Galleria: The Mall That Time Forgot
Shari Kasman, 160 pgs, Salted Pepper Projects, saltedpepperprojects.com, $45
I’d always only known the Galleria as that place my grandmother took the bus to every Saturday. Luckily, Shari Kasman’s photographic documemoir of the “’70s-era retail cave” in Toronto’s West End offers a more distinct read on its bizarre allure. “At Galleria Mall,” Kasman writes, “retro cool is naturally born, the result of genuine neglect.”
Considering the mall’s reputation among West End Toronto hipsters, I was initially afraid that Kasman’s treatment might be yet another cheap shot at yet another decaying spectacle of the boomer generation’s wet dreams. But I was surprised to find that the book’s opening 20 pages feature a refreshing mix of anecdote, social history, and case study as they recountGalleria’s cultural and historical context.Written in a compelling blend of personal narrative and matter-of-fact description, these sections cover everything from the invention of the modern shopping mall by Austrian architect Victor Gruen to a kind of quirky auto-ethnography of Kasman’s own, highly relatable Galleria experience.
However, the book’s charm evaporates, with the main event, its photography. With a stealthy, undercover approach, the necessity for which is not well explained, Kasman’s images feel like a mix of crime scene documentation and straight up creep shots. Most of them are captioned with cracks about the mall’s signage and window displays, as if Kasman were a smart-ass teenager killing time after school.
Some of these might be good for a chuckle, and urban preservationists terrified of Galleria’s pending redevelopment may appreciate the thoroughness of Kasman’s documentation. But Kasman’s strengths are in her research, her writing, and the book design, which brilliantly emulates the distinct green and brown hues of the mall’s real life interior. In their own right, these elements tell a truly human story that transcends the generational barriers dividing Torontonians today.