Window Shopping

'Window Shopping' is a work-in-progress by Rodney Place in association with Rnul (Rob Donkers and Aart Muis).

- Through the Glass, Darkly –

Producer: V2_Lab, Rotterdam

Concept/Direction: Rodney Place, Johannesburg/Meyrals
Interaction design: Rnul interactive, Rotterdam

Window Shopping  is conceived as a movie-in-the-making that disrupts and is disrupted by passers-by in the physical world. It’s a live theatre/film work that first involves locally recruited performers, extras and audiences, warm-bodied and virtual, scripted and improvised. In the confusion of distances in the 21st century, you can first make friends on Facebook with someone standing right next to you.

From the mélange of venue, stage, cinema and production studio that is V2_, Window Shopping embraces the street, the double-height window façade, and the interior space of Eendrachtsstraat 10, Rotterdam.

The building is similar to those in streets like Lijnbaan, Rotterdam, where the shopping mall has invaded and transformed the inner city into a pedestrianised tickertape window experience. Seasonal prêt-à-porter window displays skip-frame the street, enticing pedestrians to stand transfixed.

Indeed, the project arises from the two dominant types and engines of the 21st Century, the shop window and the handy screen, both in relentless pursuit of time kept just out of reach as desire.

The shop window – scene of virtual and warm-bodied realities, of aspiration and morbidity – is window dressed in interactive episodes in Window Shopping. Like the framed forms of cartoons, graphic novels and photo-comics, the shop window are set in formal and narrative motion, induced by interactions from the street. They are often in tension, as the Cloud scuttles down to earth to be embraced or resisted by people on the ground.

Cities were designed for time in the 20th Century, more than for space, as mechanisation took command*. In the 21st Century, time is propagated in the algorithms of the New World Order. Predictive everything, including intelligence, is the super glue that holds the world together, incarcerated in its own self-image as identities and brands. Algorithms quickly convert the senses and imagination into mesmerizing and often exhausting choices as confirmation of social democratic and neo-liberal freedoms. What we curiously or cursorily look at in the Cloud, is instantly curated and packaged for our consumption. We are made to be strangers in our own paradise.

The cone of vision dominates the algorithm, just as perspective dominated the idea of space in Western painting and architecture for 400 years, as the emblem and instrument** of civil and political orderliness. The incessant middle distance of perspective became the zeitgeist of the middle class, a state of worldly grace contained and fenced off from too-close-for-comfort social interactions, and too-distant-to-get-to horizons that had been reduced to the point of a triangle inverted from one immobile, staring eye.

But sociability, culture and space are more complex and surrounding than cones of vision. All depend on lateral vision and the language-affirming experience of turning one’s head or catching someone or something out the corner of one’s eye. We long to be surprised by our surroundings and to guffaw or gasp rather than articulate reason ahead of time in a bid to remain detached. Sometimes we are in the middle and sometimes we are on the edge, in uncertain and ever-changing configurations and relationships in which space and time can never be reconciled. They exist in perpetual imaginative and creative combinations and tensions.

Delft, 18.7 kilometres from Eendrachtsstraat, is where Vermeer lived and worked all his life. Reputedly making use of the camera obscura, Vermeer managed a closeness in his paintings of people in interiors, a closeness unattained in Italian Renaissance paintings. Italian paintings heroically present painted humans to the viewer, at the arm’s length demanded by the radiating straight lines. Vermeer’s paintings close the gap so that the viewer is more like an intruder into the spaces inhabited by his painted people.

Aside from subject matter, this simply involves the almost imperceptible bending of the outer edges of perspective lines, akin to turning the eyes or head in the act of looking around. His paintings acknowledge the life and movement of the viewer, not just of the subject. This simple adjustment of the straight line in the construction of his paintings, implicates the viewer within the space of the painting, instead of staring from the outside, as if looking through a window. In order to look around, you first have to enter a space.

Paradoxically for a country that deeply committed to Calvinism and rid its churches of distracting Catholic images in the 17th Century, Vermeer’s formal intimacy still lingers in the idea of what belongs in a frame and what doesn’t in the Netherlands. Famously and notoriously, the underground and illicit in most cultures is brought into Dutch shop windows as viewable and saleable products, whether Ganga or prostitutes. It’s not surprising that the Netherlands, in Big Brother, also introduced the first reality program into the frame of the TV screen. In the handy digital age, it’s now the hub of homemade porn that’s wiped high production LA Valley porn off the map, depriving aspiring Hollywood stars of their day jobs.

Themes, Ingredients, Methods and Meals

Assemble, first, all casual bits and scraps

That may shake down into a world perhaps;
People this world, by chance created so,

With random persons whom you do not know –
The teashop sort, or travellers in a train

Seen once, guessed idly at, not seen again;

Let the erratic course they steer surprise

Their own and your own and your readers’ eyes;
Sigh then, or frown, but leave (as in despair)
Motive and end and moral in the air;

Nice contradiction between fact and fact

Will make the whole read human and exact.

from Robert Graves The Devil’s Advice to Storytellers

Window Shopping adopts an activist approach to performance and space akin to Artaud, Kantor, Brook and, in architecture, Cedric Price, Archigram and Super Studio. Form is inseparable from (human) content. The process is the product, a continuing inductive experiment that actively involves and implicates the audience. It’s a dialogue about public space in the 21st Century.  Improvisation within thematic, character, technical and spatial parameters is derived from Contemporary Dance practice applied to window dressing. In Window Shopping these practices are extended by dialogue-scripting into spoken language and, in the characterisations of technology, into bicycles, street furniture and personal accessories.

The movement in the shop window mise en scènes follows the theatrical tradition of Vaudeville skits that translated into TV shows like Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the UK; Saturday Night Live in the USA; and Candid Camera everywhere that was completely audience dependent. In the do-it-yourself digital age, Instagram and Giff’s have extended the skit further; the performer is also the film-maker, scenographer and make-up artist. What lingers is the idea of a still that delivers an animated fragment of life.

In shop windows, marionettes – the objects of projected desire and stand-ins for the looker – have now become digital avatars, latter-day Frankenstein monsters that move ever closer to their selfie- inventors, until they engulf them through Apps dedicated to self-adjustments and self-enhancements.

Window Shopping introduces the avatar into warm-bodied space as a wearable hanger-screen for projections. Film is not an extension of theatre. Although, in its infancy like early Chaplin films, a stage performance played out in real-time and was documented by a fixed camera. Early Russian and German film extended visual art with kinetic possibilities induced by camera mechanics.

Nevertheless in its natural relationship with the novel, film increasingly played out seamlessly in edited time, using complex points-of-view and story-driven dialogues and incidents. As a result, dialogue and sets in theatre became less and less convincing lies. With Brook, Grotowski, Kantor, inter al, the stage was emptied into a physical space where body warmth, noise and sweat prevailed as the shared experience of both performers and audience.

In theatre, narrative is an element of space. In film, space is an element of narrative. As with Heisenberg’s Principal of Uncertainty, theatre and film, like position and momentum, operate in a continual dynamic dialogue.

Programed and interactive smart film, applied to the window surface, allows Window Shopping to play out as both theatre (transparent) and film (opaque). These two realities now cohabit daily as people walk along the pavement video-chatting with a friend, or sit on a train watching a film. Window Shopping allows both realities to manifest at an urban scale in something like a building-sized smartphone.

Using CCTV, bicycle Webcams, and Smartphones, Window Shopping replicates, in a contemporary way, the familiar methods and tools of film - establishing omniscience overheads, on-the-ground camera points-of-view, and handheld camera-as-character. These inflect the fixed street-window- stage proscenium with an in-the-round filmic experience that alters the theatre-like shop window . Sound and music reinforce these shifts with focused acoustic sound and displaced inductive sound that emanates from objects in the street.

Window Shopping is committed to local warm-bodied realities. It draws its cast, extras and audience from the vicinity of Eendrachtsstraat , particularly Witte de Withstraat where art and performance students and young creative professionals service the busy hospitality industry as waiters, receptionists at hotels, and checkout clerks at the local Spar. They will form the basis of the shop window skits and episodes, improvised in workshops. Character extras abound on Witte de With, from the old Dutch lady who lives at the 1970’s Japanese-style City Hub hotel, to the Nigerian man who has a mobile car wash business conducted through his website and his stylish bicycle.

* Sigfried Giedion Mechanization Takes Command (1948)

** Robin Evans Emblems and Instruments (1982)

Document Actions
Document Actions
Personal tools
Log in