No Exit: Performance Failure in the Global Mall

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Willis, Emma. “No Exit: Performance Failure in the Global Mall.” Global Performance Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 2020,

Emma Willis

University of Auckland

Young Viktoria Pochankona, twelve, […] phoned her aunt Evgenia during the blaze and said: “Everything is burning. The doors are blocked. I can’t go out, I can’t breathe.” Evgenia said: “I told her, ‘Vika, take off your clothes, cover your nose.’”  “She told me, ‘Auntie, tell all my family I love them. Tell mum that I loved her…’ Then the call ended.”

(Will Stuart and Aletha Adu reporting in The Sun)

Everything becomes and recurs eternally — escape is impossible!

(Nietzsche, Will to Power 545)

In 2018, sixty-four people died in a fire at the “Winter Cherry” shopping mall in Kemerovo, Siberia. Children were trapped while playing in the shopping centre’s play area; families suffocated in the cinemas. Media reported that sprinkler systems were inactive, exits were blocked or locked, and emergency responders lacked the skills to deal with the scale of the inferno. In 2017, thirty-eight people died in a fire that swept through the New City Commercial Centre mall in Davao in the Philippines. Thirty-seven of the thirty-eight lives claimed were employees of Survey Sampling International, an American research company that operated a call centre on the top floor. The company was later found to be negligent in multiple safety breaches: the call centre was not connected to the mall’s alarm system, and sprinklers and fire exits did not function. In 2012, nineteen people including thirteen children in the care of Gympanzee, a childcare facility, died in a fire in the Villagio mall in Doha. Fire exit doors were locked. Convictions against mall management were eventually overturned by a judge who suggested that, as reported by the mother of triplets who perished in the fire, Gymanpzee staff were themselves to blame for “failing to escape through a partially-blocked emergency exit” (Walters). Alongside these shopping centre fires, we might list a number of deadly blazes that have ripped through factories in Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, and the Philippines, where blocked exits are a recurrent contributing factor to high death tolls.

From one perspective, these blocked exits are the result of a series of material and procedural failures: poor design, inadequate health and safety practices, carelessness, greed, the lack of robust infrastructure for policing building codes and the like. Seen from another, the fires reveal a disregard for human welfare embedded in economic systems where the drive for profit outweighs the cost of protecting both workers and consumers. Both are relegated to the status of mere “things,” objects whose foremost function is to produce or consume goods. Moreover, the repeated failure in shopping malls to provide clear points of exit in case of emergency reflects the fact that the mall, a material expression of economic modernity, is conceptually and materially designed for entry and not for egress; that is, global economic neoliberalism is not a system from which we are meant to exit.

In this article, I draw on Mark Fisher’s concept of “capitalist realism” to describe this economic, political and conceptual paradigm. For Fisher, capitalist realism is, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it” (8). This idea was pointedly captured in the acronym TINA — “there is no alternative” — a mantra with its origins in Margaret Thatcher’s radical reshaping of the British economy and dismantlement of “society.” This ideology is all-pervasive, and yet seeks to shirk identification as ideological in order to shore up the idea that it is simply the natural consequence of well-managed economic development. Fisher’s concept of “realism” echoes critiques of realism more familiar to theatre scholars where, for example, Elin Diamond has remarked that, “Realism is more than an interpretation of reality passing as reality; it produces ‘reality’ by positioning its spectator to recognize and verify its truths” (61). Capitalist realism operates in the same manner, effectively producing reality under the guise of either reflecting or responding to it. That is, as Diamond suggests, the conceit of realism, — a supposed mirror of reality — “erases agency and ideology” (77).

In order to tease out how Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism might be employed to understand the phenomena of mall fires from a performance studies perspective, the methodology of this article relies on contrasting two distinct performance paradigms. Firstly, there is what Lyotard describes as “performance […] as a regime of normative force” (Erikson 16). I examine the normative performativity of the architectural typology of the mall and argue that its conflagratory mis-performance at Kemerovo and at other settings is in fact an expression or extension of its normativity. My analysis of the mall therefore combines a sociological and economic reading of the history and function of the mall, with a performance studies appraisal of the building as an agent of violence whose role it is to control the nature and direction of shoppers’ movements. To construct this reading I draw from Dorita Hannah’s theory of “performative spatial agency in which building is ‘actant’” (235), an argument she makes in her analysis of the Moscow Theatre siege of 2002, and André Lepecki’s concept of choreopolicing. Writing of the violence that unfolded at the Dubrovka Theater, Hannah suggests that “the violent event disclosed the architecture’s inherent violence” (235), further suggesting that “spatial violence [is] a mute incorporation of power into the built environment” (238). Lepecki defines choreopoliced movement as “any movement incapable of breaking the endless reproduction of an imposed circulation of consensual subjectivity, where to be is to fit a pre-choreographed pattern of circulation, corporeality, and belonging” (20). Interweaving these theorists’ perspectives provides a critical point of view that adds nuance to a more conventional historical and economic reading of the mall by considering how architecture is implicated in the “imposed circulation” that Lepecki describes, subsequently leading to the “performance failures” indicated above. This reading extends and supplements the real-world particulars of the given fires — failure to execute agreed safety plans, inadequate maintenance schedules and so on. The fires are not taken as metaphors, however, but as consequentiality linked to a broader set of economic and cultural values.

Secondly, I examine a series of artistic performances made in response to the mall whose liminality, drawing from Jon McKenzie, means that they are “capable of temporarily staging and subverting [the] normative functions” of the mall (8). Fisher writes that it is only by revealing the inconsistencies of the capitalist real that the articulation of alternatives to it are possible: “Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort” (18). That is, what Diamond calls the “mystification” of realism needs to be exposed as ideology merely masquerading as the natural order of things (77). Drawing from Lepecki, I frame the subversions of theses artists’ works as choreopolitical, in the sense that they challenge the disciplinarity of the mall’s architectural typology by “staging and subverting” the mall’s premise. That is, the mall is a space within which bodies and architecture perform in concert and designed with the specific intent of directing the circulation of bodies and of choreographing, as it were, the performance of consumerism that underpins the mall’s raison d’etre. The performance works discussed in this article each offer forms of counter-performance that reveal something of the normativity of the mall, and, when most effective, challenge this normativity through hinting at the grossly “abnormal” disguised beneath; the disturbing reality of the capitalist “norms” that lead to events such as those at the Winter Cherry or Bellagio malls.

The survey of performances I offer is partial both in scope and in its emphasis on English-speaking exemplars, and it is important to acknowledge the geopolitical context of this article’s enquiry: the mall as discussed is a “first-world” U.S. invention, subsequently exported globally. It is not insignificant that the fires referred to take place in “second” or “third world” environments. The critique offered by the artists I discuss treat the mall as both source and exemplar of a globalizing politics that privileges “first-world” consumers at the expense of those whose labour shores up that privilege.That is, by connecting those outside of dominant economic and cultural paradigms to global brands, malls operate as “brandscapes”  where a globalist notion of consumer-based citizenship is developed, and this is a space that shoppers overwhelming want to enter, rather than exit. Significantly, the artists I discuss treat globalist capitalism as a fundamentally embodied paradigm or system, as something carried in and performed by bodies, and, as Winter Cherry makes clear, a system with existential and tragic consequences. Their works provides glimpses into the constructedness of capitalism’s claim to the real and a discussion of them provides a helpful means of reflecting on what happens when this claim is violently abrupted, as it was at the Winter Cherry mall.

Drift, transfer, return: the mall as paracosmic zombie-land

This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence.(Nietzsche, The Gay Science 273-4)

I’d never been to Southdale before, but I knew where to go. That’s the promise of a mall’s floor plan: the geography of repetition […] The mall experience is predictable […] like looking at a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. (Newton 8-9)

The invention of the contemporary shopping mall, emblem of post-War prosperity and the triumph of American cultural imperialism, is attributed to Austrian architect, Victor Gruen. Gruen settled in the U.S. after fleeing the Nazis shortly before the World War II and quickly established himself as a pioneer in the field of shop design. Gruen’s first mall in Edina, Minnesota, called Southdale Centre, was celebrated as the beginning of a revolution in shopping that would see the activity transformed from domestic necessity to national pastime. The effect was profound. Jim Farrell, for example, in his book, One Nation Under Goods: Malls and the Seductions of American Shopping, writes that,“Shopping might be more American than apple pie” (xiii), or, as David Byrne’s character remarks in his 1986 feature film, True Stories, “The shopping mall has replaced the town square in the centre of many American cities. Shopping itself has become the activity that brings people together.” Indeed, part of what motivated Gruen’s thinking about shopping centre design was a vision of malls as both “market places and centres of community and cultural activity” (Hardwick). Gruen made no attempt to conceal his distaste for American suburbia, and imagined the mall as bringing the vibrancy of the city to the suburbs. M. Jeffrey Hardwick writes that Gruen promised that shopping malls “could unite Americans and create new communities” (5). Thus, Gruen’s ideal mall both gathered together a community in a space that promoted leisure and social exchange, and created an environment that would enhance the experience of shopping, and thus increase the money spent by consumers.

From the outset, Gruen’s innovations in designing displays, foyers, windows, and eventually full-scale shopping malls have been acknowledged as performative in character, with many writers using theatrical analogies to describe the mall’s typological features. Alex Wall, for example, calls Gruen’s windows a “peepshow[s] for eager consumers” (30), and elsewhere labels his entry designs “stages,” remarking:  “Gruen […] combined Radio City Music Hall with a department-store atrium; from the entrance one could see into three levels of the store — another dissolution […] of shopping space, theatre, and street that was so vital to Gruen’s urban vision” (37). Farrells’ study of malls also points out that “the goal is, in part, theatrical” (54). Barr and Broudy similarly suggest that “Designing a retail store is like creating a stage set.  Shopping is an experience in which people act out their innermost hopes, dreams, aspirations, and desires” (qtd. in Farrell 54). Stephen Harper also writes: “a mall is like a theatre or a stage: a space demanding action and transformation” (Harper). The common recourse to theatrical analogies is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it demonstrates how the mall is conceptualized as an other-worldly or extra-worldly space, and below I will examine how the notions of paracosm and heterotopia have been used to characterize this world-making quality. Secondly, the theatrical premise — the idea of the mall as a stage — suggests that the action that takes place there is scripted and directed, and, as I have suggested, Lepecki’s concept of choreopolicing is an effects analytical tool for examining this action. When we take these two features together it is apparent that the architectural typology of the mall therefore encourages very particular patterns (or policing) of behaviour through the construction of an environment that both echoes the external world, and pointedly reconfigures it in order to augment “real world” behaviours. Therefore below I wish to consider these two conjoined features of the mall.

Mall as paracosm

Remarking on the world-making aspect of shopping malls, Matthew Newton, in his autoethnographic history of the American mall, describes it as “paracosmic,” a term that usually denotes children’s invented worlds (Newton, “Utopia Interrupted”). He writes: “As a child, I viewed the mall as a sacred place of curiosity and wonder, its tropical gardens, waterfalls, and ponds the perfect backdrop for the make-believe worlds that I conjured” (11). By applying the term paracosm to explain the appeal of the mall, Newton points to the manner in which shopping centres seem to suspend the ordinary world, thereby priming consumers for its choreo-policed imperatives. As Farrell writes:

The building is basically a fortress designed to protect us from the trials and tribulations of the world we’re coming from. Indeed, this “architecture of introversion” offers no reason to linger outside and many reasons to go in […] “I don’t want the public to see the real world they live in while they’re in the park,” said […] Walt Disney, speaking of Disneyland. “I want them to feel they are in another world.” The same is true of shopping centres. (24)

This notion of the suspended world is also echoed in Douglas Muzzio and Jennifer Muzzio-Rentas’s description of the mall as “heterotopic” in character: “an architectural fiction but a real place, [t]he mall is, since its beginnings and by design, also a utopia, a ‘placeless place,’ a ‘fundamentally unreal space,’ literally nowhere, outside time and place while within them” (148). Certainly, part of the appeal of the mall is its erasure of the perceived negative aspects of outdoor shopping experiences, from weather, to distance between destinations, to “anti-social” characters loitering on the streets — that is, the real affects and inconveniences of civic gathering. In response to these factors, the mall as a paracosm or heterotopia shapes itself as an ideal space, a kind of consumer utopia which Newtown characterizes as intrinsically joyful: “Not only in the joy of deliberating over objects we desire, but in the joy of participating in the fantasy of the mall — suspending all disbelief and disappearing into a world within a world” (16).

The nature of the mall as paracosm or heterotopia is more complex than this simple inside/outside binary suggests, however. For, if capitalist realism delimits the imaginative horizon and forecloses the possibility of outsides, then the mall does not in fact provide an ideal that somehow spurns the real, but rather, as Diamond suggests, produces the real in ways that simply efface all that which exceeds its parameters. Fisher writes, “capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable […] the fact that capitalism has colonized the dreaming life of the population is so taken for granted that it is no longer worthy of comment” (12). Thus, it is not so much that the mall is a paracosm, but that the mall reveals the paracosmic nature of capitalist realism itself. One explicit illustration of this inversion of the mall as utopic paracosm is its use as a site of horror in cinematic representation. The appearance of the mall within the horror genre is significant to this article for it signals or suggests the fundamental abjection of capitalism realism, revealing, despite its clearly fictional premise, another “reality” underlying the paracosmic projection. Two examples are worth briefly pointing to: George Romero’s 1978 zombie film, Dawn of the Dead and the recent third season of Netflix series, Stranger Things.

In Dawn of the Dead, the film’s key characters hide themselves away inside a local mall to escape the zombie apocalypse taking place outside. Inevitably, the zombies invade, and the mall provides the setting for the film’s action. There are two critical points about the film worth noting. Firstly, as  Muzzio and Muzzio-Rentas point out, even in death, zombies are drawn to the mall. When one character asks why this is, another explains: “A kind of instinct. Memory. What they used to do” (137). The lure of the mall is such that even in death, it continues to attract consumers, even if the object of these consumers is now human beings themselves. Secondly, and relatedly, the film suggests that the mall makes zombies of its consumers. As one character remarks: “You’re hypnotized by this place all of you. It’s so bright and neatly wrapped you don’t see it’s a prison, too” (Romero). What is truly horrific, therefore, is the way in which the mall serves as a site of dehumanization, and the suggestion that such dehumanization is key to the capitalist “real.” Accordingly, Harper writes that the political power of the film lies in Romero’s recognition of “the dramatic potential of the mall, which may be regarded as both the epitome of corporate capitalism and — for the same reason — a potential site of resistance to the forces that regulate consumerism” (Harper). It is the form that such resistance might take that I turn to in the next section of this article.

Like Dawn of the Dead, nostalgic horror series set in the 1980s, Stranger Things, makes the mall a key site of dramatic action and, as television critics have pointed out, certainly owes a debt to Romero’s earlier film. The mall first figures in the third series as a site for the character El’s coming into being as a teenager. El is the central character of the series, a young girl — now thirteen — whose entire childhood was spent as the subject of a cruel scientific experiment, isolated from the rest of the world. She must now therefore learn the ways of the world, and the local mall provides the site for this learning. The mall returns later in the season, however, as the site at which the programme’s true object or horror, the creature known as the “mind-flayer,” makes its earthly appearance. Significantly, the “mind-flayer” is named as much because it is an oozing corporation of all its victims; individual identity is completely subsumed within the devouring beast. That it appears at the shopping mall up-ends earlier depictions of the mall as a place of joyful coming into adolescence. It also terrifying depicts the mass of bodies that usually swarm around the mall (as seemingly agential individuals), reduced to parasitically absorbed flesh-food. Like Dawn of the Dead, Stranger Things bursts the paracosmic bubble, staging the mall as a site of extreme violence and existential horror.

It is important to acknowledge that both Dawn of the Dead and Stranger Things point to a time at which the paracosmic mall was culturally ascendant. Indeed, the very reason that it works as an object of nostalgia in Stranger Things is because it has begun to be supplanted in modern American life by online services offered by providers such as Amazon. Newton, for example, remarks: “The mall is no longer a cultural phenomenon at its zenith […] Today it’s more of a cultural artefact either inching toward total obsolescence or poised for dramatic reinvention — whichever comes first” (Newton, Utopia Interrupted). Such dramatic reinvention has not necessarily spurned the underlying ideological principles of the mall, however, but simply adapted and extended them. Mall design has moved from the kinds of enclosed fortresses that keep the real world at bay to a model of porousness, where corridors of shops leads to plazas of restaurants that stretch into the open air, and where apartment buildings spring up next to mall entrance ways that in turn are flanked by rapid transit connections. Edwin Heathcote astutely observes, “Today’s situation is less that of malls competing with cities but of cities becoming malls. Pedestrianisation, faux heritage, the big-brand behemoths and their over-familiar fascias, constant surveillance and CCTV, the blurring of boundaries between public and private space — these are leitmotifs of the mall, not the city centre” (Heathcote). Thus, the logic of the mall is not confined to the shopping centre but spreads from it. As Fisher writes, “the limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and redefined) pragmatically and improvisationally” (11). Thus, it is not so much that the paracosmic nature of the mall has been punctured, but rather it has adapted itself to the highly mobile globalized economic paradigm in which it is located.

The Gruen transfer: choreopolicing consumers

If, as suggested above, the mall is conceptualized as a theatrical stage of sorts, then this analogy extends to the behaviour or “performance” of shoppers, and in what follows I wish to bring together Lepecki’s concept of choreopolicing — drawn from the sense in which police “function first of all as a movement controller” (16) — and the concept of the “Gruen transfer.” As intimated by the epigraphs to this section, the choreographic signature of the mall is a repetitive “drift,” endless circulation and recirculation. The name given to this derives from Gruen himself — the “Gruen transfer” or “Gruen effect”: “the theory holds that shoppers will be so bedazzled by a store’s surroundings that they will be drawn — unconsciously, continually — to shop” (Hardwick 2). Wall suggests that the effect causes shoppers to lose a sense of purpose and to “drift” from store to store (23), while Heathcote calls it “a deliberate plan to disorient people” (Heathcote). Newton writes: “For as long as I can remember, shopping malls have had a strangely calming effect on me.  Each visit feels almost like slipping off into a dream — my body taking over as if on autopilot, trusting well-worn neural pathways as a guide” (2). The drift that each of these writers evokes is a particular kind of gentle and seemingly effortless movement that circulates shoppers around the mall, guided by the architectural typology of the mall itself. That is, once inside a mall we are encouraged into a state of continuous circulation, from one site of purchase to the next. Indeed, Richard Keller writes, “visitors learn the meaning of a consumer society at the mall, not only in the choices they make in their purchases, but also in the symbol system they walk through” (Keller qtd. in Farrell 16; emphasis added). The objective of a Gruen-induced drift is for shoppers to circulate endlessly, drawn back to the same circuit time and time again; that is, it aims for a kind of “eternal return.”  Seen through Lepecki’s lens, the “policing” of the neoliberal consumerist ideology that underpins the mall comprises the endless circulation and recirculation of bodies, which “hold[s] in place the social order [the order of the mall], actually defining the social order as nothing other than a policed thing (19).” Hardwick, illustrates the point, evoking imagery of shoppers under the influence of the Gruen effect as captive prisoners-of-war: “The entire shopping mall experience [is as if] the guards won’t let you stop, even for a moment, the process of having fun” (2).

Insofar as the goal of enticing shoppers to linger and then quickly return is explicit in mall design, the building as “actant” executes the role of policing this movement; it is, to draw from Lepecki’s explanation of choreography, a structure or system of command (16). Escalators, for example, play a central role in maintaining the slow steady circulation of bodies. An early advertisement from an escalator manufacturer pitched to shopping centre designers declared: “the Escalator beckons to the customer and assures him that he can travel upwards quickly and without effort” (qtd. in Farrell 29). Malcolm Gladwell quotes early mall designer A. Alfred Taubman, who remarks that: “They go down much easier than they go up. And we put our vertical transportation — the escalators– on the ends, so shoppers have to make the full loop” (Gladwell). The escalator is the literal realization of “upward mobility” that the mall offers.

The circularity and emphasis on the endless circulation of bodies around the mall illustrates the fact that the object is to “capture” consumers for as long as possible. Gruen and his colleague Larry Smith remarked that malls “will become places where suburbanites will visit for a short shopping trip, and also centers where they will want to congregate for many hours — both days and evenings” (Gruen and Smith qtd. in Wall 80). Norman M. Klein has explained how a shopping mall’s labyrinthine design, much like that of a casino, can also elicit feelings of “happy imprisonment,” in which consumers have “infinite choice, but seemingly no way out” (qtd. in Newton 58). Caitlyn Kelly writes that: “We think we’re just going shopping. But those who design stores, and especially those planning and conceptualizing the malls that contain them, know better” (Kelley). She quotes a mall architect who remarks that: “You’re trying to build a better mousetrap […] We don’t want you to be able to find your way out! Our job is to create a whole different world” (Kelly qtd. in Tuttle; emphasis added). Brad Tuttle extends this metaphor, remarking: “The goal of retailers and mall designers is to get consumers inside and keep them there indefinitely — to increase the chances that shoppers will buy more and more ‘cheese,’ so to speak” (Tuttle).

In considering the mall as a site of choreopoliced behaviour, and as a precursor for the following section (which takes up examples of “choreopolitical” movement  in the mall), it is worth briefly turning to the role of mall-sanctioned art and performance as “cheese” in the trap. In these instances,  the hegemonic deployment of performance upholds economic imperatives and serves as an extension of the day-to-day chore-policing of consumer behaviour. Elephant Parade provides one instructive example. Elephant Parade was established in 2006 with the intention of raising awareness of and contributing funds to conservation efforts directed towards elephant populations. The primary vehicle of the global organization is the design and exihibition of painted elephants, displayed in what are called “parades” in popular civic gathering spaces around the world including shopping mall environments. The model has been imitated by other organizations who provide “blank” scultural figures, which participants are then invited to decorate offsite for display in the given exihibition site. Such artistic activity is perfectly suited to the mall environment. Firstly, the figures are static and able to be placed in a controlled manner within the mall environment. They are not designed to detract from the shopping experience but rather to heighten it and to extend the amount of time that shoppers spend at the mall. Moreover, they tend to enhance the paracosmic nature of the mall. Photographs of the installation of the parade at the Parkshopping mall in Brasil, for example, show the elephants circuled around a central open space, flanked by flora and flowing water:ília/.  Secondly, despite varying decoration, there is an aesthetic uniformity to the sculptural forms themselves. Diversity of expression is carefully controlled and ultimately constrained by the forms themselves, which do not invite signficant intervention or augmentation. Thirdly, the display of sculptures absents the artists themselves. The labour of creation is obscured in favour of a curated decorative output. The dialogic significance of what has informed the choices of the artists and their own engagement with conservation issues, for example, is occluded in the final parade. Lastly, the placement of Elephant Parades and other similar activities is ultimately a mutually beneficial commercial agreement. It is worth noting in the case of Elephant Parades that it is only twenty percent of net profits that are returned to conservation causes. Other beneficiaries include the often high-profile celebrity artists and designers who contribute to the parades. I point to Elephant Parades not to single out or even to particularly criticize the organization, which clearly does some good, but to highlight how aesthetic activity itself is aborbed into the scope of choreopoliced behaviour. Other examples include fashion shows, talent contests, special Christmas and Easter performances, and so on, and I suggest that the features of Elepant parades described above also apply in these contexts. Malls are extremely regulated environments, from their choreopoliced pathways, to the lighting, the air temperature,  to the soundscape to the visual land/brandscapes. Our sensory engagement with the mall is therefore the subject to detailed design strategies aimed at conditioning behaviour. One of the over-arching concerns of this paper is the fact that this conditioning is premised upon a paracosmic unreality, which in turn is incapable of supporting an effective choreographic “re-direction” when another more disturbing reality — such as the fire at Kemerovo — violently appears.

The Zombie real

As I have suggested in this section, there is a fundamental intertwining of the paracosmic premise of the mall and its ability to police the behaviour of the inhabitants of its “unreal reality.” That is, the paracosmic nature of capitalist reality relies on a certain corporeal desensitization by which bodies are primed as affective actants of its “scripts.” To close, and to illustrate the zombie reality of the mall, I wish to finally point to an incident at a shopping centre in Sydney. In 2018, a thirteen-year old boy at the Macquarie Centre  mall was attacked and viciously bitten on the face in a shopping centre food court by two young men after he refused to hand over his Nike shoes (which were in fact cheap knock-offs that he had bought in Thailand two weeks earlier). While over a hundred people witnessed the incident, an Australian news outlet reported, “He said during the fight nobody, including the Macquarie Centre’s security guards, came to his aid” ( At one level, the incident speaks to the a-sociality fostered by the material and ideological design of shopping malls. Malcolm Gladwell points out, for example, whereas as shopping centres pre-dating the mall had been “what architects like to call ‘extroverted,’ meaning that store windows and entrances faced both the parking area and the interior pedestrian walkways, Southdale was introverted: the exterior walls were blank, and all the activity was focussed on the inside” (Gladwell). In the case of the incident described above, a connection may be drawn between this introversion and the seeming lack of concern on the part of shoppers for a young boy being viciously assaulted in front of them. More significantly, however, the real-world biting indicates the very zombification of the mall’s consumers through its concomitant typology and choreopoliced imperatives. As Romero himself remarks of the mall: “My impression of walking through there, going through this sort of ritualistic, unnatural, consuming experience, was that we really do become zombies in here.  And the way the music was lulling… everything about it was just so hypnotic.  It seemed like nothing was real in there” (Romero qtd. in Newton 58). Or, as Fisher writes:

What needs to be kept in mind is both that capitalism is a hyper-abstract impersonal structure and that it would be nothing without our cooperation. The most Gothic description of Capital is also the most accurate. Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us. (17)

The mall both stages the globalist neoliberal version of the real and at the same time uses that staging to try and efface any sense of theatricality — that is, any sense of the capitalist real as staged. The real biting of flesh that took place at the Macquarie Centre Mall illustrates — in painful contrast to the paracosmic wonderland that Newton evokes — the profound abjection at the core of the capitalist real. That is, this is not simply an abject aberration that needs to be expelled from the paracosmic but a demonstration of its constituent functionality.

Choreopolitical disruptions

Survival decoys. Hidey-holes where you can escape the gallows humour of the mall. A place which, for the most part, can’t be bothered with niceties anymore. It knows you’ll never leave anyway — you don’t know how to make it on your own.

(Ashcroft, “Unicorns of Westfield”)

People here are inventing their own systems of beliefs. They’re creating it. Doing it. Selling it. Making it up as they go along.


A camera is trained on an open thoroughfare in a busy shopping mall. – action=share Looking down from above, grainy footage shows swarms of consumers neatly passing each other in opposing lanes of foot traffic. Into this carefully balanced circulation of bodies enters four young people who cut through the space diagonally. Once they reach the centre of the thoroughfare, they unroll two yoga mats and sit cross-legged in a square formation with two bodies on each mat turned inwards to face each other. They place their upturned hands on their crossed knees and begin to meditate. As they do, the video switches to time-lapse mode, foregrounding the contrasting stillness of the meditators and hurried and unceasing movement of the shoppers. In bisecting the pedestrian pathways, the meditators carve out a space of emptiness around them. After a time, the two uniformed men in high-vis gear enter. The video returns to real time, and we watch as there is a brief negotiation between the parties. We do not hear the exchange but watch as the uniformed men gesture with their arms to indicate how the meditators are blocking the pedestrian thoroughfare. In a brief coda, the video returns to time-lapse, this time repeating the entrance of the four young people but in reverse, so that their entry becomes their exit.

The video I have just described, named “Stress time” (Stressgången), is from Swedish artist Kristoffer Svenberg’s project Mallrats, which ran from 2012-2017 ( Svenberg worked throughout the period with different community groups to redefine the civic possibilities of the public/private space of the mall through artistic interventions, which he described as a “defiant practice” in the face of the normative “consuming [that] defines our scope of action” (“Artist’s Statement”). Svenberg’s video provides a wonderfully succinct illustration of Lepecki’s distinction between choreopoliced and choreopolitical movement. For Lepecki, the choreopolitical is a “technology for inventing movements of freedom” (22). He elaborates:

Choreography as a planned, dissensual, and nonpoliced disposition of motions and bodies becomes the condition of possibility for the political to emerge […] I propose the notion of the choreopolitical as the formation of collective plans emerging at the edges between open creativity, daring initiative, and a persistent — even stubborn — iteration of the desire to live away from policed conformity. (22-3)

While simple in its conceptual and execution, “Stress time” effectively illustrates the power of the choreopolitical to challenge capitalism realism through dissensual somatic practices. Through their action, Svenberg’s participants challenge the choreopoliced imperatives of the mall, and for a short period of time, disrupt the directive of its architectural typology. In this final section I wish to describe a series of performances works that similarly speak to Lepecki’s concept, focusing on how they gesture towards the outside or alternative to the capitalist realism that Fisher posits through choreopolitical movement that asserts itself against choreopolicing.

The choreo-scripts of objects

Before focussing more specifically on bodies, however, I wish to expand upon my discussion of the features of mall design by considering how the consumer objects of the mall environment operate in concert with its architectural design and choreopoliced circulation of bodies. In his discussion of Mallrats, Svenberg emphasizes the visuality of the mall: “[S]hopping mall spaces are also exceedingly image oriented […] As consumers, we are envisioned as viewers who look at things” (emphasis added). That is, the practice of drifting described earlier is augmented or completed by a concurrent practice of “reading.” British artist Louise Ashcroft in her own mall-based artistic project, I’d Rather be Shopping, develops this observation through showing that while the mall may seek to efface its ideological underpinning, evidence of this ideology is literally writ large throughout. In her video work “Stream” (a title which connotes drift), Ashcroft critiques the mall through reading the “texts” provided by its products, particularly clothing. The work begins with a montage of clothing items that variously declare: “stay in bed,” “so sleepy… let’s dream all day,” “busy doing nothing,” “escape plan,” “I’ll be there in a prosecco,” “too lazy to be crazy,” “I have nothing to say,” “real,” “shhh, nobody cares,” “not listening,” “leave me alone,” “whatever, I’ll just date myself” (“Stream”). While each individual text suggests resistance to neoliberal imperatives, collectively they demonstrate compliant uniformity. Drawing on Žižek, Fisher argues this kind of sloganeering ambivalence does not in fact effect a critique of capitalist ideology but in rather is central to it: “So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange” (16). Capitalism therefore feeds off such critique, transforming it into products that serve to reinforce its all-pervasiveness and its ability to encompass its apparent disavowal — that is, the “drop out” attitude of non-participation — “stay in bed,” “too lazy to care.” Ironization thus allows for non-participation and refusal to be folded into participation and compliance; that is, the ironic stance shores up the choreopolicing of the mall’s consumers.

Figure 1: A t-shirt slogan and below its recreation during a sign making workshops led by Louise Ashcroft. Image courtesy of Louise Ashcroft.

In another work featured in I’d Rather Be Shopping, “Unicorns of Westfield,” Ashcroft takes the popular figure of the unicorn as a symbol of the paracosmic fantasy of the mall:

H & M heraldry. When all the other animals are extinct we can rely on the unicorn, can’t we. It can’t die because it was never really born. Survival of the fictitious. Faux furs, fur faux. Misfits seek allegiance paradoxically, and the unicorn is a fitting mascot. Unique like everywhere else. Ubicorn. Ubicorn.  Ubiquity. Relinquishing responsibility with staged naivety. It’s ironic, isn’t it? But it’s not though. Caticorns, for those who need a familiar. Survival decoys. Hidey-holes where you can escape the gallows humour of the mall. A place which, for the most part, can’t be bothered with niceties anymore. It knows you’ll never leave anyway — you don’t know how to make it on your own. (Ashcroft “Unicorns of Westfield”)

Figure 2: an example of fashion slogans which is featured in the “Unicorns of Westfield” video.  Image courtesy of Louise Ashcroft.

In many ways the unicorns signify the sense in which, as Fisher suggests, as cited earlier, “capitalism seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable […] the fact that capitalism has colonized the dreaming life of the population is so taken for granted that it is no longer worthy of comment” (12). The unicorn is the laughable horizon of the imagination. Ashcroft’s work cannily identifies the values not just of the mall but of global consumer culture: apathy, resignation, exhausted and exhaustive irony, self-centredness. The gallows humour — the half-hearted commitment to laughter in the face of hopelessness — stems from the impossibility of living outside of the mall environment. In this sense, her work effectively captures what Fisher describes as the attitude of capitalist realism: “The attitude of ironic distance proper to postmodern capitalism is supposed to immunize us against the seductions of fanaticism. Lowering our expectations, we are told, is a small price to pay for being protected from terror and totalitarianism” (10). A sense of both irony and lowest possible expectations proliferate in the slogans that Ashcroft highlights.  Moreover, by highlighting the cartoon imagery of cats and unicorns, Ashcroft draws us back to the notion of the mall as paracosm, a childlike space of the infantilization of desire.

Part of what is most striking about Ashcroft’s work is the way in which it combines a critique of the mall with acknowledgement of its complex ambivalences. In their discussion of the mall as a heterotopic space, Muzzio and Muzzio-Rentas point to the counter-narrative to the mall as zombie-making consumer machine, which posits it instead as granting its consumers a degree of autonomy. Seen from this point of view, “The mall not only helps shoppers realize what they are but what they might be able to become. The acquisition of goods plays a central role in the process of constructing self-identity” (141). In True Stories, Byrne remarks of the mall: “People here are inventing their own systems of beliefs. They’re creating it. Doing it. Selling it. Making it up as they go along” (Byrne). Indeed, the film includes a spectacular sequence, titled “Shopping is a feeling,” where shoppers participate in a fashion parade which features an increasingly bizarre and wonderous array of outfits. That is, the film suggests the possibility of resistance within the mall paradigm and credits shoppers for their imaginative capacity. Žižek’s observation here is important to reiterate, however, in that despite the sardonic or knowing attitude of shoppers to their positionality within the consumer-complex that Ashcroft points to, they nonetheless remain “trapped” there: “So long as we believe (in our hearts) that capitalism is bad, we are free to continue to participate in capitalist exchange” (16). That is, Ashcroft points out that the mall actively accommodates cultivation of the belief that capitalism is bad in order to create the illusion of agency: that is, it seeks to bring that which is “outside” within its own regime. Therefore, while the participants in Bryne’s bizarre fashion show invert the notion of conformity that we associate with the mall, it nonetheless operates within the constraints of the mall’s typology, with choreography of the parade (including the positioning of the audience) following — even if ironically — choreopoliced somatic directives. I therefore now turn to performance works that more directly engage in “planned, dissensual, and nonpoliced disposition of motions and bodies” (22-23) through practices of artistic disruption that challenge capitalist realism.

Somatic resistance: the choreopolitical body in action

In the first instance, the very location of performance art in a mall draws attention to the degree to which the so-called “driftedness” of the mall is in fact carefully designed and policed (something effective demonstrated in “Stress time”) through providing instances of counter-movement. Sometimes this may be very subtle. In The Analysis of Performance Art, Anthony Howell describes a series of performances by British Artist Claire Hayes that took place in shopping malls: “[The performances] occur on the escalators of shopping malls. She travels up and down these for hours, usually devising a repetitive route around the mall that takes in several escalator flights. Prior to the performance she will have been manicured, made up and given a haircut perhaps by shops renting space in that mall” (64). The image of Hayes endlessly circulating around the mall speaks to the sense of “driftedness” described earlier. In her insistent repetition, however, Hayes draws attention to the “eternal return” or essential circularity of the shopper’s movement. This is heightened by the duration of the performance, which transforms the figure of the otherwise unremarkable shopper into a kind of spectral automaton who offers an unnerving glimpse of the choreographic and biopolitical control exerted by the mall.

One way of framing Hayes’ uncanny response to choreopoliced drifting is through the Situationist notion of “dérive.” In describing the theory of dérive, Guy Debord writes that “dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects” (Debord). In contrast with the “zombie-fication” of those caught in the Gruen drift, Hayes, Svenberg, and others are highly attuned to the mall environment, performing in response to and often counter to its behavioural suggestions, in this sense challenging the disciplinary paradigm of the mall. As Harper writes, “the disciplinary forces that construct malls are perpetually at risk from those who wish to cheat the system. And the bigger the malls, the more opportunities there are to subvert the agents of discipline” (Harper). Thus, there is a playful subversion of the mall taking place in these art works. Or, to draw from Jon McKenzie, these works are “liminal” in character, “Marginal, on the edge, in the interstices of institutions and at their limits, liminal performances are capable of temporarily staging and subverting their normative functions” (8).

Where Hayes’ work demonstrates the typical impassivity of the shopper through skewering the normalcy of consumer behaviour through repetition, Gillian Wearing’s 1994 video work, Dancing in Peckham, provides a striking contrast ( In  the work, Wearing stands in the middle of a shopping centre thoroughfare and, without music, dances like no one is watching. Jonathan Jones writes: “It’s a hilarious, ludicrous image of ecstasy, as someone appears to go off their head in a public place. But it also has that quality of another person being absolutely there, and at the same time absolutely other […]” (Jones). Striking is the relative disinterest of the shopping centre’s customers to this otherness, a feature in common with “Stress time.” Around her people continue to drift pass, seeming to pay little mind to the mis-performing body. She is acknowledged but little remarked. That is, her behaviour doesn’t fit and therefore becomes in a certain sense invisible, which is to say there is a kind of effacement that takes place, which is an effect of the choreographic norms of mall.

Similarly to Wearing, Rebecca Ann Hobbs’ video work, Mangere Mall (2011), reclaims the mall as a space for “other” movement ( Unlike Wearing’s performance, the dancing in Mangere Mall takes place in an empty shopping centre in South Auckland, New Zealand. Staged in the evening after the shops have closed, four dancers perform a voguing sequence that essentially queers the mall, occupying and contesting the space, reframing and repurposing it. Victoria Wynn Jones writes:

Beyond the visual aspects of the architecture, what interests Hobbs are the embodied relationships to place and the way communities use the space for their own ends. This community is partially represented in the voguers’ fluid groupings and dispersals, which contrasts to the vast architectural space. Similarly, their undulating movements also contrast to Hobbs’s balanced and symmetrical framing, which creates a wide, almost detached perspective, almost as if we were at the theatre. (156)

Wearing and Hobbs in particular contest the normative impassivity that characterizes the movement and kinaesthetic attunement of shoppers as they are circulated around the mall.  Each of these works gently push against the grain of the mall’s real. In Hayes’ case, this is through her extension and repetition of its usual functioning in a way that de-realizes the shopper’s drift through embodying the zombie-type figure that Romero evokes. Wearing and Hobbs provide images of exuberance that claim the mall as a non-commodified space of personal expression. The effect of is a disturbance of the choreopolitical control exerted by the mall, an enlivening that works against the zombie imperative.

If the figure of the zombie presents one way of framing the effect of malls on their shoppers, then Fisher’s image of capitalism realism as akin to “The Thing” is another. Reflecting on the shape-shifting nature of capitalism, he remarks, “This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact” (11). In 2000, UK Artist collective Inventory staged a work called Coagulum – a Momentary Clot in the Heart of Commerce, which engaged with this kind of bodily analogy. Performed twice, once on Oxford Street in London and then again in a suburban shopping mall in Kingston, the piece involved the massing of bodies in “a rugby scrum-like arrangement” (Pieroni). Jelena Vesić provides an effective description of the work:

The intention was a simple one — to obstruct the flow of the main thoroughfare of the shopping area and to disturb the daily routine of consumerist ritual. The tool of the obstruction was a clot made of human bodies — a circular formation modelled on the form of the rugby scrum. Assembly point for the “coagulants” who answered to the call was a small park nearby the shopping mall. They met each other there for the first time and carried out a quick rehearsal for the upcoming performance. During the course of the performance all the surroundings, the shops, the pedestrians, the buskers and browsers, all the unconscious movements of a Saturday afternoon shopping became absurd and laughable from the perspective of the participants of the action. As Inventory wrote later, they had an impression that they are viewing this hustle and bustle from behind a glass screen. (Vesić)

In this work, as with Wearing, the participants distinguished themselves from from the shoppers around them. The effect in this case was striking because of the strangeness of the activity of the coagulants. Paul Pieroni describes the version of the work performed on Oxford Street: “The pestiferous mass begins to turn, soon spinning wildly as security guards wrestle hopelessly with the flailing limbs at its peripheries and onlookers stare on, agog. All the while — most appropriately — ‘Closer to Me,’ a cloying smash by insipid late-nineties Brit boy band Five, blasts out of the store’s PA” (Pieroni). If the mall is premised on enticing consumers to overcome “threshold resistance” — the “physical and psychological barrier that stands between a shopper and the inside of a store” (Taubman qtd. in Galdwell) —  then Coagulum affectively reinstated this threshold through its obstruction. By coagulating the shoppping environment, the participants thwarted usual the drift and flow of bodies, the normative circulatory function of the mall. Though of another way, the bodies of coagulum present an image of abjection, in the sense meant by Dorita Hannah when she speaks of abjection as “transform[ing] the object from stable entity to unstable action” (236). She further argues that “abject space provides a subversive material site where things are done and undone” (236-7). Through its massing bodies, Coagulum revealed the abjection of the shopping environment itself.

Another’s of Svenberg’s interventions in Mallrats, “Amoeba,” presented as a written text, similarly takes the image of the collective body as abject and unnerving:

On the advertising image mounted in a large light box, a runner is seen in a lush rainforest. I angle it to look at different angles. A shoe to run in marked with a global brand logo. I think of the hidden flow of energy that is behind the production and transport of shoes. As soon as I look up and further afield in the store, I suddenly have a whole group of people around me. There are about 50 closely linked individuals. I’m surprised, surprised. The closely interconnected bodies move forward like an amoeba that is shaped by the store shelves and the store’s customers. It is a strange sight to consider their silent interconnection. I associate with life, cell division and bacteria. Asking questions before myself and thinking intuitively and existentially. Suddenly, the interconnected group breaks up. They spread out and become invisible by how they cannot be distinguished from other individuals in the store premises. (Svenberg, “Mallrats”)

Both Coagulum and “Amoeba” draw attention to the effect of the mall’s typology where “everyone moves and circulates in accord with a general conformity of being-in-circulation” (Lepecki 19). An effect of such conformity is the effacement of that which does not obey the choreographic commands: Wearing’s unremarked dancing, the impassive food court patrons in the Maquaire mall. Hence the recurring image in mall discourse of the zombie — the body that is no longer a body, the ruin of a human who is no longer human. This sense of the evacuation of the human is heightened by the very nature of the separation that both defines that mall and that it continually seeks to overcome, which is the separation of shoppers and the consumer goods with which retailers hope to unite them, a separation earlier cited, in marketing terms, as “threshold resistance.” Such separation is cyclic in nature. That is, it is a separation that needs to be repaired over and over again. The choreographic signature of the mall is therefore a repetitive phraseology that moves the consumer back and forth over this threshold. In this movement, the freedom of the individual is circumscribed. As Lepecki writes: “The purpose of choreopolicing, then, is to de-mobilize political action by means of implementing a certain kind of movement that prevents any formation and expression of the political” (20).

As noted already, our sensory engagement with the mall is highly regulated by its architectural typology and attendant somatic choreopolicing. When artists perform in or contest this regime there is an immediate cognitive dissonance — the failure of shoppers to engage with Wareham of Svenberg’s actons, for example. Such performances are difficult for spectators to read, or may be illegible altogether other than to those “in the know,” as I gather to be the case in Hayes’ work. Indeed, there are perhaps few social spaces so likely to suck the life out of an artistic performance work than a shopping mall because above and beyond issues of security and access, the design and function of the mall itself precludes artistic intervention. In many ways this is what makes Ashcroft’s work so clever: she takes the materiality of the mall itself and reimposes this back to spectators in ways that reveal the ideological imperitive that malls themselves work so hard to conceal. Nonetheless, the works discussed here each demonstrate how choreopolitical action may challenge the capitalist real through demonstrating other realities. To return finally to “Stress time” as one exemplar of  another “real,” this performance, rather than training the gaze and attention outwards, shifts it inwards, rather than incorporating individual bodies into a non-individuated mass, suggests the quiet preservation and maintenance of the self, in place of regulated movement there is stillness, in place of shopping there is being, rather than perennial recirculation, there is a withdrawal, perhaps, even, an exit.

Everything is Burning

One fifth-grade student, Maria Moroz, posted: “We’re burning. It’s probably goodbye.” Her entire class was among the dead, Russia’s state-run Rossiya 24 reported, citing the school’s principal.

(Nechepurenko reporting for the New York Times)

A father who lost his daughter in the fire recalled her final words […]  “I was crying to my daughter. She said, ‘Dad, I love you. I’m suffocating, I’m fainting,’ he said.”

(Gigova et al reporting for CNN)

The title of this article alludes to Jean-Paul Sartre’s modernist play, No Exit. The play features three characters trapped in a room together, where they slowly realize that they are in hell, and that “hell is other people” (45). At the climax of the play’s action, the door that has been hitherto locked is opened. When staged, this is a remarkable moment as all three characters are stopped in their tracks; the stage directions denote “a long silence” (41). Faced with what they have yearned for — an escape from the room and from each other — none are able to bring themselves to cross the threshold, and the door is subsequently shut and once again locked. Exit is inconceivable to the characters, who prefer the hell that they know to the passage that lies beyond: “the barrier’s down, why are we waiting?…” (42). The characters face an existential dilemma that is in fact the dilemma of all dramatic characters: where do characters go when the actor exits the stage? The existence, such as it is, of the characters in Sartre’s play is only guaranteed whilst they remain inside their torture chamber. Similarly, in the conceptual design of the mall, the global consumer citizen only exists — is only validated — when they are engaged in acts of commerce. It is thus possible to read the shopping mall as a kind of theatrical stage upon which its “actors” are meant to remain indefinitely.

As Kemerovo illustrates, this captivity can have tragic consequences and indeed its shoppers did not have the privilege of the “choice” put before Sartre’s characters. A performance reading of the mall — a reading of the mall in which the building as actant facilitates the policing of its inhabitants’ movements  — does not trivialize the loss of life that took place at Kemerovo, but, instead, I hope, provides a nuanced way of approaching the ideological and material structures that promote violence. Remarking on how it may be possible to un-mask the “no alternative” claim to the real that globalist neoliberalism makes, Fisher remarks, as cited earlier, that “Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort” (18). The events that took place at Kemerovo profoundly disrupted the normative choreographic imperative of the mall; drifting, circulation and return were replaced by a violent repertoire of running, crawling, clawing, hiding. The ambivalence and irony of consumer texts as illustrated by Louise Ashcroft — “escape plan,” “shhh, nobody cares,” “not listening,” “leave me alone,” — therefore stands in painful contrast to the real-world language used to describe the fire, as the snippets of reporting included in this article indicate. When we place these two registers of language side-by-side — the apathetic and the desperate — the violence that underpins the mall’s normative functioning is revealed; the Romero zombie mall is transformed into a place of horror proper. Indeed, the political potential of artworks such as Ashcroft’s lies precisely in their ability to render the distance between the two. When this distance becomes perceptible there is a shift in the order of the real and a moment of emergence of what Fisher calls the “unrepresentable X, a traumatic void that can only be glimpsed in the fractures and inconsistencies in the field of apparent reality” (19). Indeed, Hannah also writes of the Moscow theatre siege as “a Lacanian ‘irruption of the Real,’” which “exposed a volatile gap between architectural and theatrical realities” (235). In the case of Kemerovo, the incipient violence of mall as a structure — and actant — of global neoliberalism resulted in a conflagration that made painfully evident its evisceratory potential.

Throughout this essay have been references to make-believe: Newton’s paracosmic fantasy, Byrne’s shoppers who are “making it up,” Ashcroft’s t-shirts that exhort wearers to “dream all day.” I have suggested that malls participate in the belief-making in globalist neoliberal ideology and indeed serve as effective containers for exporting such ideology from global “centres” to the “margins.” I have also suggested that performance is an effective vehicle for both exposing and contesting such beliefs — for exposing the paracosmic nature of this economic and political system through choreopolitical action. Such performances reveal the believed-in dream as nightmare or horror show in the same way that Kemerovo tragically illustrates for us what is really real in this paradigm.


In my discussion of the mall as paracosm, I wrote that, despite the decline of the shopping mall as cultural centre in the U.S., it was not so much that the paracosmic bubble of the mall had been burst but rather that it had adapted itself to a highly mobile globalized economic paradigm. Will this adaptation hold in a post Covid-19 world? In New Zealand, malls will remain closed for at least two months, and the enormous scale of economic rebuilding required, coupled with fundamental changes to how we perceive public sociability makes it difficult to conceive of a business-as-usual return. Malls are crowded spaces where bodies brush past one another, where shoppers share dressing rooms as they try on clothes perhaps already worn by others, where potential consumers apply make-up samples, adorn themselves with floor-stock sunglasses; nail salons operate alongside massage kiosks, beauty parlours and food courts; open spaces are dotted with coin-fed rides for children and pop-up stall encouraging shoppers to touch, to try. Certainly, we have exited this version of the mall — for now. Yet, the history of the mall as emblem of a devouring globalizing capitalism certainly suggests an inevitable reconfiguration — or re-choreography — of its design in response to these demands. And, perhaps, an even more deeply rooted nostalgic desire for return to the kind of idyllicism that Newton evokes. In any case, the mall seems likely to be an illustrative object of the contest between already forming coalitions for, on the one hand, profound social, political and ecological change or, on the other, resuscitation and rehabilitation of the status quo; that is, for either a permanent exit, or a carefully stage-managed re-entry.

Works Cited

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——– “Unicorns of Westfield.” 2017. Accessed 8 June 2020.

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