Even though Sainsbury’s Own Label products didn’t populate the pantry of my childhood, I am nevertheless excited about Jonny Trunk‘s forthcoming Fuel publication, simply titled Own Label, that documents the alluring modernism of the packaging. I suspect the book will be, to resort to both cliché and an awful pun, a visual feast. Scanning through the pages that have tantalizingly appeared online in advance of the book’s September publication, I am struck by a couple of things:
1. How the geometries of modernism, its fascination with basic shapes both in repetition and juxtaposed with one another, structure the design of the Own Label products.
The idea is, I suppose, that these supermarket basics find visual representation through the most elementary of geometric forms. Triangles, squares, and circles rule the day. There is a nice Canadian analogue here, not for a product range, but of an individual package. As Douglas Coupland points out in Souvenir of Canada, the Windsor salt box is an absolute triumph of Canadian design modernism and, thankfully, retains this look today. For more on this icon of Canadian design, look to the Canadian Design Resource.
2. How my attachment to these images can be explained in a couple of different ways.
First, it could just be a matter of prosthetic memory. Drawing on Alison Landsberg’s concept, I can understand my attraction to these things as the object-memory of something I didn’t experience. There’s a couple of qualifications to make here since Landsberg speaks of much more politically significant and traumatic events in explaining the concept of prosthetic memory, most notably slavery. As well, I am hijacking the term and forcibly connected it to thing theory or object studies to think through affective dimensions of our attachment to objects. Or, to put it more simply, why we sometimes get excited about old things. The prosthetic isn’t necessarily parasitic (putting Cronenbergian anxieties aside for the moment), and there is every possibility that our memory can be made up of memories beyond our lived experience.
Second, this could be a function of analogue memory or of something that I will call form nostalgia. I can’t quite remember if there is a specific Canadian equivalent to these elegantly modern Own Label designs (I am, perhaps unfairly, not including No Name products here), but there probably is, in which case my attraction could be a case of displaced nostalgic attachment. Even if this is true, I think there is something a little more interesting going on in the sense that what attracts me here is not solely the specific content of these modern designs, but rather the form of modernism. Thus, what catalyzes my nostalgia is not the specifics of something I didn’t experience but the general form which I did.
In any case, I’m looking forward to the publication of the book. There’s an excellent post at the Creative Review blog that provides a bunch of images from the book itself if the peas and carrots have left you wanting more.