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Posted Dec 23, 2009 in Arts | 0 Comments

Mall Ghosts

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Not to trickle acid rain on everyone’s holiday shopping parade, buuuuut….

The sun’s going down on 2009 and it’s looking like this is the year we were all “rocked by the recession,” “bitch slapped by bad times.” Not me personally, though. I tend to the Haves side of the equation. I’m serious when I say I don’t think I could live without my iPod, laptop, and about a litre and a half of coffee each day. I mean, I could, but God, I wouldn’t want to. And apparently, I’m not the only one wondering why the other half is left scrounging up a few lousy bucks just to pay for welfare bread. Meet Chicago-based photographer Brian Ulrich, whose collection of photographs he discusses in this interview with The Morning News.

Ulrich’s recent collection is dedicated to large-scale retail spaces that have been abandoned by their corporate creators, a project that arose while he was working on a larger assignment dedicated to consumerism in America. Apparently, Ulrich had been photographing thrift stores and recycling shops when he developed an interest in vacated box stores, those “potential ghost towns lying inside successful shopping complexes all over America.” And that sentiment, really, is no joke. Capitalist king, Wal-Mart, alone, has abandoned over 300 stores, resulting in some 500 million square feet of vacated space. The visual impact of those resigned lots is something to be studied, criticized, and challenged, but few have taken Ulrich’s approach in attempting to leech beauty out of these spaces of “neglect and misuse.”

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Some of the brilliance of Ulrich’s collection is just how well it conveys the confusing emotions dead malls evoke in us. We’re left wondering why we’re saddened when these titans of commercialism are reduced to overbrush, mildew, and moss. I mean, really, why do we give a shit that Wal-Mart Burlington shut its doors? The collection also pinpoints just how ubiquitous malls are in our rural landscapes, asking us to question how readily we offer up carbon-absorbing fields and forests to the jaws of industry, only to be spit out when financial downturn hits.

The popularization of “recessionomics” has made us all begrudgingly ponder the difficulties and costs of growth, big box development amongst them. The wasted resources, paved greenspace, and dying downtowns that outskirt malls entail is ultimately what Ulrich’s collection takes aim at. As he claims, “how can an economy sustain a lifestyle based on exponential growth and the leisure and wealth to support it? It’s not rocket science to expect these kinds of illusions to fail.” And so, unsurprisingly, we’re left with these abandoned shopping centres whose skeletons stand as testaments to the contradictions of our current economic agenda.

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In summation: Please, God, please, Barack Obama Adonai, let 2K10 be the year we turn around this economic fiasco, solve climate change, and get the Gosselins off TV. Also, world peace, etc.

Yours, Benjamin.

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