"I believe that magical attitudes towards images are just as powerful in the modern world as they were in so-called ages of faith"172
With this statement, Mitchell concluded that in today's visual culture we have to deal with the paradoxical double-life of images: they are alive, but they are also dead.173 The vital life of images in the religious context has often been compared to the use of images in consumer culture. In a text fragment from 1921, Benjamin compared capitalism with religion. He illustrated this by contrasting holy images from different religions to the images on the banknotes of different countries.174 Today, this comparison seems less powerful when regarded in the light of money's progressively vanishing physicality.175 But the direction of the critique is still readable: Capitalism uses the power of images in the same way as religion does. Bolz, who addresses marketing strategies in the consumer society, frequents this bridge built by Benjamin equally often:
"Not the churches but the consumer temples are the places of modern religiosity. [...] The ideal of marketing is religious icon worship"176
The religious image represents the exterritorial power of god. It is often a tangible principle like the power to heal or to protect from evil.177 It is doubtful that consumers today consciously approach the images in consumer cathedrals with equally high expectations. For Mitchell, commodity fetishism is
172 Mitchell (2005:8)
174 Benjamin (2000:290).
175 See Zizek (1997:103) for the transcendence of capital to its effect
177 Belting (1996:44)
Death of an iconoclastic monotheism, which destroys all other gods.178 During the seasonal sales, the show window becomes a sacred space in the commodity cosmos. For example, through the disappearance of the price tag or the disappearance of the commodity itself! But even the disappearance of normative beauty is a significant sign of the holy time represented in the show windows of the high streets. This fact, that continues to be a blind spot in the Marxist critique of commodity fetishism, has been expressed by Bolz in more modern words:
"The enthroning of commodities, their adoration as fetish, in keeping with rituals of fashion, is the only content of the capitalist cult."179
The gaze into the seasonal sale windows shows that worshipping beautifully presented commodities is not the only capitalistic cult. While Christian celebrations of Easter dramatise the death of the Son of God and his subsequent resurrection, the seasonal sale dramatises the death of the seasonal fashion collection. By the same token, while the Christian festival is consciously dramatised with a set of striking images, the seasonal sale depends on the instinctive skills of the window dresser. A similarity between the two "monotheistic" dramatisations lies in their use of "mannequins" Sculptures were used to dramatise the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Freedberg describes models of such sculptures in his study on the power of images. One of them is a sculpture of Jesus holding a cross with moveable arms,180 another one even has moveable arms so that Christ taken from the cross can be wrapped in a shroud and placed on the altar. On Easter Sunday, the crucifix thus vanishes to dramatise the resurrection.181 The expressions of the mannequins in the fashion show window are comparable to those of their religious ancestors. Dramatising the death of the fashion collection requires that the mannequins are removed from the window, dressed in special ritual garments or undressed altogether. The performative action with the crucifix follows the canon of religious paintings of the time and dramatises the images documenting the death of Christ. While these images are well-known and present for the idolaters, the images behind the dramatisa-
178 Mitchell (1987:200)
180 Freedberg (1991:244)
tion of the death of fashion are in the dark. The beautiful statues of consumer culture enact a strange rite of ugliness for several weeks in the year.182 Are they like idols with an irrational and unwarranted power over somebody (the shoppers)?183 For those who have doubts, a few more from Freedberg:
"It is obvious that paintings and sculptures do not and cannot do as much for us now. Or can they? Perhaps we repress such things. But did they ever?"184
Advertising and propaganda are the image-makers of today, and there is little doubt that they want us to believe in their seductive images. And the show window is the best way for a shop to advertise. During the year, the beautiful and fashionable mannequins wear what we should be wearing. But what do they want us to do when they are naked or dressed in paper? During the year, they wear different clothes, signalising that we can achieve individuality by shopping. But in the state of anti-structure, they are dressed identically and have lost all their individuality. The window dresser is the ritual master and image-maker behind the scenes, who transforms the show window into a ritual space during the seasonal sales, treating the mannequins symbolically, divorced from their representational function. These beautiful statues are now together with the evil snake, but the representations of men need images beyond those of the body,185 and these images are created by fashion. During the sales, however, they are replaced by images beyond the fashion canon of the high street. The process of making a fetish out of the garment requires that the mannequin in the show window is dressed. While the clothes rack represents the state of the commodity before it becomes a fetish, dressing breathes life into the mannequin. This is analogous to dressing holy statues for religious services. The life-like image is suspended by the seasonal sale when the mannequins are undressed. This state becomes ambiguous because the periods of symbolic death are part of the dramatisation of passage rites, at which point the mannequins really come to life. They cannot move, but they are also not "allowed" to move in this liminal state. Thus, their very inability to move becomes the real strength of the dramatisation.
182 See Mitchell (1987:109) for a discussion on the beautiful Greek statues in combination with the servant
184 Freedberg (1991:10)
185 Belting (2005:357).
The image of communitas is based on lost individuality. Bodies are dressed in a ritual garment and lined up. Likewise, the show window and its actors are unable to perform a ritual and are as inanimate as a photograph on which it is only possible to identify what Goffman called "small behaviours" in his study on gender commercials.186 Pictures, too, only show us the gestures and arrangements of things, but never the actions; we only project these onto the picture.187 This is why the immobility of the mannequins in a passage rite is only imagined, as is their lifelike appearance during the year. In the days when mannequins were made of wax, the surrealist Louis Aragon depicted his experiences with the representational state of the show window:
"I shall say no more of these waxworks that fashion has stripped of their clothes, digging cruel thumbprints into their flesh in the process."188
Pictures can be both curatives and poisons. Modern iconoclasts of the advertising industry prefer the poisonous effect of images. The call to replace the beautiful faces of fashion models by sculls is a good example of counter strategies within the modern visual economy of advertising and brand cult.189 No report exists claiming that abused pictures were the focus of new cults that developed after ancient religious paintings were attacked.190 But "death is back in Arcadia",191 at least with the aggrandisement of the seasonal sale windows. And iconoclasm comes as a counterforce to the idolatry of commodity fetishism. It is an up and down within the same system, but it is "creative destruction" that perpetuates the symmetry of idolatry and iconoclasm.192 And iconoclasm comes in a sublimated form. Pictures are not attacked by acid,193 but it can happen that a seasonal sale window has a pink splash on its panes with the words "final days"194 It looks like an attack by a psychopath on a painting in a museum. Interestingly enough, while we were conducting our field research during seasonal
186 Goffman (1979:24).
187 Bohnsack (2003a:91)
188 Aragon (1994:41).
189 Lasn (1999:131).
190 Belting (1996:197).
191 See Panovsky (1955:295-302)
192 See Mitchell (2005:21).
193 Freedberg (1991:187) refers to the 1977 attack on the painting of the Seated Old Man (or Thomas Apostle) by Nicolaes Maes in the Staatliche Kunstsammlung in Kassel, which Freedberg erroneously believed to be by the Rembrandt School
194 This window was found during the summer sales 2005 in Vienna.
sales on Avenue Champs Elysees in Paris, many show windows were attacked with stones. A true iconoclastic act?195
The seasonal sale triggers a crisis because the prices are brought down from one day to the next, for example, by 50%. And this is when the show window, interpreted as a picture, gains social importance. Mitchell relates the importance of images to social crisis:
"The value and life of images becomes most interesting, then, when they appear as the center of a social crisis."196
Images and their ability to create magical effects are historically related to their origin. Icons were precious at the time when they originated in Byzantium. Today, the origin of catwalk images from places like Paris, Milan or New York impart magical powers to the fashion collections presented there during the fashion weeks. Fashion introduced elsewhere possesses fewer magical powers within the system of glamour fashion journalism. The places of origin are related to cult legends, which guarantee power and awaken expectations of healing.197 While Byzantium was the capital of icons, Paris is the capital of fashion. And fashion that comes from this mythical place is charged with the mythical power of the legends of couture. In medieval Venice, religious images were dramatised in a certain way by being shown only on special days. Belting describes this rite in the following:
"As cult image, the original was concealed from the view of others by a curtain in order to make a stronger impression on the weekly feast day."198
This example bears a striking parallel to the introduction of the new fashion collection because the windows are often covered over during the sales. Removing the cover and presenting the new collection to the public aims at the same effect as in the mediaeval religious practice in which ritual was linked to the art object. But today, "we do not bend our knees anymore"199
195 See Weibel/Latour (2002) for a broad discussion of iconoclasm in the fields of art, science and religion
196 Mitchell (2005:94).
197 Belting (1996:196)
199 See Liessmann (1999:38 and 99) on the end of the relation between art and ritual as described by Hegel and Benjamin.
And if we do, it is only metaphorically, although the seasonal sale window can be interpreted as a devotional image. Panovsky described this type of image as having an intention to communicate rather than being consumed as aesthetic pleasure.200 According to Postrel, aesthetics are the substance of today: "Fashion exists because novelty is itself an aesthetic pleasure."201 But this pleasure exists only in relation to the Dionysian period of sale, which is the duplicity of the Apollonian and the Dionysian as Nietzsche called it. While beauty and aesthetic pleasure are appealing, the ugly is repelling.202 And repel is what the fashion industry wants to do to the leftovers of its past collection: a magical act based on the power of images. Therefore, the show window is transformed into a "stage" for the Dionysian festival, which banishes the Apollonian and voluptuousness and barbarism take over charge. Sloterdijk coined the term "erotrop" for this condition.203 And the window dresser is the perpetrator of the crime, for it is he who creates the images of violence.204 A striking example is a show window in which dismembered mannequins lie around on the floor during the sales. Mitchell explains the mechanism behind the way values are changed by images:
"Images are active players in the game of establishing and changing values. They are capable of introducing new values into the world and thus threatening old ones"205
And this is exactly what the seasonal sale window does. The image of the old fashion collection is threatened, preparing the ground for the introduction and establishment of the new fashion collection. Or, expressed in Turner's terms: The representation of fashion undergoes a phase of anti-structure during its passage rite. Mitchell describes how intuitive images resurrect from the past in picture theory:
"The life of images is not a private or individual matter. It is a social life. Images live in genealogical or genetic series, reproducing themselves over time, migrating from one culture to another. They also have a simultaneous collective existence
200 Panovsky (1955:12)
201 Postrel (2004:80).
202 Liessmann (1999:70)
203 Sloterdijk (2004:407).
204 See Sloterdijk (2005:339) for the relation of image and violence
205 Mitchell (2005:105).
in more or less distinct generations or periods, dominated by those very large image formations we call 'world pictures'."206
The following chapter is based on a visual analysis of the images created to express the rite of passage exemplified in the sale window. We conducted our field study of the upper and middle classes during the winter sales in major shopping streets in January 2004. Four Central European cities, Paris, London, Vienna and Hamburg, were chosen for this research in order to avoid local peculiarities in the final conclusions on the nature of sales. Photos where taken in the manner described in marketing as "trend shopping". Therefore, major shopping cities were visited only briefly;207 the pictures taken were intuitive and without prior preparation. The only parameter was to find striking images representative of the dramatisation in the high streets. The pictures were taken in view of the cornerstones of the discussion thus far. The nature of the working images thus gathered for the visual research are best described in Pink's words:
"Interdisciplinary exchanges should be carefully situated. Anthropologists' photographs, designed to participate in anthropological discourses, might fare badly under the scathing gaze of art critics. Similarly, photographers do not become anthropologists by virtue of informing their photography with anthropological methods and concepts; their work will not necessarily participate in anthropological debates."208
Although the above quote refers to the collaboration between ethnographer and artist, the described methodological risk is evident. But in the future, the artist as "ethnographer" has a potential that has not been sufficiently examined.209 In the interest of the present discussion, it must be stated that there is neither an artistic endeavour behind the documentation nor is any anthropological discourse intended. The analysis is
206 Mitchell (2005:93).
207 In the case of this study, it was a full shopping day per city. An exception was made in the study in Vienna because another day was assigned for the visit to lower income shopping streets.
208 Pink/da Silva (2004:159-60).
209 Stafford (2005:114) cites the example of the artist Thomas Struth, who documents how museum visitors react unconsciously to the composition of paintings with their position in the museum space. The Orgien Mysterien Theater of the artist Hermann Nitsch is a vital contribution to the understanding of the nature of blood sacrifice. The intuitive images producec by the artist (see Rychlik, 2003) can help us understand sacrifice as a visual and physical phenomenon in additior to textual based analyses such as those by Hubert and Mauss (1981). Taking the artistic gaze as an equivalent to the methodology of scientific research for creating knowledge for cross-disciplinary research is a challenge for visual studies. Foster is sceptical "about the effects of the pseudo-ethnographic role set up for the artist or assumed by him or her" (1995:306). This role attribution usually comes from outside. How should the artist Nitsch set up his artistic research on sacrifice without ethnographic knowledge? This example shows that the discussion on roles (or role attributions) needs to be rethought in order to create new knowledge beyond disciplinary thinking.
Death of situated in the cross-disciplinary field of "visual studies" alone. For Bredekamp this field is "everything that the narrowest definition art history is not"210 This research field covers disciplines from anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, media studies, visual culture and symbolic interaction to documentary photography.211
One person who is often cited in visual culture studies212 is the photographer Eugene Atget, among the first to portray urban life in Paris with his camera at the beginning of the twentieth century. His "direct and frank"213 gaze fell not only on the streets, but also on storefronts. Beaumont-Maillet describes Atget's gaze as follows:
"Even though Atget's work is photography reduced to its essential self, without contrivance, without pretensions, his images have the tragic quality of ordinary things. They create "that salutary movement whereby man and the world around him become strangers to one another"214
These "documents" not acknowledged as art in his times,215 have found their way into the archives of museums today as well as into research on visual culture. This shows that Pink's arguments might not apply today, or, that they should be discussed by later generations of scholars. The research photos that the following chapters are based on are also "documents" or "working images". The selection has been undertaken with the intention of exemplifying each shopping street with one view. The examples are presented in chronological order as if a shopper had walked down each of the shopping streets. The visual tension created by a few examples thus conveys the overall atmosphere of the seasonal sale in each of the shopping streets. It is assumed that it is possible to reconstruct the nature of the seasonal sale by observing one single event.216 In addition to the four cities Paris, Vienna, London and Hamburg, there is yet another fashion capital: New York. The chapter on New York is an excursion into the field of art and performance studies but it does not include any images of a field research. The assumption
210 Bredekamp (2003:428)
212 See Mirzoeff (1999:76).
213 Beaumont-Maillet (1992:28)
215 Except by the surrealists.
216 Smaller investigations conducted before and after confirmed this assumption that the seasonal sale is a visual phenomenon with roots in the past is examined only by means of text and not a historiography of images. Since this book deals with the nature of the seasonal sale and not with its visual history, historical examples of seasonal sale windows were only taken into account as long as they were textual.217 It is further assumed that the images seen today are related to older generations of images dating back to ancient times. Panovsky termed the transformation of ancient prototypes "pseudomorphosis"218 He explains this term through the example of the ancient mythological figure "Chronos" who figures as logo for the Bowery Savings Bank.219 Warburg provides yet another example of mythical figures "resurrected" in consumer culture through an advertisement for soaps.220 He uses a collection of images of art works to develop his arguments on the conscious and unconscious use of ancient themes in art.221 While the above two examples illustrate the idea of the resurrection of images, a different discourse will replace the arguments based on art history. Mitchell describes the "rethoric of images" with what is said about images as well as what these pictures say.222 This rethoric of images will be developed in the following chapters with reference to a methodology introduced by Panovsky, who called this methodology "iconographic-iconological interpretation" The method social sciences use for discussing images is built on this model and its expansion by Imdahl,223 who also extended the discussion to compositional aspects of the image. Social sciences today use a model called the documentary method based on the arguments by Mannheim, who transferred the model from the arts to the social sciences.224 While the interpretation of images according to this qualitative method is based on a multi-layered eight-step model,225 the discursive interpretation of the working images draws on Panovsky's simpler original model,226 and the analysis is based on a three-step model.227 The first step is the pre-iconographic description. This is a description of what can be seen on the photo, but without any social or mythological inter
217 Sturken/Cartwright (2001) draw the timeline of visual phenomena by using historic images. But the argument referring tc ancient rites goes far beyond the area of documentary photographic images. All questions concerning the nature of the seasonal sale should be examined by what is seen today.
218 Panovsky (1962:70).
220 See, for example, board number 77 in Warnke (2003:128).
221 Warburg started his scientific project on the "MNEMOSYNE atlas" in 1924.
222 Mitchell (1987:1). See as well the different categories of images, ibid. p 10
223 Imdahl (1996) termed this expansion of the discourse "Ikonik".
224 See Bohnsack (2003a:87).
225 See Bohnsack (2003b:237).
226 Because it is sufficient to work out relations to ancient motifs
227 See Panovsky (1955:40;
Death of pretation. The second step is the iconographic analysis where the picture is interpreted through the knowledge about the themes and images. The last step is termed iconological interpretation, an analytical step for which synthetic intuition and personal psychology are the tools. Mitchell shares Panovsky's main interest in investigating how the motifs from classical antiquity can be interpreted:
"Turning now from the problems of iconography and iconology in general to the problems of Renaissance iconography and iconology in particular, we shall naturally be most interested in that phenomenon from which the very name of the Renaissance is derived: the birth of classical antiquity."228
But the Dionysian motif is not the only concern of this discussion, which is why we have employed Panovsky's model differently. After the pre-iconographic description, visual interpretation has become much more open to themes found in the literature other than antique iconography, such as ethnography, philosophy, sociology, material culture studies or design theory. This experimental approach left open whether both steps of interpretation or only one can be used. The texts were linked to the images by what can be called a similitude key,229 which is how many narratives are connected to their visual representation. Horisch's example of the unicorn, on the other hand, is related to the son of the monotheistic god because it only has one horn, and alone the fact that the horse has "one horn" links it with the concept of "one god" 230 The narrative and the image are thus connected by likeness, resemblance and similitude.231 Precisely this likeness of image and "scientific" text (instead of mythological text) is the criterion for the following discussions on each selected working image from the dramatisation of the seasonal sale. In order to guarantee a better reading, the scientific texts were selected according to the place of the authors' origin whenever possible, and thus related to the respective city.232 This structure was not chosen because the aim was to develop categories of images, but to try "visual keys" as often as possible in order to find likenesses. The
229 See Horisch (2005:88)
231 See also Mitchell (1987:10).
232 No scientific reason exists for this decision. Readability was the only reason for it door will be opened in the final chapter in which the microanalysis of each single window will be summarised and connected with the beginning of this discourse.
This discourse can be termed "Bilddenken" 233 which is an analytical reflection on images by means of images. It is a proposal for opening the boundaries between disciplines in order to create cross-disciplinary knowledge.
233 See Bredekamp (2003:418) on a similar difficulty in translating "Bildwissenschaft" into English
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