Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Tag Archives: dummies

Crass taste dummies

Recent diversions into selfies-with-display-dummies have prompted a recollection that in my youth a kind of idealised realism was the norm, and dummies all had faces. Is that strictly true? Maybe, judging by these murky – and now rather spooky – scans from colour slides of shop windows that I snapped in Leeds in 1971. It were grimmer up North in them days, and there were more realism too. [As always, click to enlarge.]


So is it an increased art school awareness of Giorgio de Chirico’s  blanked metaphysical mannequins and wig stands that has decided more recent dummy designers to wipe off the faces, in an instance of life following art? I notice that in John Lewis (where dummies are consistently faceless) the display people have certainly taken note of de Chirico’s advice as cited in my earlier post, placing some of their dummies, plinthless, directly on the floor, and sitting others on chair-like structures. Though as the figures are all seven feet tall, they’re still not really at human level. Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that a couple of de Chirico mannequin images employ a cropped composition that rather imitates the selfie –


It really does make a difference to the emotion (as de Chirico puts it) when the heads are faceless. Oddly, it makes the figures more alive – less like memorials to the dead and more like living automata in arrested motion. The examples here are from a day’s traipsing round the sales in Solihull. I have to say, you get a better class of dummy in Solihull.


If this doesn’t appeal, here are some other ideas for creating playful situations in large shops:

  • Hand drier spotting. Once you start looking, you’ll discover a surprising variety of makes and models. It really is a whole new world.  But remember to take a note book and pen with you into the toilets.
  • Escalator riding. Start in the basement, up to the top floor and down again. This can be timed if you like. Most rewarding with a grandchild of carriable size, maybe eighteen months.
  • Man-seat challenge. (Sorry, I know they’re unisex, that’s just my term.) Aim to sample as many public seats in the store as you can, changing room antechambers included, but cafés excepted of course. This may test your patience, as some obstinate folks like to sit there all afternoon.
  • Pushchair go-karting. Grandchildren love this, especially the fast bit down the final straight aisle, but it is to be avoided at busy times. Large department stores offer the best circuits.
  • Shop-putting. Also known as shop-dropping, being the opposite of shop-lifting. Though inserting small items on shelves will require sleight of hand if the store security are not to be provoked. Use something small and unobjectionable – postcards, slips of paper with a message or a picture, religious tracts etc.
  • Hide and seek. Probably my favourite, but it does require a grandchild as an accomplice, ideally able to count to twenty but still small enough to hide between garments on racks; three years old is about right.

All legal, all field tested.

Me and my new friends

At Christmas I became (at last) a smartphone user. So today I was able to divert myself photographically during an elongated shopping trip around the margins of Wolverhampton. The results are unedited. (Click for enlarged slides.)


Though this certainly beats some other shopping diversions (e.g. hand drier spotting), it’s trickier than you might think, given that shops tend, unreasonably, to elevate their dummies on plinths as if they were statues.

“To discover newer and more mysterious aspects we must have access to new combinations. For example: a statue in a room, whether it be alone or in the company of living people, could give us a new emotion if it were made in such a way that its feet rested on the floor and not on a base. The same impression could be produced by a statue sitting in a real armchair or leaning against a real window.” (Giorgio de Chirico, “Statues, Furniture and Generals”, 1918.)

And taking selfies from a low angle turns out to give a most most unfair impression of jowliness. I was unsure whether to go for deadpan or not, but in the event deadpan proved surprisingly difficult. I note a developing urge to mimic the body language of my silent companions.