The act of sitting down / Gisa Pantel

Issue 37

Gisa Pantel

The act of sitting down




The act of sitting down




1. Obstacles
2. Establishing relations
3. Overcoming limitations


We were sitting on a bench, my mother and I, when a middle aged couple showed up, walking slowly over
the grass plane. We had known them for years but they weren't our friends. Rather acquaintances, people you
meet once a year and all you have in common is that you spend your summers in the same place.
So there they are, approaching us. I am not sure who spots each other first, but after eye contact is established
there's no turning back. We get up, walk two steps towards them as slow as possible to give them time to get
there first. They are grey from head to toe. It's not that they are very old, it's what they've always been like.
Pale and grey. Almost no wrinkles though, as if life never touched them for better or for worse.

They shake hands, my mother and him, while I squeeze his wife's weak little hand. Then we reverse roles and
the awkward dance begins again. I reach across my mother's arm leaning over towards Mrs. H and it feels
wrong, bad manners or bad luck, so I try getting in front of my mother while Mr. H has the same thought.
Trying to get in front of his wife we softly bump into each other–we all take a step back at once–as if in shock,
or embarrassed over the involuntary contact. I manage to get on my mother's left side and reach out to Mr.
H again, who is now facing me, but we stand way too far apart from each other. All my body weight is on my
right leg, and leaning over, our fingers are barely touching–slippery fingers curling into each other and sliding
away again.

But it wasn't over then. We missed the chance to gracefully exit the scene. There was a moment of silence. I
remember staring at my shoes and noticing a weird decolourisation of my left shoelace. There was the relief
of having something to look at and then I hear a cranky little voice asking if they might sit with us and my
mother's confident voice answering positively without hesitation–I must assume she does it without putting
too much thought into it, like a reflex, you know? Well I hear her say: 'Yes of course' and she gestures over to
the bench offering them a seat and from there on it only got worse and worse.

Have you ever experienced the situation of walking across an empty space, a parking lot maybe, or a wide
hallway, and there is no one there apart from one other person walking towards you. Even though there is
plenty of distance between you both, and plenty of time, somehow you still begin to mirror each other's mo-
vement as you're both getting closer. You decide to go left to pass the obstacle but they do the same. You move
to your right and they do a parallel movement from the other side, and so on. The closer you get the more
implied the movement becomes. A bit like a football player with ball faking a movement to one side to get
past his opponent. And then it goes on a bit too long to feel natural and you do a couple of mirrored left/right
steps when you are stood right in front of each other. Hopefully there is some comic relief, some laughter, a
smile, a little joke, you name it–and after that you each go your own way. Perhaps acknowledging the situati-
on with a little head shake and then speeding up your step again; going on with your day.

Well it wasn't like that. Or maybe it started out somewhat like that.

So we were stood in a square position, all four of us, in front of that bench and suddenly the simple task of
sitting down seemed impossible to execute.

We all approach the bench, facing it, but I stop–possibly because I find myself between Mr and Mrs H, I
want to wait and see where they will sit down but Mr. H hesitates as well turning towards my mother who is
in the process of turning around to sit down. Her eyes meet Mrs. H, whose gaze shifts between her husband
and my mother's, and who then steps back from the bench again, walking straight into me. I get aware of
the awkwardness of the situation and tell myself to 'just do it'. I mean, I've sat down thousands or millions of
times in my life before, even on the very same bench, but my legs are somehow set on autopilot and I walk
with small steps towards Mrs H, mimicking the same little left/right step dance that I can see, out of the
corner of my eye, Mr. H and my mother are performing. Some basic instinct sets in, and I walk all the way
around this jammed cluster of people desperately trying to find a way to place themselves on a bench, and
seek the closeness of my mother but she fumbles her way between the couple. Mr H steps on my foot and
we simultaneously start to apologise and gesticulate whilst walking backwards from one another. All this
is happening while my mother and Mrs H circulate around us getting between us once
again. Now we are
finally approaching the bench in a parallel manner, when Mrs H suddenly pauses to let my mother sit down
first. But she doesn't get the hint, instead pauses mid movement again, as I try to save the situation by getting
between them and where I collide with Mr H another time. We all start apologising and walking backwards a
few steps, stop, try again, only to get into each other's way once again–and all that without breaking character,
or starting to laugh, but instead holding the serious expressions of those attending a beginners dance class; a
seriousness with a complete lack of any natural elegance. I collect the will to break the spell and in a desperate
attempt just sort of throw myself on the bench, half sitting, half laying, pretty much in the center of it. Taking
up a lot of space, as if saving the spot for someone else; protecting it from my competitors. My interruption
of our unplanned choreography gets a lot of attention. Now they are standing there, all three of them, looking
down on me in surprise, maybe content even. So I straighten up, painfully aware of every part of my body. I
am sitting unnaturally straight now, my butt barely touching the outer part of the seat, my knees in an exact
ninety degrees angle, hands on my knees, a stretched back and a lowered gaze, but with a childish satisfaction
that I finished first.

I think the whole dance didn't last longer than 30 sec–maybe a minute–but that is ten times longer than what
I would find acceptable in any situation even remotely resembling this one.After that they just sort of looked
at me for a while, as if I had done something other worldly that they had never laid their eyes upon before.

They too, sat down, one after another. Eventually I directed them with my eyes, looked at my mother, then at
the place to my right and she followed instructions–so to say. Then the same with Mr H to my left, and Mrs
H just simply had to take the last empty spot by her husband's side. We barely fit on the bench but we all sat
there, silently, in the same upright position that I was frozen in.
We exchanged a couple of banalities in a rather robotic manner, I wouldn't even have called it a conversation,
more like a bunch of bad actors saying their lines then waiting for their turn to speak again.












You are in a furniture company's "showroom" –as they called it– a mixture between a fancy shop and a
office-space. You basically sit on the chairs they are selling, they sell mostly to big architecture companies,
so it's rather seldom that people actually walk in to buy a chair but it happens occasionally. For example :
An upper class couple doing impulsive shopping before they are having friends over for dinner and they just
need that one "statement piece" in their apartment to signal good taste. They usually don't have much of an
aesthetic sense though, so they are forced to rely on whatever they are told. A good story, an anecdote
to pass on while sipping on their aperitif, a conversation piece to help pass the time.
The thing is, you can't just tell them:'This is good. Look at how well the form works, how the material speaks,
how harmonic the overall ensemble is', it has to be way more pedagogical, without them noticing. You need a

You go:

"Look, this chair is shaped after the designers left hand."
You show your left hand, mildly curled inwards, the thumb angled in.
"The thumb here is what becomes the armrest, you see."
They look at their left hand like it's the first time they have ever taken notice of it.


"The chair's fabric is sewn together with only a single seam."
Your hand touches and follows the entire seam in a circular movement and then you watch them do the
same. You always make them touch it.


The chairs are formed according to the special height requirements of the bar and are available both with
and without back pieces. Fixated to the ground they guarantee a safe ascent atop the 180cm high seats, which
make for a breathtaking view and an exclusive seating position. Elevated above the scenery, whoever climbs
to the summit of the stool's saddle will arrive right in the center of attention. Where your own height lets you
down, the H-chair raises you up, supports you and gets you where you want to be. No more pitiful neck twis-
ting and shouting up to the bartender, only to end up unheard, unseen or misunderstood. Be a priority, enjoy
a privilege, extend beyond your physical limitations.




1. Still from Saturday Night Life Sketch "Art Dealers: Susan and Greg meet the Schoeners", aired 2005

2-4. H-chairs, coated wood, 40x40x180cm, 2016 (Installationview at SØ, Copenhagen, wallpainting by Birk Bjørlo, light installation by Daniel Kiss)

text written for texted archive, 2017

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