Peopling the undertaker’s window

Charles 4 Comments



Posted by Richard Rawlinson

The only dummy I’ve ever seen in an undertaker’s shop window is the reflection of myself staring back at me. I recently unleashed my inner window dresser, and suggested grabbing the attention of passers-by with moving installations: screens behind displays, with visuals chosen to complement the other props—eco-coffins, for example, accompanied by mood-evoking time lapse videos on a loop, such as flowers budding into bloom before shedding their petals. Life, death and rebirth, the beauty, frailty and eternal optimism of nature cycles.

The designer manqué is out of the closet again. This time, the prop du jour is the dummy. Mannequins are not just for fashion stores, darling. But I’m not talking about those creepily life-like, makeup-caked dolls of your high street’s Madame Boutique. I’m thinking mannequins of wood or cardboard, as charismatic as Antony Gormley’s figurative sculptures, their lack of facial features allowing you to project human emotion onto them, whether contemplative, melancholic or celebratory.

The rather chic example above is actually robotic. Imagine her standing over the soul-mate she’s just lost, bending down every so often to gently touch the lid of a natural wood coffin. Add the below dog to the composition, and they’re suddenly transported to a burial meadow, especially if the screen behind is showing green landscapes, and wild flowers decorate the set. Their body language becomes evocative, the faithful mastiff”s posture, so still and attentive, can easily seem mournful. The viewer’s imagination does the work when context triggers it.


Stylised mannequins of men, women and children could be rearranged into many scenarios. Releasing a dove into the air with a model dove in flight hanging from the ceiling on invisible thread. Balloons would suffice, too. Or urns, their carrier about to scatter their ashen contents. A mother and child mannequin (forever Madonna and Child), when propped with poppies automatically conjures up the feeling of loss of those killed in war.

You could become ever more airborne. Stairway to Heaven, anyone? But the point is that prospective customers might be attracted by depictions of funeral situations with which they can empathise. Mannequins become us.

Gormley Crosby

Antony Gormley sculpture on Crosby beach


  1. Charles

    Prophets, visionaries and seers generally tend to have a tough time of it in their own lifetimes, Richard, so it may be that this will be greeted with puzzled (or disapproving) silence.

    I think your idea touches two chords. First, Brits are creative funeral-makers. They deserve not only to have this acknowledged but, also, encouraged. Second, they are quirkily humorous, and this is reflected in funerals of all styles. Even the most trad funeral is likely to have a wee twist in it somewhere.

    So: creative and quirky. Zeitgeist, for sure.

  2. Charles

    Neither puzzled nor disapproving, I think this is a beautiful and sophisticated idea. It could stimulate people into demanding more from all of “us.” Likely in the near future? Well, no, leastways, not round here, I think; but a good idea has to start somewhere!

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