Over The Counter Culture
Over the Counter Culture is a programme of four film events exploring consumerism through the prism of abandoned shopping malls. Curator Joseph Wallace shares how and why this project came about.
Over the Counter Culture is my graduation project, made as part of my masters degree in Film Programming & Curation at the National Film & Television School (NFTS). I've been working on this since I first had the idea last year. I was really fascinated by the recent online phenomenon of exploring abandoned spaces, particularly shopping malls, and wondered if maybe there was some kind of ambiently political aspect to it.
The film programme begins in 1970 with Zabriskie Point, a time when America was still hungover from rebellious bikers, free love and the civil rights movement. From there we'll go right through to 2020, stopping along the way to visit a militantly-run shopping mall of ‘80s excess in Chopping Mall, join a group of celebrity-obsessed criminals in The Bling Ring, before finally hiding inside a Parisian shopping mall at night with young, insurrectionists in Nocturama. Each night has a different theme, and we’re splitting the event between two venues in the shadows of the Bullring; Mockingbird Cinema and Pan-Pan, each with their own unique vibe.
Hopefully, through the use of shorts, internet vlogs and other media we can see how our collective powers have been co-opted and re-sold as products within capitalism, leading to an interesting question about whether counterculture is even possible today; and if so, what it might look like in an ever more corporately-owned world. As culture exists more exclusively online I think it’s important to look at how artists are reclaiming and re-experiencing a past that’s still in the peripheries of the present. Vaporwave music, chillwave, a e s t h e t i c s, sleepcore, mumblecore - all vibes that I feel slow the machine of capitalism just enough for us to notice the process. It is in that empty space that we feel just how vapid the whole system is. It’s an interesting question of what we do with emotions, aroused by commercials, only to find empty shelves and memories.
I think the shopping mall is like the golden goose - it encapsulates so much and keeps on giving. Charting the history of shopping malls through the programme encapsulates the story of modern capitalism; how the internet came and replaced those large spaces with images of their ghostly past, which themselves become a product of online algorithms. My 10-year old nephew is way too young to remember malls, but is currently obsessed with the Backrooms, and liminal spaces, and I wonder exactly what he’s feeling. I am sure he’s just wanting to be scared, but it’s fascinating how such emotions are being experienced in empty supermarkets and the labyrinth of corporate buildings.
I'm very excited to be partnering with Flatpack for this event, and was very happy that they agreed to support the programme. They’ve been actively shaping film culture in the West Midlands for many years, and I hope my programme is a strong enough intersection of pop culture and cultural critique to attract a local crowd. As a Coventry kid, having my graduation project take place outside of London was very important to me. Vibrant film culture should be accessible everywhere.