Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

In the Temple of Lost Marbles

Nothing recent here, I know. Apologies. (Energy has been spent elsewhere, on my other blog, which readers of this one are unlikely to find of interest.) Image222But a recent shopping trip Up North brought an opportunity to gawp at the Trafford Centre, Greater Manchester’s jaw-dropping acid-classical Xanadu of kitsch. Mancunians perhaps have grown blasé about their local outbreak of Delirium Tremendous, but for the rest of us the obvious question is: was there ever a moment in the late ‘nineties, when this shopping centre was built, when an opium reverie blended from bits of De Chirico, Dali, Alma-Tadema, Piranesi and Robin Ironside was actually the expected flavour of the weekend retail experience? Because if there was, I must have missed it. So the next question has to be: what on earth were the Trafford’s architects and designers on?

Maybe this has something to say about our troubled perceptions of The Past in the run up to the Year 2000 – the Trafford as fin-de-millénaire panic gone large. It certainly involves a late, disturbingly decadent, and Image243hallucinatory version of neo-classicism, drawn less from Praxiteles than from Canova. Unaccountably meaningless and garbled murals jostle with palm trees, real marble Caesars, golden fountains, distant obelisks and massy Egyptian colonnades – more post-ancient than post-modern, in fact. Then, for good measure, just when you think you may be coming down, streets out of Old Beijing and New Orleans lure you into a vast, starlit, subterranean eatery done out like an ocean liner complete with swimming pool. Only the iceberg is absent.

Despite the unrelenting and unsettling oddness of it all, it seems unknowing, as if irony was not the intention and this was someone’s sincere idea of quality for the masses. The occasional statue would be unremarkable in a shopping mall, but here the sheer, overwhelming weight of pastiche and incongruity topples the whole installation off at a tangent in the direction of the astral plane. Can you tell that I’m impressed? I’m not sure that any photo can really contain the Trafford’s Full-on Bonkers Effect, but here’s a gallery of fifty snaps from my (rather pre-modern) phone. Click for the slide show and dip into the trip!

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4 responses to “In the Temple of Lost Marbles

  1. muttonen June 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Richard

    Thanks for this nicely-illustrated and question-begging account. I’ll put the Trafford Centre on my list of ‘must sees’. Isn’t it a bit like Vegas? It wouldn’t surprise me if it were designed by E or SE Asians.I went to a shopping/theme park in Seoul a few years ago with exactly this kind of dream/nightmare quality. But I don’t think it’s a matter of what those responsible were ‘on’, more of what modernist aesthetic sophisticates are *not* ‘on’, viz, the normal rough and tumble of genres whose very incongruity is unproblematically invisible. When did you last look in the toy department of a large department store? My, what a can of worms the Trafford Centre may prove to be!

    all best

    Brian

  2. flynn brendan June 16, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Richard,

    Your Trafford Centre images have left me feeling a bit queasy so I thought I’d retaliate in kind. See attached . Did the Trafford Centre architects by any chance experience a family holiday in Vegas?

    Kind regards

    • richardawarren June 16, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Brendan

      Thanks for this, though your image won’t come through with the comment. But you’re the second commenter to suggest a Vegas inspiration, so you may be on target there. I hadn’t thought of that …

  3. Bill June 22, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Whittaker claimed to have wanted a “Dallas effect”, by which I assume he meant the TV programme, not the City.

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