Diary: looking for the red lights

Friday, March 5, 2010

tipple box and woman

A young woman poses with Ken Doorson’s Tipple Box on Van Sommelsdijckstraat, 26 February, 2010; photo by Richard Rawlins

By Nicholas Laughlin

26 February, 2010

Ken Doorson’s Tipple Box project is a series of three-sided red plexiglass boxes — illuminated from within and etched with the suggestive silhouettes of women — intended to be installed on the streets of Paramaribo. A motion sensor atop each box triggers the internal light as pedestrians or cars pass by, alerting both ordinary passers-by and those with less innocent intentions that they have entered one of the city’s red-light districts.

On the opening night of the Paramaribo SPAN exhibition, one of the Tipple Boxes was nestled rather incongruously in a grove of flowering shrubs in the DSB Bank garden, its red glow ceaselessly activated by the crowd of wine-sipping and hors d’oeuvre-nibbling guests. Near midnight, as the party wound down, a few of us decided to search out a companion box we knew was installed on one of the streets north of the Palmentuin. As we strolled through the neighbourhood, we were almost run over by an SUV full of determined-looking men, making a U-turn in the street to pull up next to a scantily clad young woman.

doorson tipple box 2

The Tipple Box on Van Sommelsdijckstraat, outside a nondescript commercial building; photo by Nicholas Laughlin

We found the Tipple Box on Van Sommelsdijckstraat, a block from the Torarica Hotel. On a corner outside an anonymous commercial building, it unexpectedly blended in with the illuminated signs for bars and nightclubs further down the strip. Doorson was DJing in a small bar just across the street. We stopped for a drink, and sat at a table outdoors, where we could keep an eye on the box and note the reactions of pedestrians.

Most kept their distance, perhaps wondering what it was advertising. But one young woman — dressed for a night out and accompanied by an older companion who could have been her mother or aunt — was intrigued. She stopped, stared, then tried to imitate the pose of the silhouette on the box: handbag over the arm just so, hand raised to caress her hair, weight shifted to her right leg. She was happy to be photographed, and gave us the name of the nightclub she was heading to.

SUVs cruised past.

doorson tipple box 1

Another view of the Tipple Box on Van Sommelsdijckstraat; photo by Richard Rawlins