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Retail Therapy brought together a number of prominent interior designers, architects, retailers and some of Brisbane's 'coolest' artists to collaborate on commissioned works for shop windows in Fortitude Valley. A total of fourteen retailers took advantage of the opportunity to have their window displays designed by artists, many of whom would consider themselves above the very mercantile art of window dressing. Note The works in Retail Therapy seemed to appear without warning and disappear with equal haste. As each piece materialised it was interesting to note the public response. Initially the works were read as window dressing, albeit, interesting window dressing. Looking at Thierry Auriac's work in the Brisbane Mission window for instance, a colleague noted that this window display 'looked like art?'. As is the case with many ephemeral public artworks, the wider, unsuspecting public tends to be more positive about art that is not shown in the gallery or art that does not necessarily look like art. Outside the hallowed ground of the art gallery and where the pressures of interpretation are not so acute conceptual art it seems is considerably more accessible.
In collaboration with Arkhefield architects Auriac created a giant heart made from 'preloved' straw hats and hung two giant eyes and a pair of lips in the foreground. The unmistakably second-hand look of this piece in the context of the Mission created a work of considerable graphic potency which did not exhibit the heavy hand of an architects' firm. Alongside much slicker works in the windows of trendy fashion boutiques it was easy to appreciate the 'rough edge' of Auriac's work while noting that the Brisbane Mission is possibly less image conscious than most of the other participants.
Fresh from a major project at the Brisbane City Gallery with Michael Moore of Cox Rayner Architects and with a long history of quality ephemeral public artworks, Craig Walsh 's contribution was a tight fit in the world of classy underwear. Conceptually speaking the project was both witty and perceptive. Looking at fancy underthings as 'bait' Walsh and Moore undertook to deck out the entire shop with a fishing theme in a work that, amazingly, managed to maintain a certain subtlety. Lures, fishing line, rods, tackle and even fishing magazines were placed in appropriate spots throughout the shop. lt was the large fish tank in the window containing various items of lingerie in a jelly fish-like swarm, however, that really stopped the passer by.
Jay Younger and Matt Dabrowski who worked with Marissa Lindquist of Haysom Spender Architects also have a wealth of experience in the area of public art. As the events of September 11 'changed the world ' they also changed this project. These three collaborators made a quick and incisive response to the attack on the World Trade Centre that positioned the work and the events within an astrological context and thus moved it beyond the merely global.
Drawing upon the astrological characteristics of Mars, the god of war, in Marz menswear shop Younger, Dabrowski and Lindquist created a window display that dealt with issues of aggression and macho sexuality. Here we saw two video monitors, one with the now all too familiar image of the infamous air craft repetitively hitting their targets, and the other showing interviews with representatives of the arts and architecture communities commenting on their response to the devastating events. Red light and smoke filled the window generating an eerie and disturbing scene that effectively rendered this work among the most provocative in the project.
Being both an artist and a designer Sebastian Di Mauro (with AI ice L TM Hampson, Sheona Thomson and Sarah Foley) was quite comfortable working to a brief supplied by Loisida. In an outlet for Japanese designers this group addressed a store 'philosophy' which constitutes a holistic approach to retail and fashion with an emphasis on elements of Japanese culture. The result was an extraordinary wall of paper shirts lit from the inside like Japanese lanterns and with more than just a passing reference to the art of origami. Of all the artists whose contribution was perhaps least like their own work was Bianca Beetson who worked with York Design in the window of Urban Groove. While this was a restrained work consisting of body shaped lampshades created by the designers, Beetson's flair was not entirely absent. lt was she who decorated each lampshade with buttons and braid or bits and pieces from the shop in a series of figurative works that referenced contemporary fashion. Artistically speaking the most successful aspect of this work was its other component, a text piece parodying the Ten Commandments from a retailer's point of view. With lines such as 'Thou salt not commit adultery in the change room' and 'Thou shalt not purchase unto thee any imitations' this piece amused the window shopper while successfully ensuring his/her undivided attention on the window of Urban Groove.
There were many other fine works created for Retail Therapy. Too many to mention in this space. This was a project that for artists is something of a novelty or an opportunity to do something different; something that on the surface is perhaps more fun than challenging. The challenge however came not so much from the production of a suitable work but from the process of collaboration itself. A number of the artists I spoke to noted a certain insensitivity on the part architects, designers and Spark Consultants (Project Management) in respect of the professionalism of the artists' practices. Artists of course are a different kind of professional who struggle with very specific problems. While all of the artists involved in this project are without doubt professionals I get the impression that this was not always fully recognised by their collaborators. Even artists whose experiences were positive spoke of difficulties in this area. Many participants also doubted that what they were producing was really art while noting that they had enjoyed the idea of dressing a shop window. No one, however, said that wouldn 't do it again.