DISPLAY: MUSEUM OF SIGNS
Exhibition design, Shopping Mall
Palo Alto California, 1980
I was invited by the artist Lynn Hirshman to propose a project for her Floating Museum at a working class shopping mall in Palo Alto that was going out of business just as Silicon Valley was booming. The owner thought perhaps ‘high art’ could make up for his lack of an upscale anchor store. He had a Penny’s but needed Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Could art bridge for this difference?
While this project was never realized I published the article Casual Imagination in Discourse Magazine, 1982 and many of the ideas explored here found their way into the video Casual Shopper.
Exhibition site before installation
I re-conceived the shopping mall as a Museum, by mapping another kind of experience onto the notion of shopping. I called the project Display: Museum of Signs.
My thesis was that the use of contemporary display techniques in relation to popular culture produces desire(s) which are never sated (psychoanalysis by way of
film theory), but which lead to new forms of subjectivity such as the notion of a female ‘flaneuse’ (after Walter Benjamin’s 19th c male flaneur). Hence on the front of the building, I planned an ever-changing series of images and a name change announcing the formation of this new Museum.
On the bulletin board that announced the day’s events, I located a map of how to make use of the Museum. The map functioned both as a ‘memory aid’ and a ‘memory palace’ as well as a real plan of the exhibition. Rather than allowing the shops to have competing window displays, I proposed that they collaborate thus ritualizing a consumer form of Marxism along side commodity fetishisation.
Rather than allowing the shops to have competing window displays, I proposed that they collaborate thus ritualizing a consumer form of Marxism along side commodity fetishisation.
I was particularly interested in what I saw as new contemplative shopping—the notion that you could spend a lot of time looking at something, but not buying and that this was not considered aesthetic experience.
The other display area was a ‘deconstruction’ based on Jacques Derrida’s work where I labeled all the elements that comprise a store’s display system. In revealing the complexity of the design elements that cohere to produce the ‘shopping experience’, I sought to make the relationships between design and the experience more transparent.