Retail Therapy / 6-10 Oct 2021 / OXO Tower Bargehouse
"We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy."
- Schmich, M. T. (1986) A Stopwatch on Shopping. Chicago Tribune.
Coined in the mid-eighties, the notion of ‘retail therapy’ has always been semifacetious in nature. Not entirely discrediting the alleviation of anxiety that non-essential shopping can afford, the phrase is also ironically conscious that habit forming tendencies can drive us into debt and subsequently deeper despair. Peaking with oniomania, a personality disorder characterised by obsessive shopping, an entire industry is supported by fostering unhealthy habits, deliberately transforming items of clothing from functional design into click-on-demand response to our addictive nerve centres.
To tease our impulse control, fashion is reliant on photography, creating streams of glossy images that advocate new stylistic realities, as well as producing countless static shots of models wearing the clothes you can buy online. Addressing this misuse of a medium with the medium itself, Lucy Shortman turns the camera from proponent of the fashion industry into a tool of critical reflection. In her sometimes intimate, sometimes staged, frequently humorous and stereotype tinged images, Shortman sets out to question the production process behind the images that stimulate our purchases.
Employing friends and herself as models, Shortman acts out the actions of wearing clothes and posing for the camera, however, her images capture moments outside the clinically perfected fashion photographic canon. Instead we see the photographer vacuuming a suit between shots, a model turned away from the camera and another ungracefully bent double. Collectively a semiotics of awkward body language emerges exposing the falseness of the fashion industry and asking us to recognise that the images we are presented with portray a false and selective reality. The result is an antidote of sorts, that allows us to poke fun at the pressures of retail therapy.