Headline October 05, 2016/ ''' OPULENT MALLS AS CONSUMERS *PRISONS* '''



ARTIST -WRITER-FILMMAKER this Qatari-American -Sophia Al-Maria is a rare genius, as she whirls, eyeing the world around her.

The Subject of the Whitney show is the mall,  *the communal teenage space*  of the decades past.

The mall may be dying in America , but Ms. AI-Maria has seen them thrive in cities like Doha,  where  ''Black Friday''  is set.  She describes it as a:

*Weirdly neutral shared zone between cultures that are otherwise engaged in a sort of war of   *information and image,* as she wrote in an email exchange with Christopher Y Lew, the  Whitney associate curator who organized the exhibition.

''Black Friday''  takes us inside an ostentatious and largely empty mall  -actually two malls; It was filmed partly at the  retail-entertainment complex the Villaggio and partly at another shopping center, Al-Hazm, that is still under construction.

We see, among other architectural features. the  Villaggio's indoor canal and crsutz Italian's village streets, as well as the glass dome and double arcade of Al Hazim, modeled on the Galleria Vittorio Emamuele II in Milan.

As the camera explores these cavernous spaces, ominous, statickymusic and a portentous narration   -most of it by the actor  Sam Neill  -makes you feel as if you're watching a trailer for the latest alien-invasion film.

[A sample:
''This is where the glamorous heart of evils is born. And reborn. Not in the dark satanic mills of 19th century, but in the bright fluorescent malls of the 21st.'']    

Much as she did in  ''Sisters,''  Ms. Almaria distorts the footage vertically, elongating the already imposing architecture to cathedral-like heights and giving the video's few figures an ElGrecoesque ethereality.

This strategy is especially effective in the opening sequence, which stretches, flattens and defamiliarizes an otherwise banal set of escalators.

Elsewhere, though, Ms.Al-Maria has a heavy hand with special effects, so that the mall spins, melts or suddenly blazes fuchsia and orange.

Maybe this is deliberate amateurism, a nod to B-movie sci-fi, but it undercuts some of the more affecting moments in  '' Black Friday''  -as when the camera pulls back to show the small silhouette of a woman in black obaya who has collapsed on a vast marble floor  

There's a hint that something more ominous than  shopper fatigue  -war? terrorism? socioeconomic collapse caused by plunging oil prices?  has felled her.

Generally, not a lot of commerce seems to be happening to in ''Black Friday.'' Mainly, the camera lingers on the mall's architecture of entrapment and disorientation.

In interviews, Ms. Al-Maria has cited the architect Victor Gruen, whose designs for   American malls as early as the  1950s encouraged shoppers to lose their bearings in order to deliver extra sales-

An effect known as the  Gruen Transfer. She has also described her personal experience of malls:
''It's this temperature-controlled heelscape and you have to buy your way out.''

Yet watching  ''Black Friday,'' I sometimes wished for more of the technopessimism and autobiographical candor found in Ms.Al-Maria's writing  -as in her piece for Bidoun on an Emirati cartoon sitcom inspired by ''The Golden Girls,'' in her experimental essay:

''The Gaze of Sci-Fi Wahabi,'' a theoretical pulp fiction and serialized videographic adventure [with note to J.G.Ballard]. and subversive use of Bluetooth networks in the Gulf, circa 2007.

It's there, at least, at the very start of  ''Black Friday,''  when Ms. AI-Maria be heard recalling an  out-of-context  encounter with a high-school classmate from America at the mall in Doha.

He is in the Military, she observes from his buzz cut and combat boots; she is standing behind him on the escalator, ''probably looking like a picture from their target practice,'' she says.

There was this insurmountable distance.''
The memory adds richness and texture to thee generic paranoia and suspense of  ''Black Friday''-

 The mall isn't just a palatial prison but a tragic space of cultural  and political reification.

With respectful dedication to the Leaders. Students, Professors and Teachers of Qatar. See Ya all on !WOW!   -the World Students Society and Twitter-!E-WOW!   -the Ecosystem 2011:


Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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