Dusty coloured bulbs hang from the awnings, and overhead signs promise mixed lollies, groceries and cigarettes. Through the rainbow plastic strip curtain that covers the door is a small, well-stocked milk bar, frozen in 1996.

Look closer and you’ll notice everything is just a bit wonky. Artist and designer Callum Preston has spent more than a month hand-drawing every item on plywood, from the Samboy chip packets to the Toilet Duck.

“It’s not any high-brow-art thing,” he says. “I just want people to come through the door and feel like they’re in a different world.”

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In 1996 Preston was a teenager working in a suburban milk bar, stacking fridges with Passiona and Big Ms. “Back then packaging was brighter,” he recalls. “All these colours ring true to my youth. The big logos, the cigarette packages, the signs.”

He’s now a graphic designer, and this was his formative exposure to product design. This is a time capsule, and a love letter to his youth.

“I’m really into lo-fi recreations of things,” Preston says. It’s not the first time he’s attempted time travel. Two years ago he built a wooden DeLorean from scrap wood to commemorate Marty McFly’s journey to 2015. “I love the nostalgia element. I was going to do it as sculptures, but I loved it as 2D. Everything is flat.

“I’m not hiding behind shit-ness, I like that everything’s a bit wrong.”

There are around 500 items in Callum Preston’s Milk Bar, including packets of chewing gum, signage and magazines. He’s only been working on it for six weeks or so. But re-building 1996 could go on forever.

I lean in to pick up a plywood copy of Rolling Stone with a cover announcing the death of Tupac. I hesitate when I remember this is an art gallery. “Go for it,” says Preston. “The whole idea is that people touch and pick things up.”

It’s not all art: the mixed lollies are real, and you can leave with a tote bag that reads: “I went to Callum Preston’s Milk Bar, and all I got was this lousy sense of nostalgia.”

He’s being modest – it’s not lousy at all. It’s lo-fi time travel and it’s magic.

Callum Preston’s Milk Bar is at Hamilton Gallery from August 15 to September 18.


This article was updated on July 27, 2018.