A shop window display is rarely a neutral space, but one which is highly charged with domestic and personal aspirations. It is a vacant stage set coercing you to play a bit part, each square foot calculated to prompt passers-by into wondering how to renovate their surroundings and fine-tune the chaos of their daily lives.
With her window installation Support Structures, Natalie Finnemore takes further cues from the potential of furniture and household prototypes to project an idealised lifestyle. The work is a testing ground to deconstruct the influence of mass production on contemporary life, and the ways in which carefully orchestrated modes of display can inform the way people read a space. Taking influence from Donald Judd’s emphasis on industrial materials, and the geometrical precision of Georgio de Chirico’s metaphysical interiors, these sculptures will occupy the unit for the duration of Yorkshire Sculpture International.
The work also addresses the boundary between bespoke craftsmanship and prototypes for manufacturing. Which category do these sculptures fit into? Within the context of an established retail space like John Lewis, they occupy a position neither commercial nor purely sculptural. Not ambiguous forms, but recognisable domestic silhouettes: lampshades of sculpted glass, or clothes rails whose angles beckon into the space. Elsewhere in the homewares section, columns of stacked boxes act as a deceptively impromptu shelving unit onto which items of glassware are arranged.
Despite appearances, however, the objects in question will not be snapped up by shoppers on the ground or shipped out in bulk to online browsers. The inventory is not fixed, and market research will play no part in its expansion. Instead, these items are to be replaced and adjusted over the course of the festival as the artist gradually creates additional pieces – and it is this “working through” of ideas that is reflected by the staging of the installation. Rather than the gleaming surface of a shop floor, traces of the workshop linger through wood offcuts and folded drapes of (as yet) unused material. These details point to the limitations of artistic production, reminding us that rather than a machine firing off endless reproductions of the same model, these are artefacts which must each be carefully crafted into existence, piece by piece.
Finnemore’s work has often played with the idea of design archetypes and how their potential can be realised, or distorted, to enhance the experience of the people interacting with them. Can the perfect design, as retailers claim, have any impact on wellbeing? Are there certain fabrics, textures or shapes which can be manipulated to optimise human experience and health?
Moving this question into a shop window display shifts focus onto how people respond to the sculptures, rather than the sculptures themselves. It transfers the artistic process from that of spontaneous expression into a series of predetermined, ostensibly functional objects, immaculately laid out to attract the direct and unblinking attention of a hypothetical consumer. And this, after all, is the fate of the prototype: caught up in an endless dress rehearsal, just waiting for its potential to be activated.
2019. Written to accompany the work Support Structures by Natalie Finnemore.