Compiled by the owners of Taipei City bookstore and studio Itis Edition (版語空間), Ordinary Beauty (普通美) encourages people to take a second look at the things around them.
The book includes photos of more than 100 objects gathered from variety and hardware stores in different Taiwanese cities. Some of the items will be on display at Good Cho’s (好,丘) until Jan. 15.
The objects include rubber rain boots in bright yellow and royal blue, plastic badminton shuttlecocks, and a bamboo birdcage purchased from the section of Heping West Road (和平西路) in Taipei, known as “bird street” (鳥街) for its cluster of stores selling avian pets. Some items, like a metal bottle that was filled with hot water and slipped in between bedsheets to warm them, were once a common part of daily life in Taiwan, but are now almost impossible to find on store shelves.
While preparing the exhibit, Itis Edition owner Yihsin Wu (吳怡欣) considered the form, function and appearance of each object, with an emphasis on simplicity.
One of her favorite items is a soup ladle assembled from a metal cone and rod.
The design is “crude, but it’s also very smart,” says Wu.
A group of five mismatched plastic tumblers in delicate pastel colors are showcased in the Good Cho’s exhibit.
“You see cups like that all the time in restaurants and they are usually worn, so the surface is cloudy,” says Wu. “But then I found them brand new in a restaurant supply store and I was surprised, because they looked just like glass.”
Wu lived in New York City between 1997 and 2005, earning degrees at the School of Visual Arts and Pratt Institute. During that time, she met her husband, a photographer. The two spent their spare time collecting vintage magazines and poring over advertisements for now-obsolete objects.
WHAT: Ordinary Beauty at Good Cho’s
WHERE: Xinyi Public Assembly Hall House C (信義公民會館C館), 54 Songqin St, Taipei City (台北市松勤街54號)
TELEPHONE: (02) 2758-2609
OPEN: Tuesday to Friday 11am to 9:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm. Closed Mondays. Until Jan. 15
ON THE NET: tw.streetvoice.com/writing/goodchos, itisedition.blogspot.com
“We ended up hunting for the actual products we saw pictured in the ads at secondhand stores,” says Wu. “So eventually our interest was not so much about the magazines, but the things we saw in them.”
While looking through thrift stores and flea markets for old items like radios, coffee grinders, dishware and chairs, Wu says she was struck by the difference between the products she had grown up with in Taiwan and what had been produced or used during the same time in the US. Even familiar objects took on a new sheen when she stumbled upon them.
“When you do finally start paying attention to them, it’s like ‘oh, these are fantastic!’” says Wu.
Preparing Ordinary Beauty brought back the joy of discovering the elegance in even the most basic of household items.
During the six months they spent gathering objects for the book, Wu’s husband went down to a breakfast stand and was struck by the simplicity of a wire basket holding a batch of youtiao (油條), the fried dough sticks usually served with hot soy milk by street vendors.
“It was a very lovely basket, but my husband had never paid attention to it before,” says Wu. The couple found a duplicate in a hardware store. Shaped like a squat cylinder with a carrying handle, the basket is twisted from just a few wires, but is sturdy enough to handle repeated immersions into hot oil.
“When we were hunting for these things, it really helped open our eyes,” says Wu. “We hope [Ordinary Beauty] will inspire people to take a closer look at the objects next to them.”
Paging design history: The Itis Edition store