Whilst flicking through the newspaper the other day, my eyes were caught by the image that accompanied no. 6 of 9 Fun Things to Do This Weekend. The blazing, bright LED signage was reminiscent of the neon drenched terrain of my beloved Tokyo, so I set out to find a Scotties Boutique to see the work of multimedia artist, Jade Townsend.
Situated on Lorne Street, Scotties stocks high end fashion designers such as Lanvin, Nina Ricci and Comme des Garçons, whom initially commissioned Townsend to create her LED artworks for their I.T Beijing Market store in 2014. She was the first woman to exhibit at the concept store, and spent three months in Beijing exploring consumerism and retail trends. Townsend is interested in why we buy new jeans that are made to look old, and the peculiarity and irrationality of aesthetics in fashion.
Titled End – User (2016), Townsend includes some photographs of the recently closed Kirkcaldie and Stains department store in Wellington, but my interest here lies in her work with LEDs. The artwork takes centre stage in the window display at Scotties, surrounded by almost equally luminous (and desirable) objects such as Bao Bao Issey Miyake bags. The irradiant glow of these pieces can be seen from across the street, and I wish I had actually seen them at night. Townsend is fascinated by the push and pull nature of these lit signs; in Beijing their lurid vividness is unmistakable through the haze and smog, seemingly glamorous and alluring, they draw you to places that perhaps aren’t the case. This disparity can be likened to when we buy things that we don’t necessarily need, such as luxury goods, and the cognitive dissonance that arises after purchase. Cognitive dissonance is when a person has conflicting attitudes about a product or service, and tends to be greater when there are a number of attractive choices available and/or it requires a higher level of commitment of time or money. Such dissatisfaction can be a reason why people return certain items.
A reflection of her time there and China’s role as super producers and consumers, Townsend’s two light works each spell out a word in English and in Chinese characters. The English word is ‘Typical’, and a quick Google indicates that the characters 奢华 read ‘extravagant or luxurious’ (presuming Google Translate is correct). Townsend states in the accompanying text that the Chinese characters are approximate translations of English concepts. Hence, there is a play on language as the origins and meaning of words is muddied; China has become more synonymous with luxury brands than anywhere else in the world. The juxtaposition of these two words is striking – has our desire for luxury goods become typical and commonplace? Have we, the consumers, become so conditioned to want the items that celebrities tote in magazines and on Instagram, that we don’t stop to ask why we need it? What is of further fascination is that the word ‘luxury’ is banned from billboard advertising in China, to remove the obviousness of the class divide and wealth gap in the country. In a way, the characters could soon be as foreign in China as they are here to non-Chinese speakers.
I found the placement of these artworks within a boutique to be greatly engaging, as it lures us in and celebrates our need to consume, whilst equally questioning it. After a while, you think that we would become desensitised to the allure due to the sheer number of glistening signs, but I suspect their glare and gleam won’t ever quite die down 😀
Both links are about Townsend’s time in Beijing, the first is an interview on Radio New Zealand, and the second is an article from The Wireless:
And she also recently exhibited at Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua:
Jade Townsend is exhibiting works at both Scotties Boutiques, the one in Auckland CBD is located at 3 Lorne Street, and the other is at 2 Blake Street, Ponsonby. Her artworks are on until Thursday 23rd June 2016. Do check them out!
Thanks for stopping by 🙂
 Jade Townsend, ‘Standing Room Only: Jade Townsend’, radio interview with Lynn Freeman, Arts on Sunday, broadcast Sunday 15 February 2015, http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/standing-room-only/audio/20167292/jade-townsend