What are some of your fondest memories of childhood? For those in Asia, perhaps it’s visits to the mom-and-pop stores on the corner, the barbershop that you got every haircut at, or the hole-in-the-wall noodle shop that you ate at after school. In this time and age, some of these sights are but memories, unable to withstand the tide of time. Meet Shin Oh, a Malaysian-Chinese artist who aims to preserve the past through a contemporary format in a series titled 126³ Tiny Voxel Shops. In it, the local businesses that’ve been ingrained her memory are reimagined in a voxel format. Even though many have been long shuttered their doors, old bakeries, chicken-and-rice stalls, cafes and more have been given a second life on her digital canvases.
你是否依稀记得童年时这样的场景：阿爸阿妈带你穿过纵横交错的老街，穿过人群和炊烟，透过橱窗和水泥台阶，满眼望去，都是生活的痕迹。还记得当年那个你怎么也不肯去的理发室、那个放学后经常光顾的面馆、那家经常排很久队才能买得到的点心铺子……猛然间回想起来，互联网已为生活提供一种新的选择，而这些店铺又在时光的吹碾下留住了多少。马来西亚华裔艺术家 Shin Oh 在未来和过去之间选择了后者，在她的立体像素系列 “126³ Tiny Voxel Shops” 中，当地的许多老店纷纷得以重新开张。杂货店、饼店、面包店、理发店、裁缝店、鸡饭档、扁担饭店、咖啡店、肉骨茶店和印度煎饼店，这些店面在一个个像素块的还原下，堆叠出满屏的温馨。
Oh is a particularly nostalgic person, and she jokes that she’s too often reliving the past, lost in daydreams about places and experiences that’ve long passed. The idea to use voxels is also closely related to this affinity for nostalgia. “It makes me feel like I’m a kid again, when I’d play with legos,” she grins. “Except it’s all done digitally on a computer now.”
In Malaysia, 22.4% of the population are Chinese, making them the second largest ethnic group in the country. Oh was born to a Chinese family in Malaysia, and Chinese culture is an integral part of her childhood as well as her works today. Mandarin Chinese is commonly spoken in the country and Chinese-owned businesses are rife throughout the region, and so, it’s not uncommon to see Chinese signage in her creations.
虽是关于马来西亚，但系列中出现的店铺却主要以华人店铺为主。Shin 生在马来西亚华人家庭，据她所说，华人占当地人口总数的 22.4%，已是当地第二大族群。加上马来西亚本是一个保持多种族文化特色、多种族融合国家，华人店铺和中文在当地十分普遍，即便店铺的招牌是中文，许多人也并不会感到陌生。
There’s an unmistakable warmth to Oh’s voxel art, as if every scene was being captured during golden hour. Sun rays spill through the windows, filling different nooks and crannies with the radiance of the afternoon sun. These warm tones, when placed together with the pixelated aesthetics of her medium, makes the artworks feel particularly nostalgia inducing.
In deciding the shops that she’d recreate, she relied on personal memories and the recollections of her parents. To restore them with fidelity though, she’d often comb through archival images on the web.
Culinary culture is also a staple font of inspiration in the project. Take for example, bak kut teh, a pork ribs in broth dish that was believed to have originated from her hometown of Klang in Selango, Malaysia. To pay homage to the dish, she recreated Seng Huat Bak Kut Teh, one of her mother’s favorite restaurants and a place known for specializing in the iconic dish. In another piece, she features one of her favorite chicken-and-rice stalls, which was located in Emporium Makan Klang, a now-defunct plaza populated by street food vendors and more. “When I was a kid, my parents used to take us there to eat chicken rice,” she recalls. “Built in 1970, the plaza is a place full of memories for the locals. However, due to the development of the light rail project, it was demolished.”
她的作品常以温暖基调为场景上色，几乎每幅作品中那一抹洒进店内的夕阳，将观众拉回旧时光里，下班放学时路过的样子。而像素本身便自带怀旧渲染力，例如最近任天堂时隔 28 年重置了经典像素风游戏《时空勇士》（Live-A-Live），在保留原作味道的基础上，以 “HD-2D” 立体像素技术对原作进行了致敬。
在创作初期对店铺进行筛选的阶段，她顺着个人记忆重回那些老店，同时还征求了家长的意见。她会和妈妈一起聊起关于过去的话题，那些关于温暖的记忆。作品中许多店铺都与她个人经历有着密切联系。Shin 的故乡位于马来西亚雪兰莪州巴生县，这里据说是肉骨茶的发源地，数不清的肉骨茶店坐落于此，她所描绘的肉骨茶店名为“盛发肉骨茶”，在当地无人不晓，也是妈妈经常关顾的一家肉骨茶餐厅。在另一幅关于鸡饭档口的作品，原型位于巴生桔榔小贩中心 ，“小时候，爸妈经常带我们一家人到那里吃鸡饭。小贩中心建于 1970 年，是一个让巴生人充满回忆的地方。但由于轻铁工程发展，征用该小贩中心地段，后来被拆除，” 她如是说。此外，Shin 还会于网络搜集影像，便于还原。
As cities modernize, past traditions are slowly fading away. The old essence of a city is being consumed by the breakneck pace of growth is a price that’s being paid around the world, and this is no exception in Malaysia. For Oh, this gives her art an extra layer of meaning and purpose. “Some of these older, iconic businesses are quietly closing their doors or being forced to move locations,” she says. “Perhaps some can prevail and survive by adapting to these new e-commerce habits, but the experiences of their original locations are irreplaceable. Through my art, I hope to remind people the value of these places and that they deserve our support.”
如何在发展的同时守住文化，想必已是每个城市需要面对的课题。但很遗憾的是，老味道却成为高速发展的代价，人们一边熟视无睹，一边看着大批年轻人向新兴产业涌去，原本的生活滋味早已淡掉，这一点在马来西亚也不例外，而这对于 Shin 的作品来说，仿佛又有一层更为深层的意义。她接着说：“一些老字号正在悄然离去。地方为了落实发展，让一些老店不得不面临被拆除和搬迁的命运。 也许电子商务能助他们一臂之力，但线下实体的味道却随时代洪流远去。不论以什么样的方式，我希望能透过我的作品，让观众想起一些老字号，去支持他们传承下去。 ”
Prior to discovering voxel art, Oh reveals that she was in a mental and creative slump. She says that the slow, tedious process of creating a work of art pixel by pixel was therapeutic for her, and so, in turn she hopes for these finished works to be similarly cathartic for viewers. Within these square frames, Oh hopes to remind people of of the joy to be found in simpler times. “I think this series is quite ordinary,” she laughs. “But I see it as a time machine of sorts, allowing people to revisit the nostalgia glory of the past.”
其实早在接触立体像素之前，抑郁和焦虑症曾困扰 Shin 多年。正是立体像素让她渐渐从困境中爬起，慢慢堆叠出属于自己的乐趣。一块块像素的堆叠看似枯燥，却像是她疗愈内心的创可贴，怎么也不肯放弃。现在，这些像素正在感化更多的人，让观众常记起昔日的美好，让温暖与快乐存记于心，她说：“我觉得这个系列只是普普通通而已，但却如同时光机，带他们回到过去。” 开张这一个个玲琅且精致的时光小店；打开的，也是那一份无处释怀的怀旧心。没有华丽的赘述，一切平凡且真实，便就足以让人安心。