A few years after the opening of Choisi, we felt the urgency to find a way to unveil the creative process behind the creation of artist books. In conversation with Choisi Bookshop curator Giulia Brivio
Located in Lugano, Choisi Bookshop specializes in contemporary arts and photography books, self-published authors and independent publishers. The bookshop opened its doors in 2013, but its story started many years before. «Choisi was conceived by Caterina De Pietri, director of De Pietri – Artphilein Foundation, which was founded in 2006 as a non-profit foundation for the promotion of contemporary art in all its expressions, with a particular focus on photography and philosophy», explains Giulia Brivio, curator of Choisi and book editor for the publishing house.
«Books in all forms — documentation, research, collectible objects and artists’ books — are an area of particular commitment for the Foundation, a medium into which we invest great effort and attention. This is the reason behind our decision to open a specialized bookshop and a publishing house called Artphilein Editions», she continues.
Apart from Giulia, the Choisi team includes Caterina De Pietri, director and creator of Choisi, and Elide Brunati, library manager. Since 2013 they’ve always been on the move: «We travel around Europe to participate in art book fairs with our selections of photography books and artists books. In 2018, we moved the bookshop to a more intimate and, let’s say, secret place, inside a building at a few minutes distance from Lake Lugano».
Choisi bookshop focuses on independent publishing, photography, rare books, and limited editions. The process of selection takes place in different settings: during art book fairs, studio visits with photographers and artists, via submission, and also through online scouting on Instagram or Facebook. «You can sometimes discover little gems in the vastness of social networks», Giulia comments. «We prefer to select books that aren’t available on Amazon or in mainstream distribution — this way, we support self-publishing authors and small producers», she specifies.
«Choisi is not only a bookshop, it is also meant to be a place where you can just leaf through the books, ask for advice, have a coffee and discuss photography books». As Giulia highlights, the Choisi team is available for consulting to a wide range of customers: students, curious visitors, graphic designers, architects and collectors. They also acquire copies of rare books on request, and organize talks and workshops on art publishing and photography books.
In a keyword, Choisi is independent. The De Pietri Artphilein Foundation guarantees complete independence to the bookshop and the publishing house. «We don’t stock and offer the selection of made by the distributor — we make our own choices, creating a network with authors and publishers», Giulia underlines. Furthermore, «we try to offer different perspectives on the art publishing world, inviting guests from various backgrounds to present their work here at Spazio Choisi».
Inaugurated in 2019, Spazio Choisi is the new project room that welcomes international guests, artists, publishers, residencies and festivals, with a focus on artistic publishings and contemporary photography. «A few years after the opening of Choisi, we felt the urgency to find a way to unveil the creative process behind the creation of an artists’ book», Giulia explains.
«At the bookshop you can see the final product, the “object” book, but you can’t see the infinite researches, abandoned ideas, and experimentation that lead to that result». At Spazio Choisi, artists are invited to design a display for their publishing projects that can express their journey in the realization of their book.
«We had a guest from the United States, Jeff Mermelstein, who transformed Spazio Choisi into a chaotic New York, with hundreds of posters to represent his approach to street photography and to photography books». Then again: «a guest from Italy, Giulia Currà, converted Spazio Choisi into her studio, covering the walls and the floor with notes, drawings, memories of her travels and encounters. Each artist designs their ‘bookscape’ and each time they create something unique».
Considering that Switzerland is a multi-cultural and a multi-language country, Choisi seized the opportunity to gather different cultures in the same place and merge together their individual richness. «We try to organize talks and presentations with Swiss artists and publishers from all regions — we also have many exchanges with our Italian neighbours. Our luck is being in a strategic position», Giulia explains.
This doesn’t change the challenging panorama for independent bookshops and publishers. «Our challenge is to introduce a broader audience to publishing projects that can be unusual, with multiple narratives, eccentric formats or conceptual books… it is not as easy as proposing a novel or a best-seller, but our goal is to offer a key to open these books and journey though them».
Choisi Lugano team’s proactivity is already responding to the current situation with its plans for the future: «we have created a network of artists, and together we are preparing a new collaborative space, an alternative to traditional exhibition venues», she discloses.
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