Living in the Mall
October 2, 2007 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Living in the Mall is an art project by Providence artist Michael J. Townsend that has come to an abrubt end. "Eight artists snuck into the depths of Providence Place mall and built a secret studio apartment in which they stayed, on and off, for nearly four years until mall security finally caught their leader last week." Townsend's wife, Adriana Yoto, also documented the project at her website.
posted by Kattullus (73 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Squatting, living rent-free in a privately owned building and trespassing constitute performance art?
posted by ao4047 at 9:32 AM on October 2, 2007


Townsend acknowledged that the lack of certain creature comforts, after a while, tended to sap the thrill of being there and to curtail each stint inside. (...) the artists were startled last spring when their illicit apartment was burglarized. A thief forced in the door at the top of the ladder and stole the Playstation and a decorative collage called a shadow box.

Sounds like he got the jist of consumer culture after all.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:33 AM on October 2, 2007


Sounds more like a fort than an apartment. A well-furnished one, but still a fort. I do profess to an odd desire to wander a mall after closing, alone. Not so I can steal or anything. Maybe so I can pretend to fight zombies?
posted by JeremyT at 9:36 AM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Living in a mall is, literally, one of my worst nightmares. I was stuck in a mall and couldn't find my way out. Finally, when I got to where I thought the exit should be, I just saw more elevators. A man there told me there were rooms I could stay at if I wanted. That was when I woke up.
posted by Citizen Premier at 9:43 AM on October 2, 2007


Man, that is cool. Who among us hasn't dreamed of setting up an illicit apartment in a shopping mall?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:45 AM on October 2, 2007


Living in a mall is, literally, one of my worst nightmares

Time for a little Thomas M. Disch...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this really is the sort of thing that tends to end in zombies.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:46 AM on October 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


Squatting, living rent-free in a privately owned building and trespassing constitute performance art?

hell yes!
posted by mano at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


JeremyT - you can try the West Edmonton mall, story has it that zombies homeless kids used to winter there full time.
posted by porpoise at 9:50 AM on October 2, 2007


Next up -- "The Mall," starring Tom Hanks.
posted by ericb at 9:51 AM on October 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think I'd get sick of eating Sbarro, Cinnabon, and Orange Julius all the time...
posted by tadellin at 9:54 AM on October 2, 2007


I keep going back and forth between thinking this is cool, kind of, and wondering if the only difference between "art" and "homelessness" is that one is chronicled on at least two websites.
posted by yhbc at 9:55 AM on October 2, 2007 [2 favorites]


One could definitely perform some art by sneaking into, and living in, a mall. The question I have, though, is did they? They lived in there for 4 years and all the art they have to show for it is 6 pictures? And then this line: "I will admit to being pretty caught off guard after four years and apologize for not being as forthcoming immediately with information regarding my work."

In other words, his story changed after a while. Sounds to me like he was living in the mall and thought of the art thing later as a cover.
posted by DU at 9:56 AM on October 2, 2007


They spent that much time there, supposedly, and only got six (really bad) photographs?

Methinks a few of the details on this story are subject to artistic license.
posted by Zinger at 9:59 AM on October 2, 2007


I think I'd get sick of eating Sbarro, Cinnabon, and Orange Julius all the time...

Providence Place actually has a decent selection of restaurants. A few middle-class places (Fire & Ice, Cheesecake Factory and a place called Joe's that has pretty good steaks and seafood), a Nordstrom's Cafe and, randomly enough, one of the better Indian places in Providence in the food court.
posted by Kattullus at 10:01 AM on October 2, 2007


one of the better Indian places in Providence in the food court.

That place is off the meter...
posted by SweetJesus at 10:04 AM on October 2, 2007


“It was wrong on a number of levels,” [Mall spokesman Dante Bellini Jr] added. “It was certainly wrong in its irresponsibility … [We] certainly feel violated.”

You feel violated?
Spokesdouche.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 10:04 AM on October 2, 2007 [11 favorites]


For my next performance art piece, I will deconstruct the barriers the public has between owning and not owning a car. By removing the automobile from the lifestyle of several random people, I will explore the emotions of sudden non-ownership. I hope to smash the facade of importance automobiles have in society as if it were no more than a driver's-side window.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 10:07 AM on October 2, 2007 [20 favorites]


You feel violated?

Seriously. What is wrong with our culture that practically every minor indiscretion becomes a "violation" or a "betrayal"? Is it too much reality teevee or something?
posted by psmealey at 10:11 AM on October 2, 2007


[We] certainly feel violated.

Constructing an enormous mannequin and posing it to look like it is raping the mall. Now that would be art.
posted by DU at 10:12 AM on October 2, 2007 [11 favorites]


Terminal Verbosity, I plan a similar project, only involving male celebrity's wives, chloroform and a special room I have set up in the basement.
posted by maxwelton at 10:14 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


They weren't exactly "in the Mall". From what I am seeing, they were in the parking garage attached to the mall. So it's not like they were running amok after hours like Bart and Milhouse.
posted by kimdog at 10:20 AM on October 2, 2007


The post-WWII term Trummerkind - German for "children of the ruins" - connotes the children of war-torn areas who had lost their families and/or homes, and were left to grow up in a society that required rebuilding and healing. They made their homes in the ally-bombed ruins of cities and towns and lived off the landscapes.

They're VICTIMS?! wtf?
posted by desjardins at 10:22 AM on October 2, 2007


Their other projects (such as the tunnel) are art; this was just a free place to crash.
posted by pracowity at 10:23 AM on October 2, 2007


you can try the West Edmonton mall

Since your link's broken, I'll self-link to a pithy little travel piece I wrote awhile back about vacationing at West Ed. Definitely one of the high points was wandering the all-but-deserted concourses at night with visions of Dawn of the Dead dancing in my head (though those images proved a bit too dark for the likes of WestJet's inflight mag).
posted by gompa at 10:28 AM on October 2, 2007


Reminds me a little of John Collier's "Evening Primrose." Except not, y'know, awesome.
posted by dersins at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2007


Seriously. What is wrong with our culture that practically every minor indiscretion becomes a "violation" or a "betrayal"? Is it too much reality teevee or something?

What is wrong with our English classes that describing a crime is an outrageous use of the word "violated?" It's not like he said they felt sexually assaulted or something. I'm far more pissed at the ever-declining standard for something being described as "art."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:35 AM on October 2, 2007


Since everybody has fantasies of living in a mall: here's mine. I went with a friend to visit one of their friends who worked at a mall cutlery store. Not knowing them, I didn't have much to say, just standing around while they caught up when all of a sudden the friend of a friend goes "yeah, me and my co-workers talked about it once: if all of the stores in the mall were to get into a fight, we'd win".

Ever since then I've wanted to see a mall battle. Not an iconwars type fight (although that would be cool) but like tactical. The bad guys would take over the Burger King so they'd have lots of food but no real motivation and feel kinda sick. The good guys would get the Cinnabon kiosk and therefore be able to leave traps of Cinnabons in dark corners. The Sharper Image would seem like a great prize for either side, but it probably would only be sort of okay.

Maybe this would be a good HL2 mod or something.
posted by Brainy at 10:38 AM on October 2, 2007 [16 favorites]


This is really cool. I wish there were more pictures.

ao4047: What makes it art rather than squatting is the fact that they had real jobs and other homes, but chose to do this out of his own free will. Sure, it was trespassing, and they understand that, but trespassing (especially at a huge mall) is a pretty victimless crime.
posted by patr1ck at 10:45 AM on October 2, 2007


For my next performance art piece, I will deconstruct the barriers the public has between owning and not owning a car.

As long as you're cool with doing the time, I'm cool with calling it 'art.'

(I'm really not a big fan of "performance art" at all, but it's a fucking shopping mall. Somehow, and I'm having a hard time articulating why, that just makes it inherently cool.)
posted by lodurr at 10:46 AM on October 2, 2007


Brainy, somehow that reminds me of Stephenson's The Big U.
posted by lodurr at 10:48 AM on October 2, 2007


XQUZYPHYR: It's not like he said they felt sexually assaulted or something. I'm far more pissed at the ever-declining standard for something being described as "art."

Well, actually, that's more or less exactly what he said. In English -- in American English, at least -- hardly anybody* uses the term 'violated' in the passive voice to talk about 'violating law'. It's always active voice or as a gerund. ("He violated article 322." "Bugs just violated the law of gravity.")

Whereas the passive use ("s/he was violated", "you're violating my space!") is generally used in personal terms -- and where not literally personal, it's metaphorically personal.
--
*I'd say "nobody" -- I can't recall ever hearing the passive voice in reference to violation of the law except from people with poor English prose skills -- but obviously I can't guarantee "nobody."

posted by lodurr at 10:57 AM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was going to chime in and say in a surprised voice "You mean you guys have never gone to the mall at 2am?" but I see that West Edmonton Mall has been sufficiently covered as it is the only place I've ever done it.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:07 AM on October 2, 2007


"you're violating my space!"

On review, obviously a bad example. The point I'm trying to make is that the passive is usually mapped to personal violation -- e.g., sexual, or of trust. Active voice uses can obviousl still be mapped to personal violation.

Which is to say that the guy is way too sensitive for this world, if someone sleeping secretly in the shopping mall that employs him feels like "violation."
posted by lodurr at 11:11 AM on October 2, 2007


Squatting, living rent-free in a privately owned building and trespassing constitute performance art?

My art is documenting how I imagine metafilter users to be peering through their monocles as they comment on anything art-related.
posted by hermitosis at 11:13 AM on October 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


It doesn't sound all that different from kids building a clubhouse somewhere they shouldn't. Except they aren't kids.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:15 AM on October 2, 2007


Are there larger pix someplace?
posted by originalname37 at 11:40 AM on October 2, 2007


I dunno, to me "art" has always been a difficult concept to nail down. For whatever reason, I always get more irritated by people who are overly melodramatic in how they describe things (followed closely by people who use out-of-their-field technical, military or police jargon for no other purpose than to show off).

Squatting in a privately owned space rent-free is indeed a violation of the law (and also perhaps of the public trust), but as lodurr points out, it's a bit hysterical to call it "a violation".
posted by psmealey at 11:43 AM on October 2, 2007


"Squatting, living rent-free in a privately owned building and trespassing constitute performance art?"

If that's the case, we have a lot of 'urban performance artists' in the Bay Area. Except that ours are a bit more "residentially challenged."
posted by drstein at 11:48 AM on October 2, 2007


This whole discussion is poorer without reference to "La [société] Mexicaine de la Perforation".
posted by lodurr at 11:50 AM on October 2, 2007


I have a pretty mundane definition of art: It's what you do to make sense of what doesn't make sense.

So from the street person to Kandinsky can all be art. The real question is how much do the rest of us get from it.
posted by lodurr at 11:51 AM on October 2, 2007


I had a similar artistic falling out with the law; I pointed to my latest piece and said "Can't you just feel the raw energy radiating off this piece? I think it might be my best work so far!"

Whereby they accused me of being a serial arsonist.

Fascist art critics.
posted by quin at 12:23 PM on October 2, 2007


From Adriana Yoto's website: Be the Empire You Want To Be. Brilliant, concise insight about the use of advertising in the manipulation of identity.
posted by nickyskye at 12:24 PM on October 2, 2007


I approve entirely. This is exactly the kind of thing hipster avant-garde artists should be doing.

I'm pleased the mall owners felt 'violated' too. In today's America that's precisely the kind of prescripted, ant-hip response, a mall dwelling outlaw artist wants. If the mall had been pleased and invited them to stay, it would have queered the whole deal.
posted by rhymer at 1:07 PM on October 2, 2007


Wanted to do it ever since Dawn of the Dead.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 1:08 PM on October 2, 2007


More RISD-influenced, warmed-over uninspiredness.

If art were a human body, this would be toe jam.
posted by humannaire at 1:21 PM on October 2, 2007


I remember reading about a group of artists that used their museum installation to secretly burrow into a forgotten space in the walls and set up camp, but I can't recall enough to find it on the google.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:30 PM on October 2, 2007


Exactly, rhymer. The mall is the real "violator". What passes for public space is just a meticulously designed outlet for corporate predation, which contributes nothing to culture or to the needs of the community in proportion to what it takes. People go there because they don't know where else to go, and once there, they spend money because that's all there really is to do.

The essays on the site perfectly point out the way these spaces are designed to meticulously separate individual from reality, in order to separate money from individual.

In pursuit of this goal, malls take up more space than they can effectively manage, hence someone can build a small structure adjacent to it that goes undetected for years. That's interesting! Why DON'T we question or play with these spaces more? They may be private property, but they are "ours". I love art like this and applaud anyone with the guts to put on experiments like this, despite the personal risks involved. We need artists to break our rules and even our laws, it helps point out how ridiculous they are and how ridiculous WE are when we conform to them. Artists and mystics have filled this role since time immemorial.

And ultimatey, the penalty this time is a slap on the wrist anyway. So clearly this artist has made clear enough of a statement to keep his crew from being seen as just a bunch of no-good bums. Everyone got what they wanted. The mall got attention, the artist got attention, no one was hurt or lost any money. So why is everyone so grouchy?
posted by hermitosis at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


I remember reading about a group of artists that used their museum installation to secretly burrow into a forgotten space in the walls and set up camp, but I can't recall enough to find it on the google.

Sure, but their installation was pretty much them living in the museum anyway--they just found something to do with their spare time. I can't remember if I read about it Harper's or the New Yorker, but I think the name of the group was Flux Factory or something like that.
posted by LionIndex at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2007


Reminds me of a Saved by the Bell episode where the gang stays in the mall overnight hiding in tents so they can be first in line to buy concert tickets.
posted by matimer at 2:27 PM on October 2, 2007


Aha, so it was the Flux Factory, and article was in Harper's (subscribers' archive). But weren't they hiding from security so they could stay overnight?
posted by hydrophonic at 2:31 PM on October 2, 2007


I thought part of the deal was that they were living in the museum, and ended up finding the spaces during the night, but I could be wrong.
posted by LionIndex at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2007


There was a kids' book called Secrets of the Shopping Mall in which the characters hid out by living in mall itself...I can't believe I remember this.
posted by dilettante at 3:40 PM on October 2, 2007


LUCKY THEY DIDN'T GET TAZED M I RITE HOMEDOGGIES?!?!
posted by Avenger at 3:41 PM on October 2, 2007


Street Use's take on it. I hadn't thought of it in that context at all.
posted by Kattullus at 3:54 PM on October 2, 2007


OP: "It has been my utmost priority to not disrupt the security forces working at the mall, and I have gone to great lengths to make sure that my project did not interfere with their work. "

English translation: We hid from the rentacops for four years and they never saw us! Can you believe it? What maroons! Bugs Bunny woulda been proud of our little rabbit hole.

DU: "Sounds to me like he was living in the mall and thought of the art thing later as a cover."

Because the current administration would never prosecute an artist, right? Oh wait... this happened in Canada didn't it? Maybe they got a point. Maybe I should start heading north. Any free mall space in Toronto? I recall the malls there being beautiful this time of year.. for art of course.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:19 PM on October 2, 2007


I used to watch/talk to that guy (at least I assume it was that guy, someone from tapeart) when I saw him putting up tape art around risd. Hi, whatcha makin today.. squirrels huh.. what's that they're doing? Swarming and feeding on human flesh? That's cool.. Now I wish I'd stopped to talk a little longer. Maybe I could have seen the apartment!
posted by Marit at 4:20 PM on October 2, 2007


What hermitosis said.

"What passes for public space is just a meticulously designed outlet for corporate predation..."

I don't know how meticulous they are, but I seem to remember quite a good essay on the radio where they essentially said that the mall's intent is to redefine the formerly public space of the market as their private space. The authors pointed out that owners have considerably more control over the lives of their patrons than would have been acceptable in the past.

Please taze me now.
posted by sneebler at 4:23 PM on October 2, 2007


"[T]o derive [is] to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which the environment was designed." Theory of the Dérive

"Our rather anarchic lifestyle and even certain amusements considered dubious that have always been enjoyed among our entourage — slipping by night into houses undergoing demolition, hitchhiking nonstop and without destination through Paris during a transportation strike in the name of adding to the confusion, wandering in subterranean catacombs forbidden to the public, etc. — are expressions of a more general sensibility which is no different from that of the dérive. Written descriptions can be no more than passwords to this great game." Theory of the Dérive

"If détournement were extended to urbanistic realizations, not many people would remain unaffected by an exact reconstruction in one city of an entire neighborhood of another." A User’s Guide to Détournement
posted by xod at 5:25 PM on October 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


It is appropriate that this happened in Providence, RI, home to America's first indoor shopping mall.
posted by eye of newt at 5:28 PM on October 2, 2007


Oh wait... this happened in Canada didn't it?

Providence, Rhode Island is not in Canada.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:34 PM on October 2, 2007


I gets my cinna on, at the Cinna-bon.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:46 PM on October 2, 2007


There was a kids' book called Secrets of the Shopping Mall in which the characters hid out by living in mall itself...I can't believe I remember this.

Isn't that a rip-off of some other book? Ah, I found out, but it was a museum: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweile
posted by smackfu at 9:09 PM on October 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's an old Whole Earth Review essay -- I can't say definitely who it was by, but in my mind it maps to Bruce Sterling -- about the prospect of squatting in deserted K-Marts and Kohls and the like. The author envisioned how the space would be claimed (offices and areas close to entrances and walls would be claimed first, the least desirable space being in the middle, away from light or ingress/egress).

It seemed to be a big theme in post-cyberpunk. Consider Gibson's "Bridge Trilogy" (which features colonization of a deserted bridge and the Tokyo subway, and has an action scene set in a deserted mall), and Bruce Sterling's iconic "Bicycle Repairman" (not to mention parts of Holy Fire and a number of other stories from the same general period).

It occurs to me now that's about the same time people started digging out the old Edinburgh vaults and closes and turning them into tourist attractions. And it would have been in the '90s that the MDLP started digging out their own transgressive spaces in Paris. I wonder if it wasn't something in the air at the time.
posted by lodurr at 4:10 AM on October 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


When I lived in Providence I was always warned about the parking garage of the mall because there are so many places for muggers to hide. I'm glad someone used the space for something other than attacking people. I don't see how it's art, but it's an interesting experiment in urban camping.
posted by DamnYouSerpico at 7:19 AM on October 3, 2007


Smackfu, thank you. I was straining my brain thinking, "What was that great book where kids lived in a museum?"
posted by tizzie at 9:33 AM on October 3, 2007


XQUZYPHYR: "What is wrong with our English classes that describing a crime is an outrageous use of the word "violated?" It's not like he said they felt sexually assaulted or something. I'm far more pissed at the ever-declining standard for something being described as "art."

Actually, "violated" literally means "to have violence done to oneself." So, on the one hand, people who use the word to mean "sexually assaulted" or "penetrated" (yeah, I've seen it) are clearly using it in a way the rest of us don't, and don't seem to understand what we mean by it. On the other hand, good god, isn't it a tad haughty to describe somebody squatting in a mall parking garage as 'doing violence to the mall?' It might make sense if you said that they 'violated the law,' especially since that's common usage, but I sincerely doubt that they violated the mall.
posted by koeselitz at 11:41 AM on October 3, 2007


Well, the "literal meaning" is seldom the same as the meaning in general usage. "Violated" in the sense of an encroachment on territory -- sexual penetration, territorial encroachment, etc. -- is an extremely common usage. And usage does define language, after all.

"Violate" in common usage definitely carries the connotation of transgressing boundaries or rules. The literal meaning doesn't even come up in the first two definitions on dictionary.com. (Though I agree it helps to illustrate the meaning of the word.)
posted by lodurr at 1:18 PM on October 3, 2007


lodurr: ""Violated" in the sense of an encroachment on territory -- sexual penetration, territorial encroachment, etc. -- is an extremely common usage."

Not in my experience. As I said, the people who use the word that way seem to me to be in a very small segment of society. But I suppose neither of us have any great authority in the matter of the commonness of particular usages of words.
posted by koeselitz at 3:56 PM on October 3, 2007


Besides, I feel as though the use of the word "violate" in reference to a person is pretty rare and new and has a hysterical ring to it in most contexts. But maybe that's just me.
posted by koeselitz at 3:57 PM on October 3, 2007


But I suppose neither of us have any great authority in the matter of the commonness of particular usages of words.

First: We are the authorities on our own experience. When that's what we're talking about, that's sufficient.

Second, and really reaching for my pendanticman of the day award: That is in fact what the dictionary definitions say, that it's mostly referring to varieties of encroachment.

I agree that it sounds hysterical. But I don't agree that it's uncommon. In my experience, it's not. Google might help us here.
posted by lodurr at 7:49 AM on October 4, 2007


Providence Journal follow-up story. Audio interview [mp3] also from ProJo. Map showing the apartment's location in the mall.
posted by Kattullus at 9:40 AM on October 4, 2007


Thanks for the update Kattullus. I don't read projo as often as I should while at URI and probably would have missed all of this had it not been for the internet.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 11:23 AM on October 7, 2007


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