A visit to the bookshop is not only about looking at books, it is also about looking at the other customers, staff, and the bookshop itself. The kind of books the bookshop sells and how it is decorated tells you something about the shopkeeper’s personal taste. With so many people coming and going, and so many personal stories being created day and night, a bookshop is one of the best places to observe the lives of others.
I have interviewed the bookshop MOSSES more than three times. Somehow, we are always talking about “altar”, “revelry”, and “death”. Early in our conversation this time, I asked Wong Sze-chit, co-founder of MOSSES, where he would go if he should move his shop (rent in Hong Kong is notorious). We blurted Hung Hom and Lok Fu together – and cracked up at the secretive coincidence.
How does one describe MOSSES? Nestled in Wan Chai, the bookshop shares a space with an art gallery on St. Francis Street. To find its front entrance, you have to climb to the top of the slope and arrive at an orange graffiti wall and black fencing, where you then follow the steps down to the dimly lit store. The shop is small and dotted by six yellow lights. When one reads, one has to adjust their posture and angle their book to make the most of the light – a fitting ritual that sanctifies them as a nerd.
MOSSES houses a select range of limited edition art books and photo collections. What’s more interesting, though, is the way that their lineup of niche publishers reflects their personality and style. Primary Information, a non-profit publisher with an emphasis on the conceptual practice of using publications of art writings as an exhibition space; Nieves, the first publisher in the world to specialise in artists’ books and zines; Ditto, a publishing project centring on Rave Party and subculture; Plethora Magazine, a poster-size visual indulgence that challenges the bounds of the conventional magazine format conceptually as well as physically (70x50cm) – these are but some of MOSSES’s publishers which, collectively, define the bookshop’s imagination but also crucially demystify the person running the shop.
If reading is no longer a necessity in this day and age, surely it can be treated as a luxury?
黃思哲：這附近有很多生活品味商店，像是隔壁就有一家Kapok，還有Monocle等等，附近住戶也是比較有消費力的中產族群為主。跟我們相連的畫廊Odd one out，他們在這一區開業多年，我覺得他們跟這一區調性很合，但我不確定Mosses跟這一區合不合，而且來店的客人也不限於這一區，我之前就有想過如果搬店，到底要搬去哪？（OB：搬去哪？）可能是紅磡吧，但我不確定為什麼是紅磡，你覺得呢（OB：好像不能太熱鬧，但又不能太安靜，好像在九龍區，我想到了樂富⋯⋯我不確定為什麼，但那邊有一個很大的墳場，還有做墓碑的石屋）你這樣說我就想到了，紅磡也很多殯儀館呢。（OB：每次訪問不是聊「祭壇」，就是在聊「死亡」，這樣真的好嗎？）
OBSCURA: Where did MOSSES come from?
WONG: MOSSES is two-fold: we are first and foremost an independent publisher, and we’re also a bookshop. Our publishing business has yet to mature, but you can view the other side of the coin as a manifestation of who we are and what we want as a publisher.
In school with Renatus (Renatus Wu, co-founder of MOSSES), we would hypothesise the kind of publisher and bookshop we would like to open someday. Gradually, Renatus brought MOSSES to life. We now offer a selection of niche photobooks, art books, zines and illustrations – most of which are out-of-print, premium collections and that is also how we position ourselves in the market. If reading is no longer a necessity in this day and age, surely it can be treated as a luxury? With niche art books, for instance, what we champion is the tactile experience of the thoughts and work dedicated to the art of paper and binding. These books were meant to be felt.
OBSCURA: Why is it so dark in here? Is electricity that expensive?
WONG: I’m starting to find it a bit too dark… a bit too extreme. Actually, I was the interior designer. Daylighting in the unit wasn’t great to begin with, but I was getting used to the lack of sunlight, so I just went with it. (OB: I seem to recall you saying that you wanted to turn MOSSES into an altar-like space) Indeed. I wanted to mystify the space so visitors could concentrate on what they were reading. Over time, though, it’s feeling too dark in here. Nathan, who oversees our second bookstore, BOOK B, used to criticise Renatus and me for being absolute idiots when it came to interior design.
OBSCURA: How would you describe the neighbourhood home to MOSSES?
WONG: We are neighbours with many lifestyle select stores here – like Kapok and Monocle to name a few. It’s largely a middle-class area. The gallery ODD ONE OUT, with whom we share this space, has a lot of history here and it blends in perfectly. I’m not sure whether MOSSES blends in, too. Our visitors are not limited to the neighbourhood anyhow. I sometimes wonder where to go if I should move the shop. (OB: Where would you go?) Hung Hom possibly, though I’m not sure why. What do you think? (OB: It can’t be too busy or too quiet. Somewhere in between, in Kowloon – I’m thinking of Lok Fu but I don’t know why. There’s a huge graveyard, and a stonemason) Now you’ve said it, there’re lots of funeral parlours in Hung Hom, too! (OB: When we’re not talking about altars during interviews, we talk about death. Is this appropriate?)
It might sound like a very cultured and romantic profession, but the truth is I just happened to open a bookstore and run a small business.
WONG: My name is Wong Sze-chit. I’m 35 this month.
OBSCURA: How long have you been running MOSSES? Do you enjoy it?
WONG: Almost eight years, I think – since BOOK B in Sham Shui Po and moving to MOSSES here in 2018. To be honest, I love drawing and books. I can draw and design books (Editor: Wong is an artist and book designer). But to this day I’m still pretty bad at talking to customers. Running a bookstore has never been on the cards for me. It might sound like a very cultured and romantic profession, but the truth is I just happened to open a bookstore and run a small business. This is my reality; it’s not always seen through rose-tinted glasses.
OBSCURA: What kind of life are you after?
WONG: I want to be happy. I want to try and make the people around me happy. Two friends of mine passed away few years ago. One of them was my mentor in design; he had such a huge impact on me. Losing him has, ironically, helped me overcome my procrastination. Now I want to focus on my art, on things that I enjoy. As long as I’m protected by a basic income, I can stay home and draw every single day. I might still play the occasional video game, but all I want is really just to wake up and draw – to keep up my art.
OBSCURA: Do you have any book recommendations for us today?
WONG: I’d recommend Vinca Petersen’s “Future Fantasy”. It’s a photo documentation of Rave Party in the 90’s. It’s published by Ditto, which specialises in Rave, music, and subculture. The design of “Future Fantasy” is par excellence – I always recommend it to my designer friends as a textbook reference. It’s a bestseller here and I have to make sure to save myself a copy.
OBSCURA: Why did you choose this book specifically?
WONG: It’s essentially a book about revelry. The world is too suppressed; we can all live a little.