Arts Festival Images: Revolt of the Mannequins

Published: Wed 10 Mar 2010 12:25 PM
Scoop Images: Mannequin LarrikinsImages by Carey Davies

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Changing the mannequins in public view
Revolt of the Mannequins
Royal de Luxe, France
Shopfront locations around Wellington (details below)
6 – 14 March
It’s an unusual sight for a busy shopping street on a Saturday morning; in the window of a department store, a mannequin lies crumpled on the floor with a bullet between her eyes, the glass pane shattered in front of her. Across the street, high on a building, a puppet sniper hunches over with his red laser sight still trained on his victim.
The busy shoppers and workers of Wellington’s Lambton Quay must have wondered what to make of the scene. But after taking a walk and looking at some of the shop windows in the vicinity, all becomes (sort of) clear.

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The window displays of 10 stores all across the Central Business District have been invaded by a ‘Revolt of the Mannequins’, an exhibition-show staged by the famous French street theatre company Royal de Luxe (one of their most recent shows, ‘The Sultan’s Elephant,’ featured a 50-ton tusked creature lumbering through the streets of London). Now in their fourth day, stories of mannequin rebellion and bizarre transformation have been unfolding behind the glass in some of Wellington’s trendiest stores.

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Twenty-two members of the Royal de Luxe team are busily involved in changing the displays after the close of each store, so the next day residents awake to find the story in each window has developed. The tales include ‘Nightmare of the Puddle’ at Unity collection, a drink-sodden man who appears to be gradually melting into his own legs, and the ‘Closing-Down Sale’ at David Lawrence, where news of the shop’s imminent closure (in the story, not in real life) sends the plastic-people into a furious rampage.

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Initially met with a degree of confusion, the show and its ‘performing’ mannequins have become a buzz topic among the city’s residents. “We love it. This is the third time we’ve come back and checked them out,” said Diana, a classics lecturer at the Victoria University with fellow lecturer Jeff, outside the ‘Comic Fire Brigade’ exhibit at Robyn Mathieson. “We had a dinner party and it was a real talking piece.” Catherine, a dentist on Courtenay Place, spoke of the same enthusiasm hitting her workplace: “I was working on Saturday, and as the day went on more and more people were coming in and talking about it.”

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Halfway through its lifespan, the works have already started to attract a following of devotees who return daily to see how the stories have moved on. Susan and Nikki were journeying from the outskirts of town every day after work to see the displays. “It’s the big conversation in our office. It’s spreading by word of mouth,” said Susan, before the two hurried off to see how the next story was progressing.

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In the tradition of the frightening fairy tales produced by the likes of the Brothers Grimm, the displays are frequently gruesome, featuring painful transformations and fantastic violence. ‘Positive Test’ at Kirkaldie and Stains is a striking depiction of a woman with a baby bursting limb-by-limb from her womb. And where the mannequin who fell prey to the sniper on Saturday once lay there is now a macabre red outline marking where her body fell.
This dark streak is not appreciated by everyone. “It’s a bit freaky,” said Jane, who was passing by with her daughters. “I’m not sure it’s suitable for children.”

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The theatrical displays are not to the liking of some of the CBD’s busy office commuters, either. “I don’t think it’s that special. We have the Christmas lights here, it doesn’t seem that unusual,” said one. Another put it more bluntly. “I’m not interested. I’m not the sort of person who walks around looking in shop windows.”
One group of people is certainly happy, however: the store owners, who report an increase in commercial traffic thanks to the displays. Unity Collection manager Kate said: “We had an amazing day on Saturday. It’s probably bringing people in that might not have been to this store before.”

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The performance runs for nine days, and culminates in the ‘final revolt’ on Friday. Witness it at the following shops – if you dare!
CLOSING-DOWN SALE – David Lawrence, Lambton Quay
THE COMIC FIRE BRIGADE – Robyn Mathieson, Featherston Street
THE ANGELUS, BY MILLET – Portmans, Lambton Quay
THE HUNTER – Farmers. Lambton Quay
POSITIVE TEST – Kirkaldie & Stains. Lambton Quay
THE KITCHEN – Kirkaldie & Stains. Lambton Quay
THE LOVERS – Staxs. Lambton Quay
Plus the roving Sniper, last seen picnicing with lingerie mannequins in Bendon, Lambton Quay

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Programmes for Revolt of the Mannequins are available in Midland Park
Press releases: Street Theatre Super Stars Stage Revolt in Windows, Free Events Galore at the NZIAF 2010
Arts Festival website: Revolt of the Mannequins (includes photo link)
Wikipedia: Royal de Luxe
Photoblog of previous version: La Révolte des Mannequins - Nantes
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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