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  • Postures of Postmodernity:Through the Commodity's Looking Glass
  • David A. Ensminger (bio)

I tend to imagine store window displays as late-capitalism voyeur tableaux, microcosms, and dioramas, more than mere passer-by enticement. They become a pitch and pronouncement, a Weltanschauung, a way of making meaning, a fetish-world, and an inner-view. They feel layered and riddled with an unconscious and conscious psychogeography, a keyhole to paused worlds in an urban environment teeming with fuss and speed, indifference and callousness. As an invitation and lure, they act as freeze-frames of stories made anew by each gaze. Through the distancing and filtering functions such window panes perform, viewers observe carefully concocted consumption.

Sometimes the spaces act as compendiums replete with multinational goods, folk crafts still warm from kinesis and handling, or pervasive motifs of plasticized Pop. They proffer a distinct cultural specimen of each store as well as strata of economic indicators. In towns riddled with empty storefronts, the goods may seem like artifacts of duress - a few lone mustered antiques, white elephants, dime-store novelties, tchotchkes, and dust-gathering gadgets. In cities like Austin, along certain hipster-riche drags, the goods may seem both ironic and nostalgic, self-consciously retro and manicured, like a personal "museum of me" featuring inventory ready to be displayed on online sites like Etsy.

Storefronts often index cultural rituals too, from Christmas and Day of the Dead to re-enacted boyhood fantasia, bygone product eras, and Elvis worship. In doing so, the displays become self-contained simulations, orderly and sequenced, choreographed with purpose and charm, even as viewers are beset by randomness, disorder, flux, and instability in their worlds. The storefront experience is a ritual itself, meant to convey liminality. The storefront is neither the store, really, nor the sidewalk: it is in-between, unbounded. A visit to such space confers special status. Viewers are no longer totally anonymous: they are potential participants.

The windows furnish dreams; mannequins - realistic, poetically sculptural, or boldly geometric—become our surrogates. In effect, the windows complicate the participant-observer dyad. They simulate what viewers might want to be, not merely the good and products they desire. The views provide a glimpse of the fetish-object and muster scenes beyond our grasp. In turn, viewers attempt replications of their own, perhaps by hoarding the items found within the scene, splicing the store product genome with their own homes and apartments.

Like postmodern insect collectors, viewers seek specimens. As if pushing pins into the undersides of arthropods, they seek, even unconsciously, to own, display, and curate their own commodities and fetish-lined spaces, cupboards of their own curiosities, and to align items according to their own algorithms. The store window environments teem with personas and prompts, some ancillary and accidental, some pertinent to the storytelling and myth making. Some relate to the ideology of the store-as-brand and the sensibilities and gestalt of employees. The displays become a series of enmeshed ideas, not merely tracts of goods.

The displays signify group identification as well. Culled from dispersed, sundry items locked within the geometry of stores, the displays become doppelgangers of both viewers and curators and articulate desires that viewers have yet to recognize. Viewers become tacit voyeurs held in limbo by the strict frontality and fixed formula of each storefront, and each viewer attempts to discern the parts of the palette, fondly appraising the habits of Pop.

Some might define the style of my photos as aloof and amateurish. Others might deem my approach an anti-aesthetic and liken it to factory floor technical photography. Unfussy and straightforward, the style matches the pieces. The eerie stiffness of each mise-en-scene seems synonymous with leisure society's dead space, which is inhabited by mannequins, papier-mâché creatures, ceramic architecture, and stuffed animals to create frozen faux landscapes and postures of post-modernity.

Still, others might liken my approach to Pop itself: the flatness and centrally composed subjects are the modus operandi. People might assume I seek to subvert Pop and kitsch iconography with the pre-existing and inherited images filtering into the camera eye. Yet I imagine each window as a three-dimensional postcard, or a...

Additional Information

ISSN
1053-1920
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-19
Open Access
No
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