Misfortune cookies and sex toys. Jettisoning the taboos that surround sexual desires Chu Chih Kang describes human nourishment in the darkness of a bookstore
According to Chu Chih Kang, the designer and owner of Wuguan Books who grew up painting Chinese art from the National Taiwan Academy of Fine Arts in the department of Chinese painting and later practiced product and architecture design, called the store Wuguan Books because of its representation, which in Chinese means ‘nothing to do with anything or anyone else’. He said, he encountered observations from the 185 square meter space. When he set up the store in July 2017, for six months people could not apprehend what it meant, visitors left before entering the store with the fear of theft. The elderly considered it to be a joke, taking offense. Upon entering, one begins to introspect. Outside the door, lies half the signboard, while the other half is visible in the shadow. «As human beings, it has a positive side and a dark side, and that is what makes a complete soul», he says.
Playing with lights in darkness with spot-lights dropping on the books arranged in a random order, gives visitors the illusion of books that appear to be floating. Spatial boundaries and faces of readers are hidden in the dark, faint outlines are visible. With sound-proof, soft-walk flooring and a three-inch-thick carpet supported by sound and air systems, the sensation of hovering in an off-structural density room seeps in, struck with fragrances from the gift shop. A path designed to uncover buried or sabotaged interests; Chih Kang mentions that he wanted the experience to encompass a treasure hunt where the focus is drifted from the search for materialistic possession to accumulate souvenirs in materialistic form. Within an environment that lacks restrain, people can be themselves and find the books they didn’t realize they would want to read. Kang injects dependence on the senses to create memories. The store has a reading area which includes a lamp, lighting the table in a curtailed set up. Books are displayed on an iron rack. He noticed bookstores and libraries consists of bundles or sections, categorizing them to form a set which can diminish the appeal of the books. He envisions visitors to have a relation with the books as the lights fall on them, bringing the reader’s attention towards the reading material.
At Wuguan, a void within the space is viewed by visitors to resemble a Buddhist cave. He says, «the curation was driven by thoughts of human desires, moods and bounds of social conventions, emphasizing on what we have buried within ourselves. Wuguan Books recognizes and follows this law. The genres that are displayed are based on humanity’s themes covering psychology, body positivity, erotica, memories and therapy sourced to provide a nostalgia. The collection can consist of second-hand book, but are limited editions». Among thousands of design projects over the course of time, the Wuguan bookstore creates a space without space by eliminating the focus on people. Growing up Chu Chih Kang had dyslexia which made him dislike reading in open spaces. The store embodies his childhood manifestation of reading under the blanket with a torch. He emphasizes, «I have taken the time to understand human behavior, mannerism and psychology and how people behave in darkness, their relationship with it. Darkness is nothing but the absence of light».
Kang worked to find the ways to enhance alternative senses for the reader to reduce consciousness of self and their surroundings. His intention was to create a space where one can let go of the boundaries and shackles. To present this message, he designed the entrance of the store with white curtains and decorated it with white flowers and a cascade of books in its center, representing a Chinese mourning hall with a message to celebrate the death of one’s inhibitions. With the ambiance he wants to allow visitors from every culture to embrace loneliness and open the mind to imagination. The merchandise consists of misfortune cookies and sex toys. Jettisoning the taboos that surround sexual desires, he appeals to normalize it as a part of human nourishment. He considers it our responsibility to make the changes in solving problems of our society and to bring evolution into the world.
Questioning the gamete of our existence, he has added a coffee bar, serving coffee that smells like coffee but tastes like that water. Fragrances that allude the senses surround wooden tables that chip off if tackled with. «If a designer does not question his work the opportunity to advance is taken from him, this is the pillar to growth and expansion». In terms of sustainability, he employs what exists «When I branch out to source elements I reach out to vendors from the vicinity. We as creators produce stories by sharing our culture, and if the inter-relation is not thought out, sustainability loses its value». For global expansion with locally procured designs, «It is not about the darkness, but the light within the darkness that provides enlightenment. It is the Taoist understanding towards life. The interlinking of negative parts of life that are positive experiences on a scheme. One should let go of the idea of toxic-positivism and comprise of no judgment. The future of design has to be an inclusive journey, if purchasing can be done online, design needs to have a narrative. One that asks to be experienced or looked forward to».
Located in the art center of Kaohsiung City, south of Taiwan, In 2019 the store won the prize of Golden Pin Design Award, Taiwan and German Design Awards for Innovative Architecture. It is on the list of number one bookstores and libraries in Asia that ‘book lovers must see before they die’.
2-1 Dayi Street