Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wildlife and Nature in West Edmonton Mall: Group 2 - Kerry Boyes, Brett MacKenzie, Kevin Force
Lemurs at the Mall
Increasingly, Canadians live in an urban society and we are spending less time outdoors enjoying our natural surroundings. Instead we spend more and more time online and inside constructed space. The mall plays a key role in this new lifestyle, both as a centre of consumption and as a centre of entertainment. West Edmonton Mall is an ideal example of these trends with its massive retail space, plethora of stores and huge variety of entertainment options from movie theaters, casinos, water-park, amusement park, arcades and more. But even in this most manufactured of environments and centres for materialism and visual distraction, they have turned to the ancient practice of using exotic creatures to attract visitors. Previous exhibits included live dolphins and flamingos. Currently on display is a troop of Ring Tail Lemurs from Madagascar (Brownlee), contained in a glass enclosure called the ‘Jungle Hangout’ with no escape from the gaze of the viewers. The ‘Jungle Room’ is a manufactured environment devoid of real plants (at least the first time we saw it), but meant to simulate the natural jungle of the Lemurs homeland. Rope and dead tree branches make a structure similar to a jungle gym as found in a children’s park. The lemurs are on display for the shoppers to stop and check out as they walk about the mall (Brownlee). The Lemurs serve no other purpose in the mall other than to provide an exotic sight, giving the shoppers a scopophilic thrill. No information is provided to educate the spectators about the lemurs and their species, so they must serve another function. Acampora argues that zoos and the animals displayed within them act as a form of “pornography as visive violence” (Acompara, 71). This is not a sexual pornography but instead allows the viewer to interpret the displayed creatures “not as pure examples of individuals’, but rather graphically and textually sedimented portrayals reified stereotypes” (Acompara, 72) of wild animals. This “highly mediated context of display” (Acompara, 72) is an example of the male gaze, where the viewer has all the power and the viewed lemurs are powerless to challenge it as they are denied access to camouflage or escape. The lemurs are there to entertain the spectators, by doing what lemurs do: hang off branches and swing on vines, but only in the defined medium and space they have been placed in at the Mall.
Nature Throughout the Mall
In our look at wildlife and nature in the West Edmonton Mall shopping centre, I focused on the natural plant life that was placed throughout the mall. The photographs shown depict natural phenomena (Palm Trees, bushes, waterways, etc.) that have been placed and confined in an indoor, consumerist environment. The plant life throughout the mall conveys that society is able to normalize plant life through the use of mimesis and the mimicry of nature. As well, the plants are seemingly used to relate the shopper back to nature so that they do not feel confined in their shopping experience. The article Malls Are Going Topless by Ann Carrns conveys the idea that natural features in the midst of man-made places compel shoppers and that it helps the shopping experience.
In this photo, we can see that the palm trees and the waterway have become an integral part of the mall and the shopping experience. The wildlife has become a sort of centrepiece for the stores and shoppers to situate themselves. As well, with the increasing use of open-air malls as mentioned in the article Malls are Going Topless, by Ann Carrns, we can see that the use of windows in the ceiling can simulate this type of environment and relate the consumer back to nature through the use of natural sunlight. As well, the shopping experience is enhanced with the use of other natural phenomena. The palm trees and the waterway symbolize both that we have the ability to conquer nature and that we have the ability to use it to relate us back to our most natural essence; nature.
In this photo, we can infer that these trees are much less of a centrepiece compared to that of the palm trees and the waterway, because, these trees are presented to us directly where the shopper is to be walking and partaking in a shopping experience. The trees are therefore normalized to seem as if they are a natural part of the mall, having to dodge them as you go from store to store, when in fact they are clearly not a product of an indoor, commercialized, capitalist environment.
Furthermore, in this photo we are presented a small representation of nature that has been enhanced through the use of mirrors and integrating the natural landscape directly into that of the indoor mall. The small bushes have now become a part of the escalator and almost seem to be just an integral of a part of the escalator as the stairs themselves. This mimesis or mimicry of nature serves to portray the control over nature that humans possess and further domination of our environment as a whole.
In our examination of West Edmonton Mall and the presence of within the consumer sphere, perhaps one of the most striking displays that a viewer can come across is the 'Sea Lion Rock' and the area surrounding it. Centrally located near the heart of the mall's structure, the largest open space in the building, this expanse seeks to simulate a rocky cove, with waterways like rivers and small waterfalls scattered throughout. Miscellaneous fauna and palm trees dot the terrain sporadically, an open spatial concept surrounded by two levels of shopping and domed with a large glass window. In effect, the viewer in confronted with an "open" space, a recreation of the natural cove or lagoon, water and plant meeting, with the consumer safely kept behind large glass barriers adorned with brass railing, transparent so the 'natural world' is exposed but unable to pass through and meet with it. What is occurring in the recreation of natural spaces such as these is the emergence of, as Deluca and Slawter-Wolkening write, "hyperreal spaces" that serve to emphasise the “fascination, edification, conservation, commodification, and salvation” of the natural world (1). Effectively, areas such as this serve to use mimesis in order to create a false connection between human-consumer and the natural world as subject; part of the process and spectacle of consumption. Not only does nature become product, but it becomes subject to “the use of knowledge to maintain certain forms of domination” (Deluca&Wolkening 1), reinforcing human conquest of the natural realm. From these opposing forces, nature is both idolized and scorned, made to be viewed and ‘appreciated’, while the process truly serves to subjugate.The problem found, as D&W write, is that this is overlooked because “[the] texts of nature signify denotatively in part because aspects of their texts are real, the live animals and plants” (2), and this becomes problematic because no further thought it given by the anonymous audience based on consumption. A closer look at the Sea Lion exhibit grants insight into more topics of questioning. As the whole performance is set, a closed off area can be accessed by purchasing a ticket whereupon the viewer comes closer to the animals as they perform tricks for small fish rewards. Throughout this process, the trainer attempts to spew facts and lessons about the animals natural existence, habitat, diet, and size. What is happening is almost farcical, the animal has become a thespian and a commodity that the greedy public quickly consumes, all the while the person selling the show is telling them directly that the animal does not belong in this locale. “The animals are reduced to actors in a play/world created by humans for humans” (D&W 4). The process is nothing more than a performance of man’s dominance over nature, a concentrated and sellable condensation of the ideals of the false lagoon. This cove area serves to dissolve the “dialectical tension between disorder and order, nature and culture, animals and humans“ (D&W 8). It is nature entering into the dominion of man, and being controlled and captured by concrete. What is ironic is that the same sense of freedom that nature provides is being attempted by the very sunlight that enters from the glass dome, the transparent glass shielding that allows the consumer to gaze in and feel part of the ’wild’. These structures, however, are literal physical barriers keeping the consumer within comfortable bounds, within the realm of the shops and food courts and away from the plants and water. The feeling that seeing nature provides is being taken from the viewer as they cannot enter it, and they remain in a scopophilic shopping coma. The “structural dominance” of the mall is “a total space and totalized space. Total control includes not only control of weather conditions, plants, and animals, but also visitors” (D&W 13).
Acampora, Ralph. 2005. "Zoos and Eyes: Contesting Captivity and Seeking Successor Practices." Society & Animals 13, no. 1: 69-88. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2010).
Brownlee, Kristy. “Lemurs Replace Mating Flamingos.” The Edmonton Sun. 1 Mar 10. http://edmontonsun.com/news/edmonton/2010/03/01/13074576.html (Accessed April 3, 2010).
Carrns, Ann. 1999. Malls are Going Topless. Wall Street Journal 233 E Edition 62
Deluca, Kevin Michael, Slawter-Volkening, Lisa. “Memories of the Tropics in Industrial Jungles: Constructing Nature, Contesting Nature.” Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture, Volume 3, Issue 1 March 2009 , pages 1 - 24.
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