Why are artists so obsessed with the fall of the mall?

Why are artists so obsessed with the fall of the mall?

American photographer Brian Ulrich’s Dark Stores series focuses on dead and dying malls: Here, his photo Summer, Dixie Square Mall (2008). // photo by Brian Ulrich

I live near two of what must be the saddest malls in Canada, and I say that with full knowledge that competition in this field is intense. I am sure you live near one of these too. These are the malls with the papered-up space where a big-box store once lived, and maybe one of those discount grocers where everything is yellow. These are the malls with one hot-dog stand, the kind that still has the rolling oily rods. They all bear “sign scar” – the outlines of absent logos. And yet the size of these things – the sprawling flat footprint, the windowless walls along a half kilometre of sidewalk, the lunar parking lot – is inalterable. It is hard to destroy a mall; it’s just too expensive. So the dying malls of North America live on as giant unpickable scabs on cities. As ruins, unlike abandoned factories or houses, they have no romance, no majesty; they tell no stories of craftsmanship or community spirit, and their architecture is lacking even the most distant of human touches.

It’s no surprise that their ugliness – and their symbolism – fascinates artists. I am spellbound by the photos of U.S. photographer Brian Ulrich, particular his 2008-2010 series Dark Stores, a picture set of abandoned, decayed or merely empty malls. (These are all viewable in lush definition at his website, notifbutwhen.com.) Ulrich composes his shots, both interior and exterior, as if he is framing an architectural masterpiece: He accords his blank walls and parking lots a great solemnity. He conveys the massive scale of the American consumerist enterprise and suggests, with his relentless emptiness, a massive failure.