Loitering is about shoplifting time and space. Under awnings, on street corners, and in alleyways and malls—social architecture’s liminal spaces—those who loiter kill time and seize territory not designed for occupation. The domain of teenagers, flâneurs, smokers, layabouts, and other delinquents, loitering is often criminalized, particularly if social structures challenge the loiterer’s right to take up space. Appropriating transitional zones and stealing the clock back from the arbiters of labor and capital, the loiterer (itself an ephemeral state) reconfigures public space as communal, pilfering their own time from those who would seek to possess it.
The department store, the wealthy granddaddy of malls (strip malls are, of course, the ugly stepsiblings), is built for the kind of loitering that feels like trespass—interloping here is all the more delicious for it. Maggie Lee’s site-specific display Daytime Sparkles (2021), installed on the fifth floor of the Nordstrom department store on 57th Street in Manhattan—part of the Whitney’s Emerging Artist Program—takes up questions of space, access, and fugitivity. This installation occupies the far end of a maze of designer regalia and is situated in a corner of midtown characterized by stark class contrasts. Daytime Sparkles features two salmon-pink sofas (that she bought at Barney’s, making them cross-department-store stowaways) facing two boxy televisions perched on a glass coffee table, all aglow in baby-pink and alien-green LED light. The artist chose the TVs, which play lo-fi commercials on a loop, because of their “low-maintenance” DVD-player: “I used to work in a designer clothing store so I wanted the set-up to be as simple as possible for the people opening,” she told me, a gesture of care for workers that many artists would not consider. In addition to two projected video works, colorful paper cut-outs pattern the walls like hieroglyphs, a secret code for what Lee calls “a secret meeting place.” The ‘No Loitering’ signs here are a knowing wink to the ways in which public space—even and perhaps particularly the plush excesses of luxury turf—is policed. Yet Lee, who tells me the show is “about loitering and squatting,” invites us to linger in the molasses-slow temporality of, simply, hanging out.
Lee approaches her practice, which spans sculpture, film, and zines, in the spirit of collage and its associations with DIY. Often girly—hearts, dolls, stickers, and sparkling twine figure heavily—but never twee, her work regularly invokes early aughts suburbia, quoting elements such as stained-glass car decals, animations, and home videos; and that era’s earnest and exploratory internet culture with odes to blogging and message boards. “All the elements in [the installation] make a collage,” she says, “the artworks are fixtures… a backdrop” for the interactions of those who enter the space. The title of the display, Daytime Sparkles, implies that sparkles are traditionally the domain of the nighttime, requiring the contrast of darkness to shine. Lee reminds us that even when the sun is burning bright, we still need to steal (shoplift?) moments of illumination. The work here, Lee notes, “is a piece of glitter floating in a black-and-white world.” —Sophia Larigakis
Maggie Lee, Daytime Sparkles, 2021. Installation View, Nordstroms NYC, 2021. Photo: Connie Zhou