I recently visited BooksActually’s new store in Cineleisure and was a little surprised that it sold few books, but lots of retro knickknacks instead. These range from the useful such as old notebooks and wooden rulers to the entirely kitsch such as fish-shaped soya sauce bottles and bird warblers.
Shopping at this BooksActually store reminded me of walking through Sungei Market (Thieves Market) with its range of curiosities and old stuff, except the store was more a curated exhibit rather than a market. Instead of discovering gems amongst the garbage, and haggling with an Uncle over the price, the objects have already been “sourced”, cleaned, and even price tagged for my purchase. A similar store that comes to mind is The Little Dröm Store, which is located near the main BooksActually store in Telok Ayer Street.
Though the items in both stores bring back memories of my past, I just find it hard to buy anything from them nowadays. I used to buy authentic artifacts from the past such as posters, pins and books. However, now that they sit on my shelves collecting dust, I question what use do these items have in a contemporary context? In paying for authenticity in these items, I have in fact commodified my memories for something that is just a simulation of it.
Increasingly, I’ll rather spend on an object created out of inspiration from the past, rather than something found from my past and put up for sale. Examples of what I’ll rather buy are items found in the newly-opened FARM Online Store. Take the Merlion Shopper for instance, a polyester version of the Merlion print plastic bag created by Hans Tan. Stocks of the original plastic bags would have been been “sourced” and sold at the stores peddling retro stuff, but this bag has actually been “redesigned” to contemporary times. Same goes for the 1960s National Museum Tote Bag.
On a side note, the Merlion Shopper probably sounds familiar because it first debuted as part of the exhibition Singapore Souvenirs held during last year’s Singapore Design Festival. The Kueh Tutu eraser from the same exhibition is also on sale.
An item I’m really keen on getting is Michael’s Lost Monuments Poster, a beautiful poster that appeals to nostalgia but has been placed in context.