Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tableaux, Soho by Windowless Consultant

What does he think I do all day? Doesn't he realise that the number of windows is decreasing, guess that there are fewer managers by the day ready to pay outside consultants to advise on displays of goods for a diminishing customer base to walk by?
My schedule, from a six-day week full-on, has shrunk to the odd morning here and there, leaving me these afternoons, sometimes entire days, to wander, dreaming up, I suppose, displays without windows, planning tableaux in the absence of props, scribbling in notebooks fallow of paid project increasingly unkempt ideas.
The streets, I notice, are the same places as they have ever been, but it is the feelings they emanate that have changed. Sometimes it would seem that when they shut up the shops the windows spilled out, leaving the display sprawled unrecognisably on the street.
It's hard to say exactly how it happens.  It was Berwick Street today, wind and sun combining, sight hard to believe in. It's as though suddenly things appear to attempt to reveal something about themselves.

At these times I find myself trying to look beyond them at what they're trying to tell me, but realise each time it's what they are that's the message, but that realisation doesn't by any means close off the problem - rather it prolongs it.
The message would appear to be some sort of question leading off from them and back again. It appears to leave them with both a diminished and a heightened substance. They appear both more real and less.

Something about things noticeably changes, and yet remains the same. There is a sense of imminence - that it has not yet happened - and also of finality, that a threshold has been crossed, but also that that threshold, the change that comes with crossing, is into something not perceptibly different.
I sit in a cafe and I look at the staff, the customers.
I listen to the noises. These are all the same as they've ever been, and yet they all hold something so different about them it leaves me frozen. It might be said that the sound of the voices smells differently, the smell of the coffee sounds differently, the feel of the floor under my shoe looks differently. These things would all be true, but only in the most general sense that they always have been and always are, that what appears seems to be a slipping of things, the floor lifting, twisting, the whole cafe, the tables, the chairs, the cups, the drinkers, waiters, jugs, cakes and all sliding out onto the street, falling through the air and, staying, hovering where they are. Or as if that is about to happen: that they are about to slide out, about to stay.
And that people do not react, other than me, frozen here, is unaccountable. That, in fact, is perhaps the strangest thing. 

That is what it is that means that it seems that it's not just that it has happened, but also that it's about to happen: because the change leaves everything the same it can only be that things, people have not yet reacted, things, for example, not yet picked up off the ground and begun their flight towards the front, the exterior, the street. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Off Broadway Market by Windowless Consultant

This time it happened on my way to Broadway Market, where it has become my habit to go on free Saturdays in search of food and inspiration. Without the need for dress code, guest list or bouncers, without door, barrier or gate, this little corner of Hackney, for a few hours each Saturday, suddenly refines itself down to a purity of customer profile to rival a hall of mirrors. The phenomenon promises such industry insights I'm always surprised not to see rows of fashion retailers, notebook in hand, trying, like me, to identify the systems of attraction and filtration in the hope of reproducing the effect elsewhere. But since I myself - we ourselves - fit the profile, I realise, perhaps they, like me, are effortlessly incognito. Perhaps, indeed, there is no market, merely a weekly congregation come to see what passes as such.
Under the circumstances of the difference in agenda here I can't provide a link, but those who follow my shop windows blog will know that my aim there is to promote excellence in windows design. It's not a cynical aim: you could say that giving tips to others is detrimental to my business in the long term, since the more fitters know the less they need my advice. 
I now feel it's mistaken, but cynical it's not. I believe in it. When I work, in my capacity as window consultant, I beleive that it's the responsibility of the shop window to set an example to the world. I believe that the window's the truth that the street would aspire to if the street could only aspire; that the window's an amelioration of the street, offering an encouragement to the passer by to investigate, to realise their fantasies.
But what I've been encountering recently you might call an aspiration in the other direction, the street proposing transactions that the shop window would struggle to meet. I begin to wonder whether it's the street that is in fact itself a window, but for some reason that may be connected to the equivalence of different kinds of light, one that generally evades our glance. 

Something that I'm beginning to suspect is that at the times when suddenly it opens up, if that is the word, or perhaps inverts itself, so that the props are on the outside, or the invitations the world, something which might usually be passed off as a coincidence may be at work. Whether the graffiti artist meant to draw a second, real one above when he tagged his crown below I don't know, but certainly that was the result. Whether the God Worshippers allowed themselves to hope that the time would indeed come, or whether they know that it has, I can't say, but is anyway beside the point.
I don't yet know what it is that I am tracking down, beyond that there are certain forces that align themselves at certain times and in some way alter certain spaces, draw things in them into a new configuration. It is my feeling that the phenomenon is new, but it may simply be that I never noticed it before. Whether or not it's spreading, and if so, whether it will ever take over space in its entirety, I can't say, but the purpose of the present blog is to keep some track of the process as it unfolds.

For that reason, putting my visit to the market on hold, I headed round behind the Worshippers. Interestingly, a little way behind, the same gasometer elevates another location in a parallel way, noticeable only once the process had been opened up n the other side. For the Empress of London coach company to share the logo of a graffiti artist from the other side may not in itself be strange, but the tower connecting them created further intimations impossible to ignore.

Between waiting in a warehouse for the afterlife and keeping a fleet for those wanting to depart, that there should be a symbol in common needn't be significant, but then for it to materialise had to be, and I found myself at the market what I would have described at first as unable to engage without knowing why.
It's not uncommon for gas storage facilities to leak, catch, explode. They can flatten whole neighbourhoods in a flare, char all that remains.
That this was happening as I watched was the first thought that I reached for, that I was aware of it only in this abstract, distant way the result of the shock. If it's said of the drowning that they relive their lives in reverse to the beginning, for sufferers of the contrary element, perhaps the opposite is true, and I was living on unaware towards the end.
I was wracking my brains for something I might remember in the way of a clue, some sudden pain, a flash, heat that would account for the feeling, but there was none. Another possibility would be a heaviness or weightlessness. Gas asphyxiation could also surely count as the opposite of drowning. I sought on the faces of others confirmation - whiteness, pain, confusion - but found none.
Perhaps they were better than I at hiding it. Perhaps on me, too, it failed to show. I watched myself buy bread, shelter from the rain in a cafe. But that could easily occur if the knowledge, pain, or confusion were on the inside only, the external body continuing as ever, unaware, so that there the awareness of death was unconscious to the outside body. 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

First Post by Windowless Consultant
Window design, I've always said, is so simple that everybody should be able to do it, and so mysterious that in reality almost no one can. It's been, I realise, part of a sales pitch I never knew I was making because I was the first to be taken in: it was a philosophy, and it was mine. It's not that it's not true of window design that it has this simple mystery, but that it's so equally true of so many other things that it pretends to obscure behind it.
Take the prop. It all began in Soho. I'm often around there during the day on jobs, and not infrequently nearby at night for the theatres. I see, or have always seen, performances as research for my consultancy work, since a successful window display has much of the drama about it, summing up a world with a tableau in a frame. As in a theatre, so in retail, or that niche of the retail environment which is mine, one of the greatest mysteries is the prop. You take an object, even the most ordinary -  above all, in preference, the most ordinary - place it in a window, and all of a sudden, you don't have an object, strictly speaking, at all, but a prop.
I say any object. It's not as simple as that, and there, in large part, lies the mystery. You'll see a shopkeeper stick an ashtray in the window, believing it's as easy as that to create a little still life, say on a table with a newspaper by it next to a couple of mannequins in eveningwear, and it just looks stale, not a prop at all, conveying nothing but itself. And then next door for a sports range someone dumps a rugby ball on the floor and it takes off - a veritable prop. You could natter retail theory till the windows mist over looking for an answer, but in the end it just comes down to touch - some have it, others don't. So goes the spiel.
    The spiel for me unravelled opposite the Coach and Horses.
Nothing there, you'd say, but something someone's dumped unwanted, and you'd be right. That something bore the trace in paint of a window on it, and I wondered why, in preoccupation looked around for a shop in a refit, this a backdrop gone or to be, but there were none: the boozer opposite, a hairdresser, a bar.
Behind me then, this:
Again, you'd say, nothing, and again you'd be right. Nothing but a set of old props from the Palace Theatre draped in cloth. And a pneumatic device for shifting them. And a bike chianed to a post, some cobbles, a drain, bollards, a passer by, signage, yellow lines, light - day and spot. Had there been something, I would not have seen it. Instead, since there was not, I did, and for the first time turned my camera on it.

I came from the event I don't know if 'reeling' is the right word - certainly excited. My aim was to see how far the effect would extend, discover if there were limits. Certainly the Coach and Horses was included, and the barber's, the other pub on Cambridge Circus.
But then, turning the corner, walking up Charing Cross Road, it didn't become diluted or weaken in any way. 
A man through the door of Foyle's had it, 

going up, a light upstairs through a window, 
the street outside, the steps of Centre Point.

Everything, I realised, looking around, had it, and it would be the purpose of a blog to track it down.