for me to do. Partly because I get a lot of people knocking on the window trying to wake me, and partly because the idea that someone is watching you while you sleep is uncomfortable.

2. Have you had an impulse to “act” during your activities? Exaggerate or contain/control your movements in response to the knowledge that you have an audience?

At first, I did contain my actions a little. Having people watch your every move 24/7 takes some getting used to. However, as the days go by I am noticing that I think less about being watched and go on about my daily activities normally. For example, I was uncomfortable doing yoga in front of everyone at first, but now it doesn’t bother me.

3. Have some men treated this display as a peep show? And if so, how have you responded?

I haven’t had any men make me feel like this is a peep show. Most of the responses have been positive feedback on the project on a whole, not toward me as a woman.

4. Do you find yourself more eager to accept some people than others as your audience? (People you find attractive vs. those you find unattractive, for example.) If you have that impulse, how do you address it, and do you think it’s justified?

I haven’t responded differently to people based on their attractiveness. I can tell you that I am starting to respond less and less to people in general, but I think that is because I am getting used to people watching me. I generally only respond to those that try to get my attention through the window with a note or some other creative way. That is becoming the most exciting part of the project to me currently. I like when the audience wants to participate in an interactive way. I can tell you that I don’t respond at all to the people that pound on my window late at night when I am trying to sleep—for obvious reasons.

5. Is this experiment reducing, or increasing, your appetite for privacy?

This experiment has definitely increased my appetite for privacy so far. I am getting used to the idea of living without privacy, but I don’t like it. I will welcome the day when I can do my laundry and cook dinner without anyone watching.

On the PIP blog, Norine reveals that a “more in-depth” interview with CNN is pending, and defends her easygoing style of coverage: “This is an art installation and not a scientific experiment so the findings are less important than the message,” she says.

Fascinated by this topic? Check out Digging Their Own Graves , an interview of a couple who stage mock-burials, or watch this gritty documentary about Josh Harris, a dot-com era pioneer of public living and social-media experiments:

The Public Isolation Project will be active for the rest of the month of November. For more comprehensive list of events, visit PoMo’s Arts & Entertainment Calendar!

Filed under
Show Comments