Most kids growing up in Australia during the 90s committed regular pilgrimages to a suburban sacred site. You might recognise its talismans on sacrificial, plastic altars: red frogs, milkshakes, cans of Passiona, Dolly and Ralph magazines side by side, Paddle Pops, crappy toys, retina-burning advertisements, cold and flu tablets, Sunnyboys.
Yes folks, we’re talking about the iconographic Australiana MILK BAR, home to the cultish congregation of post-3:15pm school bell devotees, vagrants and delinquents alike.
From the man who brought you the life-size, entirely made out of wood DeLorean, Melbourne artist Callum Preston now delivers MILK BAR, an exhibition where he has recreated, from memory, his own childhood meeting place and post-school refuge. Callum has replicated every single item out of wood, painstakingly hand painting each piece, whittling each memory into plywood sculptures that comprise the milk bar of his youth.
Launching on Friday 1st December at RVCA Gallery in Collingwood, the exhibition is based on Callum’s childhood milk bar in Westmeadows. While the real deal still stands in Westmeadows today, his recreation is constructed more from his memory of it – and the generic suburban milk bars of the mid-90s – rather than duplicating the original muse.
And memory is the theme of the scene. Every item, every component of the milk bar has been designed from memory and nostalgia, so there’s a keen sense that everything is just that little bit off, not quite accurate – just like memory. Even the surreal, dreamy lighting that Callum has installed is reminiscent of dream sequences on TV.
“The milk bar itself as an idea is what excited me,” says Callum. “It was a bit of a land of wonder as a kid, full of lollies, crappy toys, magazines, trading cards, colourful ads, ice-creams. The park bench next to the milk bar was a meeting place for all of my friends, kids from all different schools, all ages – we would all meet there after school and on weekends.”
“In the teenage gap where you’re old enough to have freedom, but too young to go to a pub or club, it became a central hub. I even had a job at my local milk bar at around age 13, before I could legally get a real job. I used to rotate the fridge stock once a week in exchange for $5 and whatever I wanted to eat from the store while I was working. I still think he got ripped off.”
It’s paying homage to Callum’s artistic origin story too – the back outside wall is covered in tags just like the original milk bar, where he first started tagging and doing graffiti as a kid. But it’s not just about the artist; the whole milk bar is celebrating the iconographic meeting place of youth, before we could connect and communicate at the swipe of a thumb.
“Nowadays we all live on the internet so much,” he says. “I just love that, in that time of the milk bar and my childhood, there was always a new story to hear, some local gossip, or a newspaper headline that was breaking news. I loved my growing up in the burbs. Some of my fondest memories are from simple times sitting outside the milk bar, eating a Sunnyboy and skateboarding in the car park.”
But while Callum is reconstructing a time and place before smart phones and the internet, he’s also really encouraging people to take photos of the work, to post them on Instagram, to interface with memory in the modern, digital way. Accessibility is important to him; he likes adults and kids alike to interact with the work, project their own ideas and memories onto it, like a 3D photograph.
So get yourselves a free trip down memory lane, blast yourselves right into the past, and see just how much you can find in the recesses of Callum’s milk bar memories. There is a lot to discover in this time capsule of iconic 90s childhood nostalgia; no detail has been spared.
The exhibition opens on Friday 1 December, 6pm – 9pm at RVCA Corner Gallery (82 Stanley Street, Collingwood). After that, you and your mates can hit up the milk bar on 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10 December, from 11am – 4pm.
Callum Preston’s MILK BAR is presented by Melbourne Bitter, Fast Times & RVCA.
Videography and photography by Elly Freer, words by Georgia Kartas.