She sings in a low croak and surfs wearing high heels, inside a dishwasher.
Meet “La Dinde de Noel,” the digital turkey starring in the Bon Marche’s Christmas windows.
A collaboration between video artist Bertrand Planes and the Bon Marche’s artistic staff, the four shop windows use animated digital images projected on white sculptures to tell the story of the star-struck turkey, who does not want to be called by her decidedly unglamorous name, “Yvette.”
The four video scenes each last 90 seconds and play on a continuous loop for the hours that the Bon Marche, the oldest grand magasin in Paris, stays open for Christmas shoppers.
In them, the turkey also gets struck by UFOs and dances in a rain of crying eyes.
The shows run through January 3.
While shop windows of Les Galeries Lafayette feature stuffed bunnies splashing in champagne glasses and Printemps presents a carousel of cats, there is nothing like the petit spectacle offered by this luxury department store, in the seventh arrondissement.
Perhaps the most clever Bon Marche window depicts a Christmas meal and its aftermath.
A sculpture of white dishes comes alive with food, which disappears off the plates, accompanied by conversation. Hands, clutching a sponge, appear on the dishes and squeakily clean them. A digital waterfall cascades down and squealing fish leap up from it.. Yvette, the turkey, catches a wave, urged on by an ersatz Beach Boys song, with French-inflected lyrics.
In another shop display, digital eyes appear in a cloud of white sunglasses. The eyes cry, raining down on four animated turkeys, who dance with umbrellas. A third window scene features Yvette bursting out from a set of big red lips that blast a rock song.
The most surreal window features skyscrapers made of stacks of paper. Paranoid voices whisper,“Quoi?” “ Quest-ce qui se passé?” meaning, What? What’s happening?, as lighted windows appear on the buildings. Then, headlines scroll up and down the structures at breakneck speed. They feature the turkey’s photo and demand, “Ne m’appelez plus Yvette,” stop calling me Yvette. And declare, “Je ne suis pas une poule,” I am not a chicken. Poule is also slang for tart. Three UFOs appear in the sky and zap her photos, bringing them to life. Yvette croaks a honky tonk piano tune, sounding like Marlene Dietrich with a head cold.
Instead of inspiring fear, “I wanted to use UFOs in another way,” explained artist Planes, relaxing in his Paris studio, above the sparkling water of the Quai Loire.
The turkey character, Planes said, is a “link between two worlds, the world of Christmas and something more abstract.” The tall, lanky artist, who also creates gallery installations, said his work deals with ambiguities and alternative realities. “There’s many ways to approach the world, other than rationally,” he said. Planes shows a visitor his “life clock,” which moves 54,800 times slower than a normal timepiece — taking 80 years for a full turn. “Nothing is real, it’s just a point of view,”said Planes, whowears a watch stopped at 1:50. “We are free to interpret everything the way we want.”
The artistic staff of the Bon Marche first discovered Planes’ work at Paris’ 2008 Nuit Blanche, an annual all-night celebration of art. Planes’ exhibit featured a room of white-painted furniture onto which he projected the objects’original textures. “The public looking at it thought the video was projecting something white,” but it was the other way around, said Planes.
Department store creatives were impressed. “I was sure we could do something different with his art,” wrote Bon Marche Artistic Director Frederic Bodenes, in an email from New York City, where he was checking out Christmas window displays.
In 2007, Planes also was in New York, creating an exhibit at the Envoy Gallery. First, he removed several newspaper stands from the street. “We decided to do it during the day, it was less suspicious,” Planes recalled. He painted them white and projected graffiti and other signage onto them. He did return them afterwards.
The following year, with technical assistance from the French National Center for Scientific Research, Planes processed Bach’s D minor Toccata and Fugue through a computer as it was played on an organ at St. Elisabeth de Hongrie Church in Paris, creating a dancing light show on the pipes.
Planes’ challenge for the Bon Marche project was to make sure the white sculptures and video projectors lined up perfectly, since they were placed so close together. He had to use a special wide-angle lense to make it work. “My role was to first explain the limits of digital technology and what’s possible. I like the challenge of saying yes, then finding another way to do it.”
A wall and roof fronting each window deliver the audio and provide a sense of theater. Composers Nicolas Sorrel and Guillaume Moyne created the music and sound effects, parodying various American styles, including 1950s sci-fi movies for the UFO attack, a “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-like song for the giant red lips, and an Old West saloon’s out-of-tune piano to accompany Yvette’s warble, according to Sorrel.
Bodenes admits that some of his patrons didn’t know what to make of the shop windows, called vitrines, in French. “It was a bit risky,” agreed Planes. Bon Marche’s “customers are very traditional, some of them,” Planes said.
On a recent brisk evening, Bon Marche employee Elodie Rousselot, who assembled the windows, stood outside. “It’s important to see the people watching to know if it’s okay,” said Rousselot, 27, sporting tortoise shell glasses and a checked scarf. “To have the reactions, good or bad.”
“It’s funny, too cool,” Jose Varghese, 27, a business administration student vacationing from Kerala, India, told her. Simone Pommier, visiting Paris from Bordeaux frowned at the windows, while her daughter snapped cell phone shots. “It’s modern, not so beautiful, less than before,” Pommier remarked.
Josephe Chevalier’s blue eyes twinkled as she watched the giant flapping lips. “C’est superbe– Je l’adore!” the silver-haired Chevalier, 83, exclaimed with a laugh, turning to her grand-daughter. The Parisian said she brought the young art history student to see the windows. “She finds people aren’t enthusiastic enough,” explained Alexandra Chevalier, 22.
Unlike the scenes at the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps where children crowd the front of store displays and practically dance with delight, some of the young shoppers at the Bon Marche on a recent evening seemed disinterested. One young boy impatiently tugged on his mother’s purse as she smiled, watching Yvette wipeout on her surfboard.
Bodenes said the variety of reactions doesn’t bother him, since the windows are so unique. Last year, they featured products but this year, the Bon Marche was determined to do something extra-special.
And how much did the displays cost to produce? “The Christmas windows are a present for our customers,” Bodenes wrote. “We never talk about the price of a present!”
photos from Le Bon Marche