The Shopping List series

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Just popping to the shops…

An initial fascination with shopping lists lead to an evolving commentary into consumers, consumerism and the death of the High Street.

The singular difficulty that challenges any well-equipped letterpress studio is the necessity to find textual content for printing. It is fine to own a vast quantity of founts in various sizes, furniture and spacing materials, ink, paper and of course some kind of printing press, but without words to print the whole collection becomes simply a static exhibit.

With this in mind, there is a constant desire to source words, sentences, and paragraphs. These can be found in very traditional ways – by visiting a library, purchasing a newspaper or looking on-line. But to find anything which strides into the realms of fine art, text as art, experimental typography (the list is endless) there is a need to embrace a different, non-standard creative process. When researching content it is vital that you are open to serendipity, search in spaces and situations that at first do not appear obvious. One such find was a disregarded shopping list, left on the floor in a supermarket.

Shopping lists are casually written, often on scraps of paper or the back of an envelope, then disregarded usually to be found near the cash register. Having chanced upon some intriguing lists and realising that they regularly punctuate the floors around the check outs and in corners of shops and supermarkets, they became the inspiration for a project. A wealth of text could become available, as long as you were comfortable on your hands and knees navigating between queues of anxious shoppers.

After gathering a small collection of lists, and on closer inspection these ephemeral objects offered up an intriguing insight into the lives and desires of an anonymous public. It was the interpretation that became fascinating and began to charge and propel the project.

The lists documented not only a range of consumable items needed to restock the empty pantry shelves, but invited speculation into the shopper’s age, education, class and possibly aspirational desires – should you wish to reflect further and analyse it.

Who needs ‘ten bottles of wine’ on a Monday evening? Is ‘Rose’ the name of a visitor (something for Rose perhaps) or just a single prickly stemmed flower? Why does the list begin in pencil and end in blue ink – was it compiled over a number of days?

Reading (or on occasion trying to read) the handwriting offered a further layer in deciphering the authorship of the lists – italic, capitalisation, underlining etc. These were some of the range of typo/graphic choices the authors had made. Even sub texts, layered the documents further – notes relating to what they were going to do with the products once they returned home – for example: CLEAN (in capital letters) – vacuum out car (incorrectly spelt)!

As the project gathered pace the proposal was to regularly collect (whenever possible) shopping lists, document the date and place that they were found – thereafter to set type and print, meticulously following the same layout, spelling and punctuation as the original and in the same colours.

The resulting work has developed into a growing document of consumerism. In a digital age this information has little or no place to inform the engines of capitalism, but rather the opposite. The work reflects the changes from a buoyant ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’ and therefore nation of shoppers into struggling High Streets and a move away from a physical shopping experience. Perhaps when we are all buying ‘on-line’ the work will simply evolve into an archive and like printed train tickets become the physical mementoes of a bygone age.

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Studio B – Milverton – Somerset – TA4 1LA – UK

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© Middleton – 2019

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