Customers who do not have much money to spend on their shopping frequent this street. When speaking of fashion design today, this is not the place we think about first. This street is not really a model for excellent retail design even during the year. Although similar shops exist in every city, we have never seen such an environment in books about retail design. But they probably make
323 Schönberger (no year:17)*. This course book for window dressers was published before 1929
more money than fashionable boutiques do. They form the base of the retail pyramid. A design exhibition in Linz324 in 1980 was also not the focus of interest. Entitled Design ist unsichtbar,325 the exhibition presented several international design positions that usually stood in context to the radical design movement. However, the title does not refer to this expressive design attitude but to the everyday, and to the "design" of relations between the designed objects and their dependence on influences outside the traditional design process oriented thinking. "Invisible" design is the design of the meaningful act. Alessandro Mendini, the leader of the radical group Alchemia conceived the part of the exhibition that showed thematic aspects of design. He created the categories "space design", "fashion design", "banal design", "illusionary design" and "ritual design". Ritual design corresponds to the main title of the show. How can rituals be exhibited? The Japanese designer and theorist Kasuko Sato was commissioned with the section on ritual design:
"Within the framework of the topic "Ritual Design" assigned to me, I wanted to portray a world that was a spatial and temporal void. I wanted to achieve this by using objects with ritual meaning which were imported from China with Zen Buddhism since the twelfth century, and which underwent a deep transformation thereafter according to the spirit of Japanese culture."326
Sato built a white pyramid to show the Zen Buddhist objects. The pyramid was dark inside, and in its centre stood a pedestal with a low table with sacrificed food on it. On the wall facing the entrance were masks from No theatre. She presented objects for the Japanese tea ceremony on the other side. The cup used in the tea ceremony became the paradigm of ritual experience at the beginning of the 1980s after the writer Cees Nooteboom published his popular novel called Rituelen in which a Japanese teacup plays an important role.327 The teacup evokes images of complex foreign rituals around it. Kakuzo Okakura, ambassador of Japanese culture, wrote:
"Those who cannot feel the littleness of great things in themselves are apt to overlook the greatness of little things in others. The average Westerner, in his sleek complacency, will see in the tea-ceremony but another instance of the thousand and one oddities which constitute the quaintness and childishness of the East to him."328
In the meantime, more and more Europeans have acquired a sense for
324 Linz is the provincial capital of Upper Austria
325 "Design is invisible".
327 Nooteboom (1995)
328 Okakura (1989:31)
Death of this ritual, but this does not necessarily mean that they understand its meaning. Of course, this complex ritual comprising more than a hundred rules of etiquette is foreign to us, as we cannot read most of the symbolic actions that it involves.329 We have a mental image of this piece of handmade pottery, and we relate it to complex symbolic actions. Soshitsu Sen used more than 450 images in his book on the tea ceremony to illustrate the complex ritual action.330 Pierre Bourdieu, on the other hand, draws a line between the useful properties of an object and its social use:
"To hypothesise, as one of them does, that consumers perceive the same decisive attributes, which amounts to assuming that products possess objective or, as they are known, 'technical' characteristics which can impress themselves as such on all perceiving subjects, is to proceed as if perception only seized on the characteristics designated by the manufacturers' brochures (and so-called 'informative' publicity) and as if social uses could be derived from the operating instructions."331
When rational properties do not necessarily lead to the expected use of an object, what about its symbolic, irrational properties? An article in the catalogue of the Design ist unsichtbar exhibition goes back to the relation between ritual and design:
"It is conspicuous, which to a certain extent even legitimises the concern with design, that our civilisation (especially that part of it which has so proudly called to life its ubiquity) is not merely characterised by the production, distribution, purchase and use of an article. In the minds of their planners, producers, dealers and buyers, a specific value is ascribed to these objects, regardless of the price paid for them. On particular occasions, this value can trigger a behaviour that can be easily delineated by the popular meaning of the term ritualisation."332
Also Hans Hollein referred to ritualised behaviour in the design exhibition he did for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York in 1976. The exhibition MAN transFORMS challenged the academic view of how design is perceived and its relation to daily life. Hollein drew a map for the arrangement of the interrelated design subjects: "space", "tools", "body", "face", "politics" and "behaviour". The tea ceremony appeared beside smoking and gesture in the category "behaviour".333 While Lefebvre pointed out that the ritual has become transformed into gesture,334 Vilem Flusser made a distinction between the profane and the sacred
329 Grimes (1995:47)
331 Bourdieu (2005:100)
332 Priessnitz (1981:23)*
333 Hollein (1989:22-23).
334 Lefebvre (1991:117)
gesture. Smoking a pipe in our culture is a useless activity and happens within the context of meaningful life, but it is not possible to rationalise it. It is a profane gesture. The tea ceremony, on the other hand, is taken as an example of the sacral, the "aesthetic gesture".335 For Flusser, the absurdity of the sacral gesture is a necessary condition.336 We now stop before a shoe shop:
<• In front of the façade are several tables with shoes on them. The tables are covered with yellow plastic tablecloths decorated with percentage signs in various sizes. The show windows are totally covered over with red posters announcing various reductions in percentage.
The shoes are piled up on the tables like offerings in a temple. The tablecloth creates a sacred sphere for the shoes. We are certainly not used to seeing shoes on a tablecloth. Mary Douglas pointed out that shoes are usually not perceived as impure, but they become impure as soon as they are put on the dining table.337 The seasonal sale places the goods outside their normal context of purity. The creation of impurity has to be added to the list of strategies used for staging the seasonal sale. This aspect is mirrored in the next shop on our shopping street:
<• The huge windows of this fashion retailer are totally closed off. A red nontransparent film covers the window's entire surface. Written in huge white letters is: "SCHLUSS-VERKAUF".338 The words are slightly inclined, making them look as if they were toppling.
The shop of an international fashion brand is radically changed. The transparency of the show windows has been banished by darkness. Anthony Vidler points out that darkness has been frequently used in architecture to create anxiety. After all, darkness prevents people, things and truths from being perceived.339 The loss of display creates an effect that Vidler calls the uncanny and it is like the loss of the traditional façades in modern architecture. Many people are still not happy about this development. We now pass by the next shop without a window display.
<• The show window consists of several glass panels held by a black frame. Posters are used to create the effect of a wall. They go from the floor up to eye level and are as wide as the glass panels. It is a repetition of the same information: "SALE -70%". The writing on the white posters is printed in red. The graphic design of the information is cold; in fact, the white area in the letter "A" is designed like a snow crystal.
335 Flusser (1994:181).
336 A summary of literature based on the development of the term ritual in design theory and consumer research from the 1980s onwards is given by Gruendl (2005).
337 Douglas (1970:48).
338 "Final Sale".
339 Vidler (1992:169)
The use of snow crystals turns the sale into a winter sale. We are standing in front of this wall and cannot see what is going on behind it. The poster wall creates a boundary between what is happening inside as well as outside the store. Creating borders is important for creating meaning in the ritual process:
"Ultimately, what is seen as 'dirty', 'impure', 'disgusting', etc. in a society is insignificant; it is essential to draw certain symbolic and moral limits since binary distinctions such as good and bad, pure and impure, sacred and profane, loyal and subversive, etc. introduce order and system into the cultural world."340
According to Nietzsche, in Greek tragedy the choir was used as a live wall to resist the attack of reality.341 Poetry needs much thicker walls than seasonal sales. Our next shop sells sports apparel:
<• The complete interior of this display window is painted white and is empty but for one mannequin, which is placed close to the window's pane. The mannequin is bound with a white plastic and a black and white traffic ribbon. Its head is covered with the plastic and the ribbon is tightened around the neck. If a real person would be treated in this way, death would soon result. Some red and yellow banners claim: "AUS. SCHLUSS. RAUS."
This brutal scene is quite shocking. When we apply the claim of the slogan to the represented mannequin, then it is like the execution of an aberrant delinquent. As the mannequins stand for fashionable customers, this treatment is astonishing. Here, the ritualised body is part of the concept of ritualisation:
"A ritualised body is a body invested with a 'sense' of ritual. This sense of ritual exists as an implicit variety of schemes whose deployment works to produce sociocultural situations that the ritualised body can dominate in some way. This is a 'practical mastery', to use Bourdieu's term, of strategic schemes for ritualisation, and it appears as a social instinct for creating and manipulating contrasts."342
The window dresser has indeed created a striking contrast between the mannequin, which presents the seasonal collection with a smile, and the prisoner in the moment of death. Foucault gave us a detailed account of ritual power and how it is applied to the prisoner.343 Performance studies, on the other hand, describe our method in a performative (consumer) culture:344
340 Belliger/Krieger (1998:16)*
341 Nietzsche (2000:44).
343 Foucault (1995).
344 See as well Debord (2004)
"Urban planning, architecture and design make our surroundings seem like staged 'environments' in which individuals and groups clad in changing 'outfits' exhibit themselves and their 'lifestyles'. 'Shopping' becomes an adventure in which the buyer moves about like an actor in the different scenes designed by clever marketing strategists."345
The skills of marketing are indisputable. But we do not think that the seasonal sale window here is done in a totally rational way. And if it is, we must be truly frightened because the term control is not foreign to the retail business:
"Display takes place predominantly within the windows of large department stores. These are generally fully enclosed, offering the display artist total control of the environment. [...] Clever displays manage to create a spectacle as well as providing information."346
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