How radically our shopping habits have changed since the Austrian architect Victor Gruen built the first enclosed mall in suburban Minneapolis in 1956. He designed it to be a pedestrianised experience much like urban Vienna. What started as a social and economic idea facilitated by the interstate highway system led to a climate-controlled ecosystem for consumption. Malls defined the way we were, how we used to interact. Tiffany’s 1987 mall tour helped her reach number one: they were the place to be.
Back in the early to mid-1980s, when the Valley Girl was in her glory, the Galleria was an icon, the mall of malls for teenagers. Celebrated in Moon Unit Zappa's 1982 satirical single "Valley Girl," the Galleria raged with the hormones of teen-agers drawn in from all over the San Fernando Valley and beyond. They cruised the shops, hung out near the video arcade and partied in the food court. The Galleria was part of Valleyspeak, like ohmygawd! (oh, my God!) and fershur (for sure). High school cognoscenti knew that "the Galleria" meant the Sherman Oaks mall; the Glendale Galleria required the full name.
By 2022, analysts estimate that 1 out of every 4 malls in the U.S. could be out of business, victims of changing tastes, a widening wealth gap and the embrace of online shopping. The mall has been America's public square for 62 years, where a huge swath of middle-class America went for far more than shopping. The mall can no longer compete with the frictionless experience of e-tail. Malls, created for ease and comfort, have been replaced by the ruthless efficiency of digital shopping.
Seph Lawless portrays these abandoned malls as apocalyptic ruins that were at one time a nexus of daily life. They serve as haunting reminders of a pre-digital age before cell phones and the internet created a 24/7 insta-culture of wanting everything now.