Central Books

Special Nothing Book

In a supermarket in Berlin, wandering through aisle after aisle of processed meats, the artist Phyllis Ma conceived of Special Nothing, a collection of travel photos that take the form of still lifes. To Ma, “special nothings” are those everyday objects that, on the right day, or in the right moment, are sources of pure delight: a very hairy flower; a block of head cheese the size and shape of an iPhone; a gherkin that looks especially perverse. If you pay attention, you can find these special nothings in your home or on your block, but we tend to be more attuned to them when we’re in an unfamiliar place.
In a new country, the most mundane sights and tasks are often fascinating, difficult, and strange: doing laundry, boarding a bus, buying groceries. But it’s in supermarkets, with their promise of familiarity —the same bright overhead lighting, neat aisles, and row of checkout counters can be found the world over — where things become most uncanny. In today’s global economy, you can visit a supermarket in any major city and find many of the same goods and brands that you would in your hometown. And yet everything isn’t the same. Refrigeration practices differ, labels confuse. You are seduced by a product’s packaging, want to buy it badly, but then realize you’re not even sure what type of food it is. This feeling of wonderment is at the heart of Ma’s fantastical aesthetic. Created in Berlin, London, Tokyo, Mexico City and New York, Special Nothing is a unique travel diary, a distillation of those moments when the commonplace and the strange coalesce, turn into something magical, surreal.

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