Look. Here.

August 2, 2009 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

Saturday was a fine but breezy day in San Francisco before evening fog settled over the avenues.

At Prepare for the Playa Burning Man attendees shopped for camping gear and Black Rock finery. Models spiffed up for the 2 PM fashion show: steampunk leather and lace, or spandex and day-glo fake fur. A pair of wings here. Glitter or face paint there.

And a coconut.

I was ordering lunch at the organic sandwich counter, pondering rye vs. sprouted wheat bread, when a guy in voluminous tribal pants, brown shirt, and white scarf rolled in. Man on a mission. After cheerful banter he walked away with a white drinking coconut to accessorize his outfit.

I ran into him again after his turn on the runway. He explained: “It’s a look-away. You need to give people something else to look at.”

Here he posed with the coconut held out in his right hand, away from his body.

“They look out at the coconut, then they look back. Otherwise they’d just be staring at your outfit all the time. You need to give their eyes a place to rest, and then come back to you. Like silence in music. So they can really see your outfit.

“And it’s more interesting. They’re thinking about the coconut. It’s unexpected. ‘What’s he doing with it? Is he at a party, is he having a good time? He’s wandering around the playa drinking a coconut.’

This morning I poked around in the literature on painting composition and eye movement. But the look-away isn’t about still life, it’s about performance. Movement. Dynamically creating space. Visual space between outfit and accessory. Narrative space between the real-world fashion show and the imagined life of the model.

The look-away is a pragmatic tool with surprisingly subtle aspects. Today I’ll be mindful of space, silence, and our rush to fill that silence with interpretation.

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