Exhibition Review:

 

Call of the Mall

20th June-22nd September 2013,

Hoog Catharijne, Utrecht, the Netherlands

 

By Joris Jansen and Jeroen Visser

 

Ideas already exist in reality, like clouds. They can belong to those who see them [...]

Wilfredo Prieto1

 

The exhibition ‘‘Call of the Mall’’ uses the super-shopping-mall Hoog Catharijne instead of the (un)usual white cube as an exhibition space. It attracts over 30 million visitors every year – twice the population of the Netherlands (!). Moreover, Hoog Catharijne is not only the location but also the subject and inspiration for most of the works. In the introduction, the curators explain that they want the artists to explore both the hardware (the architectural construction) as well as the software2 (the social infrastructure). In the 1970s, Hoog Catharijne was built to be the new centre for commerce, which would confirm the status of Utrecht as the 4th biggest city in the Netherlands. For its first ten years Hoog Catharijne was very successful, but during the 1980s the tide turned. Anti-commercialization and a firm anti-establishment attitude caused its former successful formula to decline. Junkies, bums, and tramps took over the place and the once-so-chic shopping mall was now as unpopular as Croydon had become by 2011. In 2010 Utrecht started to rebuild this ‘‘territory of the damned’’ into what it was once meant to be. This is where The Call of the Mall comes in. It is an attempt to broaden the horizon of the existing state of Hoog Catharijne, which still contains many hidden gems, such as the Mirliton Theatre (which has been closed for almost 20 years, but is revitalized for this exhibition) and the top floor of the NH Hotel, with its spectacular views of the city and beyond. Moreover, it questions the current dynamics of the building, and it challenges the developers to dive into more flexible, reflective and conscious forms of use for this architectural landmark. Ultimately, the goal of the exhibition is to involve travellers, shoppers, and passersby with Hoog Catharijne itself, in order to let them experience a different Hoog Catharijne; perhaps even reaching transcendence.

 

We think the curators succeeded in reaching these goals. Most of the art displayed is made exclusively for the exhibition. In our opinion, when analyzed, the works of art form symbols for the different stages – from flexibility to transcendence – that could be required to explore and maybe even redefine the shopping mall. Through these themes, illustrated by examples of some of the artworks, we will guide you through the exhibition. Moreover, the works of art form the outline of a new shopping mall, reaffirming the work of Nathan Coley, based on the African saying: ‘‘If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth.’’3

 Dries Verhoeven

Figure 1. Dries Verhoeven

Be Flexible

Based on the 20th floor of the NH Hotel, Utrecht-based artist Dries Verhoeven (See Figure 1.) shows you views of the city of Utrecht through a telescope, accompanied by the music of G.F. Händel. It is a tribute to everything we lose, and to everything we will gain in return. He shows us that we can either mourn for the things we have lost, or smile for the things that were. In fact, he tells us that change is always and everywhere, and that we must be flexible and adaptive. What happens if you do not is told by the film of Erkka Nissinen, which shows an absurd Greek tragedy in a ‘‘Le Corbusier [and] Albert Speer-designed environment.’’4 A man, unable to adapt to the ever-changing context, ultimately finds death, as a symbol of the old system, unable to adapt to contemporary times.

Wilfredo Prieto

Figure 2. Wilfredo Prieto

Get Conscious

Everybody knows Tank Man, the Chinese man who stood up against his government in 1989 by standing still in front of the tanks on the Tiananmen Square. A statue of this hero is now standing in the middle of the passageway of Hoog Catharijne (See Figure 2.). He forces passersby to become conscious about their activities. Robbie Cornelissen has yet another way to distract people from their daily business. He chose to work on a drawing in the middle of Hoog Catharijne itself, in a preformed, transparent working space. Because he is working ‘‘on the spot,’’ the drawing (See Figure 3.) gives people a moment to pause and reflect, and even interact, instead of running on to their next appointment. Moreover, to stimulate social interaction, a large table and a few chairs are placed in front of the working space, so that people can take the time and enjoy a conversation about the artwork with others in the vicinity.

 Robbie Cornelissen

Figure 3. Robbie Cornelissen

Capitalism is Over

In the exhibition, several proposals for a new system are made. The first proposal is The Idea of Gift, by Antonio Vega Macotela, who has built a wishing well, where you can trade something you love for a coin that is especially designed for this exhibition. He replaces traditional consumerism, based on the reciprocity of money and matter, for a more spiritual payback, that can be very insecure. Next to the wishing well, one can find a permit-free-zone (See Figure 4.). Here you can do whatever kind of activity you want (as long as it is not too provoking, the government ironically hastens to add). Pilvi Takala is reinventing the old ideals that were popular in the first years of the mall, just before capitalism and Fordism took over the paradigm. The permit-free-zone stimulates people to not only create but also execute new ideas, without energy and time-consuming government interaction.

 Pilva Takkala

Figure 4. Pilvi Takala

Becoming Transcendent

The Living Sculptures of Christian Jankowsi refers to the street artists you see in every city across the globe; people imitating historical figures, like Julius Caeser. The historical figures were turned into bronze statues, later referred to as Culture. When the street artists imitate the statues, they turn Culture into culture. By casting the street artists into bronze (so not the original figure), Jankowski is reifying the statues from Culture to culture to Culture (again). Herewith he shows us that in the end it is the common (wo)man that gives true value to a common place, and that true heroes, even when copied, are always powerful.

 

(Most of) It Can Be Done Within the Existing Structure!

Esther van der Wiel shows us that most of the above mentioned can be done within existing structures. By reforming a roof terrace into a small urban farm (including livestock), she makes clear that we have all we need in order to get this new perspective. This is also shown by the earlier mentioned Mirliton Theatre, a true gem, with its 30 seats and round bar. Old Utrecht-born celebrities, such as Herman Berkien and Tineke Schouten, performed their concerts here before the theatre was closed down in the mid-eighties. With its re-opening for the exhibition, the film The Blank Stare by Gabriel Lester, shows us that we all have it in us. The human stare, in all kinds of situations, is portrayed in a slow-motion film, exploring the depth of vision-turned-inwards. Lester shows us that we do not need anything except ourselves and the structure we live in; both body and architecture are meant here.

 Ian Hamilton Finlay

Figure 5. Ian Hamilton Finlay

A Critical Note

In summary, the exhibition is successful, both displaying a strong, inspirational image, and, as an absolute positive remark, in offering solutions for the existing problems. Yet still not everyone will get involved. If one says that it might never be able to reach everyone throughout a single medium, one is obviously overseeing the power of the mall. Indeed, despite its heavy, depressing architecture, its (un)social structures, its incomprehensible layout, it still attracts (and reaches!) over 30 million visitors every year. However accessible the exhibition is made, art will not reach the everyday-(wo)man, doing their fair bit of shopping on a Saturday afternoon. Only the mall will, but now following the guidelines as set out above. Reluctantly, art acknowledges this. ‘‘C’est dans la place du marché que l’on rencontre le plus souvent les reclus,’’ says the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (See Figure 5.) Perhaps this exact loneliness is ultimately our salvation, as Philipp Blom asserts: ‘‘The realization that no one is completely autonomous, couple with our strong feeling of empathy, leads directly to a morality of mutual solidarity, to social meaning.’’ We cannot wait until we reach that point. And until then, we shop.

 

Notes:

  1. The Call of the Mall, exhibition guide, p. 95
  2. The Call of the Mall, exhibition guide, p. 7
  3. The Call of the Mall, exhibition guide, p. 30
  4. The Call of the Mall, exhibition guide, p. 140
  5. Blom, Philipp (2011) A Wicked Company: Freethinkers and Friendship in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, New York, NY: Basic Books. p: xx

 

Link:

Call of the Mall (the Netherlands): http://www.callofthemall.nl/nl/home/   

 

Contributors:

Joris Jansen (1981) and Jeroen Visser (1981) have been two equally independent and inseparable individuals for more than a quarter-century. Joris first earned a Bachelor degree in Economics and then a Master’s degree in International Development Studies. Currently he works as a freelance journalist and lecturer at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI). Jeroen is a cultural anthropologist and founder of his own company Infinite Variety. He has written several works on dandyism, fashion, and the arts. Both deny being a dandy.

Exhibition Review – Call of the Mall

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