The shopping mall counted among Foucault’s heterotopias.
Exploring the dim back regions of malls, here we map structural divisions between social interactions; gaze-resisting, inward-facing suburban spaces designed to “keep out the Cold War and the cold,” while preserving a third space for assembly which nurtures a rich phyla of consumption. A place where one could hide in plain sight, having collected (or stolen) the permissions of creditors or parents, to enjoy certain fruit.
In the frames below, blank facades may produce a swarm of past associations, habitual to these spaces which live in part as ephemeral ruins. These are nodes for the cultural practice of nostalgia, just as they are sites for the cultural performance of scripted disorientation.
The mall is, as originally intended, a nondescript space. One whose boxy, featureless construction sits in the middle of a blacktop desert, a utopia hastened by air conditioning and geopolitical tensions. An oasis of oases – a city for the living within and without the lived-in city. The design of the mall has always seemed to defy context-specificity, instead opting to recreate site by sheer override. The space would eventually need to be protected, redeployed as control architecture – first from within (theft; shoplifting), eventually, come what new tensions may, from without (vehicle bombs, terrorist assaults.) Entryways made narrower; ceilings dropped. Straight lines folded, bent. Getaways impeded. Bollards and strategic concrete planters deployed.
Just as well as these spaces might be sites of (post-) Cold War artifact, they carried on as sites of everyday relation – power relations, relations of propinquity, utility, leisure, work; irreduceable relations. Intersecting imperatives of commerce and consensual control imperatives maintain this space.
Foucault’s heterotopia of the cemetery moved from the sacred heart of the city, an embodied space, to become the other city. What will malls become? To what present and future themes or concurrencies will these spaces shift?
Approach the arenas of hegemonic nostalgia; the back then is back there; a mall would be the preferred site for the world’s first temporal dislocation, no?
Gather the necessary tools for social biopsy. Position yourself to explore the nature, not the extent, of the continuum of heterotopia. A continuum of double logics – where one can have all the flavors of a Silk Road souk at the Food Court, while awaiting trial for one’s taste in fashion.
Brunswick Square Mall, 755 NJ-18, East Brunswick, NJ, 08816
(Video and photo content from “Back to the Future” courtesy of Fashion at Liberty)