P R E T T Y V A C A N T
+15 Window Exhibition
December 4 to January 30, 2011
P R E T T Y V A C A N T encapsulates Normoyle’s current preoccupation with “shopping, flirting with objects, idle wandering and all the permutations of these” (Walter Benjamin). Emptied of customers, owners and security she photographs empty commercial interiors without fear or reprimand. Pressing the camera against the thick pane, the glass of the storefront becomes the lens of the camera; a membrane through which the aesthetic and commercial values osmotically exchange .
The vacant retail spaces that blot the urban and suburban landscape are everywhere from the high cost per foot luxury shopping areas downtown to the strip malls in surburbia; evidence of the cyclical crises that are an inevitable part of our economic system. The empty interiors remain barren for weeks, months or in some small communities where the major employer has retreated – even years. These are photographs of the everyday. They could be from Canada, the US, East, West, city or town. They are anywhere and everywhere – rich, poor, suburban and urban – an inevitable marker of change.
When is a void a plenum? What changes everything yet remains unchanged? What has no place and no time yet is period? What is everywhere yet the same place?
– Inside the White Cube, Brian Doherty
Today, the act of window shopping is fraught with the anxiety of passing one after another of empty storefronts. The economic crises that hit several years ago levelled the profit and non-profit sectors with equal force. The local dry cleaner, the family owned grocery store and even arts and community spaces- all were grist for the economic mill that reduced economic viability to dust. The assignment of blame may be attributed to a V, W, L or U-shaped recession, or maybe a slowdown, correction or a collapse that will lead to economic renewal. Regardless of the cause, the effect on the visual and by extension the social landscape has been dramatically altered. Pretty Vacant documents the residue, the leavings of the system that guts the buildings that dot the consumer landscape.
Unlike domestic real estate which stages a specific look designed to attract a particular demographic, the commercial space does just the opposite. The interior is stripped of all the fixtures and furnishings to reveal the foundation and structure of the room. Remnants of the former business are wiped out, save for an odd piece of mail, a forlorn chair or an abandoned display case. Decay masquerades as renewal; a condition that plays out in every urban centre, strip mall and neighbourhood.
Once compelled by the withdrawal of all apparent content the gallery becomes a zero place. It comments on the “art” (or commerce) within and it comments on the wider context-street, city, money, business-that contains it.
By creating an idealized, neutral space for the next occupant the empty store resembles the white cube of the gallery, a blank slate awaiting the imprint of the next occupant. The empty store, like the empty gallery acts as a transitional device that bleaches out the past at the same time controls the future- the limitations of the space determine whatever innovations and profits lie ahead. With each failed venture the slate is wiped clean, allowing for a never ending possibility of repetition. Competition drives down prices, the subsequent fallen profits leading to a destructive phase, creating a blank slate onto which the process can start anew.
You are there without being there. Inside yet outside.
Emptied of customers, owners and security I photographed the interior without fear or reprimand: pressing the camera against the thick pane, the glass of the storefront becomes the lens of the camera; a membrane through which the aesthetic and commercial values osmotically exchange. Its neutrality is an illusion. The empty store, like the empty gallery acts as a transitional device that bleaches out the past at the same time controls the future. The neutral space is merely an illusion and as such, subject to change.
Pretty Vacant is a documentation that began last January, right before the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. The empty stores were a sharp contrast to the venues and pavilions filled to capacity with Olympics supporters. The vacated dollar stores and family owned restaurants in receivership seemed light years from the Olympic fever heating up the festivities downtown, yet underneath it all was a sense that – Something’s Happening Here – a slogan borrowed from the 1986’s Expo. Here in Vancouver and elsewhere, something is happening and its effects are felt in towns and cities all across Canada.
My previous work was torn between two ways of working with photography: one examined issues of representation and identity through appropriated images from film, television and print, another was a dogged survey of construction sites, mostly taken at night. Pretty Vacant is a return to a concentrated focus on one particular subject. The interiors, like the construction sites are also emptied of people. In the construction sites the activity and presence of workers is implied and evident in the way the tools and machinery are left around; the sites in Pretty Vacant, less so. They represent a limbo – an emptiness that has the potential to stretch out into weeks, months, or even years.
– Michelle Normoyle