Arcadia (2020)

Arcadia (2020) : Benjamin at the Mall

Fruitmarket Gallery Bookmarket, Waverley Mall, Edinburgh EH1 1BQ

6th Feb – 29th March 2020 / Preview 5th Feb 6-8pm

Arcadia (2020) comments on the role of digital capitalism in the virtual and physical spaces of modern consumerism. Text from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project (1939) is fed through Google’s advertising platform and displayed as if the words were commodities on a stock exchange. Prices are based on the economic value of the keywords which buy advertising space on Google’s search results pages.

Made specially for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s pop-up space in Waverley Mall, Edinburgh, Arcadia uses LED screens hung in the bookshop’s windows to display text that can be seen in the communal mall space below, and which mingles with the neon advertising of surrounding commercial stores.

mall pic chris scott
Photo credit: Chris Scott

Reimagining the figure of Benjamin’s flâneur in the Parisian arcades, Arcadia asks us to consider our roles as wanderers through the signage of commodified life in today’s physical and virtual marketplaces (Wark 2015), where commercial capital accumulates with every search or click, as well as each trip to the shopping mall.

Benjamin’s concern with the very French character of the flâneur, an indolent wanderer with the run of the city, sits alongside the broad mix of visitors to a contemporary shopping mall. This supposedly democratic space, much like the virtual spaces of the internet, has become a microcosm of modern socio-economic life. Commercial centres are part of the dwindling public space available to us, free space which is understood as always under threat in a capitalist society. Whether we are flâneurs, workers or seeking refuge, from when the mall opens in the morning until late in the evening, Arcadia catches glimpses into a text that explores the complex dynamics of this commercial environment.

mall pic3 chris scott refuge
Photo credit: Chris Scott

Arcadia draws on Thornton’s continued theoretical and creative engagement with the work of Walter Benjamin and the psychogeographical exploration of physical and digital space. While her PhD thesis used Benjamin’s Work of Art essay as a framework to examine Language in the Age of Algorithmic Reproduction, her Masters dissertation on Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson’ films brought into focus both the insights and the ironies of situating Benjamin’s Arcades Project within a modern day shopping mall.

In an ‘exercise in psychic landscaping’, or ‘drifting’, in the 1992 film London, Keiller’s flâneur figure – known only as Robinson – visits Brent Cross shopping centre, part of his ongoing search for the convivial heart of London. His unnamed companion narrates:

At the end of the morning we went to Brent Cross to have lunch. ‘If I were a poet’, said Robinson, ‘this is the place I would come to to write. I feel instantly at home here.’

We caught sight of a small intense man sitting near the fountain, reading from a book by Walter Benjamin. Robinson embraced this man, and they talked for a long time. But when he tried to call him later he found that the number was a public telephone in a street in Cricklewood, and we never saw the man again.

(London, 1994)

Contextualised within both digital and physical advertising environments, Arcadia invites us to contemplate the roles we play – and the value we add – as modern day wanderers through the spaces of every day modern life.

Arcadia is the latest work by artist and researcher Pip Thornton to expose the workings of linguistic capitalism (Kaplan 2014) in our everyday interactions with digital technology. Previous works include {poem}.py (2017) and Newspeak (2019), which received an honourable mention in the Surveillance Studies Network (SSN) biennial art competition 2020.

Venue: Fruitmarket Gallery Bookmarket, Waverley Mall, Edinburgh EH1 1BQ

6th Feb – 29th March 2020 / Preview 5th Feb 6-8pm

Pip Thornton’s Arcadia – Fruitmarket Gallery Bookmarket from Five Percent on Vimeo.


Visual and technical development: Brendan McCarthy and Sam Healy, Ray Interactive

Technical Support: Chris Harrison, Bespoke Lighting and Video

Fabrication: Jamie Mitchell

Photography: Chris Scott

Video: Lucas Chih Peng Kao 高智鵬

Official Waverley Mall video: FIVE PERCENT

Funded and supported by The Fruitmarket Gallery and Edinburgh Futures Institute



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