The shopping centres built in the latter part of the twentieth century offered a safer, cleaner alternative to grimy urban centres. Suggestions of terracotta and terrazzo, alongside rich foliage under glass ceilings, conjured an exotic environment that was far removed from the weather-beaten high streets. It suggested a utopian social space amidst the luxuries of late capitalism. However, the whims of the market are fickle and many of these spaces have suffered a slow decline, replaced by online shopping and sleeker alternatives.
Signals in Reverse holds a mirror up to the retail context in which it finds itself, at Turf’s space within Croydon’s Whitgift Shopping Centre. The title refers to “ruins in reverse”, a term coined by Robert Smithson for buildings that don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are constructed. The shopping centre can be considered in this way, where it holds not only the memories of the past, but also contains – in Smithson’s words, ‘an abandoned set of futures.’
Supported by their upturned foundations, structures echoing the signage of twentieth century shopping malls broadcast tales of urban regeneration. From a failed monorail system in the West Midlands to the uncertain redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre, Signals in Reverse traces a narrative through the materials of these retail spaces. These centres were once considered homogenous as a result of their commonality across UK towns and cities. Now their aesthetics have become oddly idiosyncratic as a polished, more global identity replaces them.
This exhibition continues Felicity Hammond’s research into the homogenisation of the built environment and the crisis surrounding urban identity. Her practice collides local history with a global image, critiquing the increasing uniformity of the urban realm.
The exhibition has been made possible with support from Arts Council England and Croydon Council.
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