2013 MFA Thesis Exhibition Series: JaNae Contag

Still, Retail Requiem

Still, Retail Requiem

My work both documents and transforms the vacant spaces of suburban and exurban America. The sites themselves are banal, yet familiar. My performances and the cinematic methods I use to film them lend a haunting sense of the uncanny. The films document architectural retail and residential space through the seemingly disembodied camera’s slow and smooth movement over an extended period of time. Cinematic cuts that are momentarily congruous but not necessarily accurate are disorienting, yet visually satisfying. The works straddle their associations as both sociological studies and horror films, an ambiguity that drives the visual and conceptual components of the work.

The indoor shopping mall is amongst the most ubiquitous regional retail attractions in suburban America. Its decline leaves behind both the collective memories of its history and the widespread physical presence of vacant retail architecture. As both a past enabler of the American Dream and a concentrated representation of capitalism, the mall is undergoing the impacts of an unstable economy and advancing technologies. The mall’s decline signifies a momentary failure in the illusion of American capitalism, alluding to a precarious economic future.

Still, Retail Requiem

Still, Retail Requiem

Retail Requiem evokes a visual memorial and auditory requiem to the decline of the indoor mall in America. One screen in the installation outlines the outside of several defunct ring and strip malls, reconstituting their façades as a continuously expanding structure. There is a sensation that the mall is situated on an incessantly spinning platform of parking lot, slowly unfolding its existence on the landscape. At times, the structure begins to look like an alien spaceship, or a large public monument. The sound in Retail Requiem is a layering of flute, bass flute, alto flute and piccolo, performed by the figure (the artist performer) that walks to the entry point of monumental mall facades on the adjacent screen. The flutist snaps the instrument in the air in a military fashion to perform a glimmer of notes, and then she walks away from the building until the camera cuts to the next site. The melancholic drone of the layered flutes continues in the background.

Still, Retail Requiem

Still, Retail Requiem

In Retail Requiem, the viewer is brought to contemplate a public memorial space in relation to a commodity retail space, an initially absurd yet ultimately serious comparison situation presented by the work. Black granite tiling could be found in either a shopping mall or a memorial, but acts as a reflective, meditative and immersive surface in the installation.

The installation is a physical space where malls are remembered, yet the looping videos demonstrate the ubiquity of their vacancy. The malls cannot sustain their function in this outdated form of shopping. There is now a myriad of retail forms and advancing technologies that are in fact changing the meaning of what it is to shop. When the mall becomes foreign when vacant, defunct when closed, or entirely demolished, the sympathetic sentiment is influenced by the memories of the spectacle that once was there.

By JaNae Contag (May 25, 2013)

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