The Cry of the Mall
A sound installation in the largest shopping mall of the Netherlands
Hoog Catharijne, Utrecht
20th of June 2013-
22nd of September 2013
in the group exhibition
Today I assume that not people are crying in these streets, but the streets themselves. If they cannot stand it any longer, they cry out their emptiness. But I really do not know it excactly.
The voice of the mall has been described by Paco Underhill as a call, the „call of the mall“. The mall is not just one place among others in present day capitalist societies. It is, as many sociologists have stated, a prototype for spaces in the „control-society“ and thus a laboratory for producing a certain subjectivity.
In this perspective we understand the call of the mall as a calling that produces its subjectivity by interpellation. This call is quite articulated. Louis Althusser’s famous police-man calling „Hey, you there!“ and thus transforming the individual into a subject, has turned into a security guy, but before he really has to call you to order, the regular space of the mall has always already interpellated you with its signs, its labels and ads. They are telling in a clear language not only where to go, where to look at or what to buy, but also how to behave, how to identify and how to exist. The call of the mall is in this regard an ethical one, producing a certain conscience. It adds to the church and the court an agenda of its own.
During all the years of its existence, the call of the mall was very distinct and clear: it demanded people to buy. As a reward it offered the experience of shaping and maybe even changing the individuality of the buyers by draping them in new things. To put it bluntly, like the attendance of a religious service, the visit of the mall has so far been a rite de passage: The person who leaves it is different from that who entered it.
What happens to this role of the mall as factory of subjectivation, when the importance of shopping places decreases? The operators of Hoog Catharijne react to this challenge with a flight forward. They claim to reinvent the mall after the planned reconstruction as the site of a „non-shopping experience“. In other words: even if the relevance of shopping as a collective act might be waning, the new motto stresses, that the mall will also in future times remain an indispensable place for shaping the experience and behaviour of the individual by producing interesting social moments. Hope lives on, that the call of the mall will not perish – on the contrary: by shaping a new type of urban enviroment the operators of the mall claim to establish a new and apt model for the future society.
But the clear voice in which these planes are submitted is afflicted with doubt: If the mall really opens the doors for the “non-shopping experience“ – what else might be able to slip in? What about all the kinds of usages, which it painstakingly kept outside in the last 30 years of its existence? What about the multitude of voices, which were ousted from the place? Is it really foreseable what will happen, when the mall itself undergoes a kind of rite de passage? What kind of subjectivity will emerge?