Saturday, December 8, 2007

Repost regarding installation at Providence Place Mall

The Following is a repost from todays Providence Journal. I thought that those of you heading to the Providence Place Mall might find this particular use of commercial and communal space interesting.

He wanted a new sofa. She thought the apartment could use more color. When friends stayed over, they often wound up sleeping on the floor.

Clearly, everyone agreed, it was time for a change.

And so, just days before their secret hideaway was discovered and their exploits became the stuff of local legend, the artists who spent nearly four years homesteading inside Providence Place mall were about to do something that homeowners everywhere can relate to. They were about to redecorate.

“We had it all planned,” says Michael Townsend, the lanky 37-year-old mastermind behind what some have called inspired performance art and others, including mall officials, have termed an illegal “violation” of private property. “We had a bunch of new furniture, including a new sofa, new chairs and a very nice china hutch. All we needed was a little time when the mall wasn’t too busy to start bringing it in.”

Needless to say, Townsend’s arrest by mall security on Sept. 26 put a quick end to the group’s makeover plans. But beginning tonight, curious, envious and even outraged onlookers can catch a glimpse of what might have been when Townsend and other artists associated with the Trummerkind art collective re-create their four-year experiment in mall living at a temporary gallery space in downtown Providence.

To re-create the apartment, Townsend, his wife, Adriana Yoto, and another artist, James Mercer, will use many of the furniture pieces they had hoped to use for their redecorating project.

“They still have all the old furniture,” Townsend says, referring to mall officials, who have so far not allowed the Trummerkind artists to return to the 750-square-foot “apartment” they created in a hidden corner of the mall’s south parking garage. “So what people are going to see is all the new stuff.”

The exhibit, which will run through Dec. 31 at 70 Eddy St., near City Hall, is part of a flurry of activities and appearances by the Trummerkind artists in recent days. (For the record, trummerkind is a German word meaning “children of the ruins.” Townsend says it was coined during World War II to describe children who found shelter in bombed-out buildings. For more information, go to

On Monday, Townsend and Yoto appeared at Brown University, where they illustrated their talk with photographs and videos taken at the mall. The artists have since given two more presentations — one at URI on Tuesday morning, the other Wednesday night at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City.

Yoto, a 29-year-old Brown University grad who has studied shopping malls as part of her academic work, has also appeared at the New School for Social Research in New York and at a conference in Mexico City.

“People seem really fascinated by what happened,” Yoto says.

The group is also planning a performance-style exhibit at the 5 Traverse Gallery in Fox Point. Dubbed “The Art Aquarium,” the show will feature Trummerkind members living for several weeks in the gallery’s two closet-size exhibit spaces. Townsend says the exhibit is due to open Jan. 14.

As for the Eddy Street exhibit, Townsend says the goal will be to re-create the artists’ now-famous mall hideaway as faithfully as possible. Cinder blocks, for example, will ring the perimeter of the installation, giving viewers a sense of the room’s size and layout. (A similar technique was use at the mall, with the artists hauling dozens of the heavy cinder blocks up fire-exit stairwells, then using them to enclose their hidden living space.)

The installation will also feature a sofa, chairs, tables and even a china cabinet. Though the exhibit won’t be an exact replica of the mall apartment, Townsend says that most of the furniture on display was purchased before his arrest as part of an effort to make the apartment more livable.

During the exhibit, Townsend, Yoto, Mercer and other artists plan to spend time sitting, reading and generally hanging out at the gallery. (Townsend says the times will be posted on the group’s web site.) When the artists aren’t there, a group of cast-plaster figures will serve as sculptural stand-ins.

As a final touch, Townsend and Yoto plan to spend the afternoon and evening of Christmas Day inside the gallery. “Hopefully, people will come down and visit with us,” Townsend says.

Townsend, who grew up in a military family in California and Massachusetts before attending the Rhode Island School of Design, says he originally approached mall officials with the idea of re-creating the apartment as a kind of family-friendly holiday display within the mall. The mall’s response: no way.

“Given all the publicity surrounding the story, I thought they might be interested,” Townsend says. “Then again, I can certainly understand their position.”

In fact, the mall’s owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, is suing the Trummerkind artists. Among other things, the company is trying to force Townsend and Yoto to turn over everything relating to their stay at the mall, including all papers, videos and photographs. Yoto says the suit even demands that she hand over materials relating to her academic research.

Asked about the lawsuit on Thursday, mall spokesman Dante Bellini Jr. declined to comment. “At this point, it’s in the hands of the lawyers,” he said.

Since Townsend’s arrest two months ago, the story of how a small group of artists lived, on and off, inside an American shopping mall for nearly four years without being discovered became an international cause cÉlèbre, with reporters, commentators and Internet bloggers all buzzing about the artists’ exploits.

“The Apartment at the Mall: The Showcase Exhibit” opens tonight at 7 p.m. . Regular hours are Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. A gallery talk with the artists will be held Friday, Dec. 14 from 6-8 p.m.

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