October 2, 2007

Crazy Kids Live in Providence Mall

Those zany RISD kids have done it again! An artist has been sentenced to probation for creating a secret apartment in the Providence Place Mall. From the Providence Journal:

The story of their audacious stunt — they call it performance art — spilled out in District Court, after the leader, Michael J. Townsend, 36, of Providence, was arrested. He pleaded no contest to a criminal charge of trespassing.

Townsend, a self-described “professional public artist,” said the clandestine project was born of a wish to explore the phenomenon of the modern American enclosed mall, its social implications, and his own relationship with commerce and the world.

The casually furnished, unheated apartment was in a 750-square-foot loft beneath an I-beam and above an unused dusty storage room in the mall parking garage that was accessed through a door in a stairwell, according to Townsend, his fellow artists and the police.

The collective labored mightily to haul in more than two tons of construction materials and furnishings to build out and equip the space, which already had a concrete floor. Some of the material was brought in through an 11-inch-wide aperture on the west side of the mall that allowed access to the garage interior. Larger items were brought into the garage by car and carried up fire exit stairwells, the artists said.

In order to section off and disguise the space, the artists cemented together 90 30-pound cinderblocks to make a wall and then installed a generic, beige-colored industrial door. Anyone who came into the storage room would see a steep metal ladder leading to the locked door.

In a feat of derring-do likely to be savored for years by the Providence-area underground-art community, the artists illegally ate, drank, slept, read, held meetings, watched TV and enjoyed games on a Sony Playstation2 in a palace of American commercialism.

The apartment, which was relatively soundproof, contained a sectional sofa, a love seat, a coffee table, a breakfast table with four chairs, lamps, a throw rug, a hutch and paintings on the walls. Although the group had bold improvement plans, the apartment lacked running water, a refrigerator and a toilet.

Townsend acknowledged that the lack of certain creature comforts, after a while, tended to sap the thrill of being there and to curtail each stint inside.

The artists lugged in gallon jugs of water to drink, and to answer nature’s call, they would sneak out to use mall bathrooms. They did have a waffle iron, Yoto said, so meals tended to run toward breakfast food. They obtained electricity by running an extension cord to an outlet in the storage room.

The collective’s ambition to, as Townsend put it, make the apartment “super-sweet” with laminated wood flooring and other embellishments was terminated Wednesday. He and a visiting artist from Hong Kong walked into the storage room and were confronted and handcuffed by three mall security men wearing dress shirts and ties.

On the one hand, I admire them for getting away with this for so long. It isn't like anyone was using the space, and they certainly weren't hurting anyone. Furthermore, I am not surprised by the story itself at all. It is known to many that the Providence Place Mall boasts an inordinate number of hidden corridors and rooms. A friend of mine discovered, for a memorable time, a labyrinthine route that brought you from a parking lot staircase to the inside of the movie theater. The building that contains the mall is significantly larger than it appears from the inside.

Yet on the other hand, when you poke around on the guy's website, it is clear that he is trying to cloak what could be a straightforward 'punking' in a shroud of pseudo-intellectual statement-making. He refers to stowing away in the mall as a "project" and an "opportunity." He whimsically describes the inspiration behind the squat, having taken very seriously a radio ad that humorously contemplated how wonderful it would be to live in the mall.

...This, along with a wide variety of theoretical musings about my relationship to the mall - as a citizen and public artists - provided the final catalyst for making the apartment.

From those Christmas seasons to the present, I have spent the time to quietly create this space and occupy it from time to time. I cannot emphasize enough that the entire endeavor was done out of a compassion to understand the mall more and life as a shopper. It has been my utmost priority to not disrupt the security forces working at the mall, and I have gone to great lengths to make sure that my project did not interfere with their work.

Umm, except for moving your entire living room into the bowels of the building they are supposed to be protecting. Is there a more indirect way to describe squatting in a quasi-public place to hang out and play playstation with your friends? I think not. Why all the profundity? You set up residence in a massive public landmark with a fairly large security staff and stayed there for years, watching TV with your art school pals. That is more than enough to establish you as a regional legend, you don't have to muddle it up with some kind of amorphous statement about the current state of American capitalism as well.

I mean seriously, why do the cops always bust you right before you can install "super-sweet" laminated wood flooring in your critique of consumerism?


Anonymous said...

Because they can, Ryan. Because they can.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many security companies in the US that after this THOROUGHLY goes trough their managed properties in search of SECRET APARTEMENTS ... OOOHHHH.

Chup said...
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