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Breath and Hermes
by Thomas Wagner | 12/12/2009

As the messenger of the gods Hermes was able to breathe special life into things such that they playfully overcame the line dividing the world of symbols from that of the real. The messages he brings change reality. At any rate, Tokujin Yoshioka has just created a shop-window installation for Maison Hermès in Tokyo that would suggest just this.

The installation is hard to top in terms of succinctness, as Tokujin Yoshioka simply places in the illuminated window two colorful silk scarves and two video projections of the face of a young woman, one from the side, one from the front. And whenever the lips of the image of the lady (she's dipped in quality black-n-white) open and she lightly exhales the scarves move.

"Pneuma" was what the Greeks termed that gentle breath, an airy, ethereal substance that they believed moved the human lungs and caused our pulses to beat. Today, such pneuma is evidently a property of the media, as it is images that move real things. One need think only of the power of advertising, which uses images not only to praise wares, but thus indirectly decides the fate of companies and their employees.

While in Germany the pre-Christmas shop window décor entails, as always, an evocation of winter, snow and the childish sentimentality of Santa Claus, the example of Tokujin Yoshioka's installation shows that it is quite possible to move on a far higher design plane. Especially as the use of miniature stages (as with the use of paintings in fashion shots) can look back on a long tradition of the applied arts working hand in glove with the free arts. For example, back in the 1940s Harper's Bazaar presented models staged in front of paintings by Fernand Léger and Piet Mondrian, and at the end of the 1950s show-window mannequins at Bonwit Teller in New York City stood before paintings by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Tokujin Yoshioka, however, no longer requires a painting. He simply goes for the breath the image exudes, that lightest of touches.