Abandoned shopping malls are like a window to the past. Before Amazon browsing, we had massive department stores. Before scavenging Etsy, we had shops like Claire’s to fill our whimsical, kid-like accessorizing needs. Malls were both a place to shop, and a spot for bored people to hang out endlessly. But as with most brick-and-mortar stores, the American shopping mall is dying. Macy’s announced this year that it’s closing 100 stores nationwide, other major brands are following suit. The last time an American shopping mall was built in the United States was way back in 2006, ten years ago. But for artist Claire Hentschker, abandoned malls are a semblance of America’s past, so she explored them in her latest project.
a window into the has-been glory of malls
Catacombs is a reconstructed exploration of the late and now dilapidated shopping malls of yesteryear. But Hentschker didn’t map all these videos with mere 360-degree cameras. Instead, Hentschker utilized photogrammetry, the use of mapping 2D images and spatially asphyxiating them into a frame—in this case, a 360-degree frame. But of course, these being found footage videos from Youtube, grow distorted and chaotic in the process of expanding them.
In an interview with The Creator’s Project, Hentschker discussed her process in creating Catacombs, from splicing small frames from Youtube videos for reconstruction, to running a 360-degree camera through malls in the same direction as the original video. “I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of making ‘digital formaldehyde,’ as a lot of my work is an attempt to use emerging technology to preserve abstract spaces,” she told the site. “The same way a dead frog in a jar can teach us something about the life of the frog, I think manufactured spaces captured digitally can teach us something about the living culture they were designed to house.”
Spatially, the reconstructed malls look straight out of a dystopian fiction. Like in the videogame The Last of Us: Left Behind, where the young protagonist Ellie sneaks out of her strictly locked down boarding school to sneak out with an old friend to visit an abandoned mall. That is, before zombies burst in and all hell breaks loose. In Catacombs, Arcade and claw machines of toys blur together. Stores themselves become unrecognizable. The ceiling and floors creak open, showing the limits of experiential work with photogrammetry. In a way, it’s a window into the has-been glory of shopping malls. Now forgotten, and eventually obsolete, but always there.
You can watch Hentschker’s Catacombs below, and check out her 360-degree reconstruction of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining here.