“Retail Apocalypse”

The shifting architecture of consumption is the subject of “Retail Apocalypse,” which restages an exhibition held at Zurich’s Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in 2020. Featuring works by twenty artists, architects, and filmmakers, the show explores spatial and cultural typologies of shopping from modernity to the present, though the landscapes of contemporary consumption loom largest for its participants.

Cao Fei’s documentary 11.11, 2018, juxtaposes the frenetic movement of commodities around Beijing with the constricted lives of those who deliver them. In David Přílučík’s short film Steel Cities, 2020, images of the logistical sublime—abstracted, geometrical expanses of shelving, warehouses, and machinery—are gradually corroded by the testimonies of those who live and work in the spaces in question. Andreas Angelidakis mounts a different challenge to the visual ideology of logistics, exaggerating its conceits to the point of surreality: In his animated short Domesticated Mountain, 2012, hordes of shimmering packages rain from the sky, forming houses of their own, while disembodied hands float through the streets delivering boxes.

Indeed, the end is nigh. And yet these alienating snapshots of e-commerce’s empire of efficiency are tempered by Canal Street Research Association residency and archive, 2020/22, an intimate, intensely human installation by Shanzhai Lyric. Tucked away shrine-like toward one side of the exhibition space, it presents the detritus of New York’s bootleg industry—“Gussaci” bags, the city’s trademark disposable Anthora coffee cups—as precious valuables. Akeem Smith’s video installation IT’S THE BEST TO RISE WITH A SMILE ON YOUR FACE JUST LIKE THE SUNSHINE ALL OVER THE PLACE WHO GOD BLESS, NO MAN CURSE, 2020, is another standout piece that engages with valuation and, beyond this, cultural consumption, as it features monitors playing archival dance-hall footage inside anti-theft window grilles. As for the future of shopping, “Retail Apocalypse” leaves it open to speculation. One thing, however, is certain: We will be spectators to its continued transformation, for better or for worse.

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