Alisa Grifo and Marco Romeny are the duo behind KIOSK, a retail project and art experience founded in New York City in 2005. I had the luck of visiting the project across many of its incarnations and always enjoyed connecting with the objects, stories and people at KIOSK.
We spoke recently over a 12 hour time difference via Zoom to discuss everything from retail as art practice, defining what KIOSK is, globalization, COVID, retail management, curation, people, the KIOSK book, technology and much more. This is a fantastic interview for those involved who enjoy retail - both as a customer and as a shop keeper. Like their project, tons of treasures to discover below.
For those unfamiliar with KIOSK - I highly recommend checking out their online presence first for a glimpse of the current project, its past and future.
Why don't we start with a simple question? Why are you guys currently in Sweden?
Alisa: Marco is Swedish and I became a citizen about five years ago. We left New York right before COVID started; we were on our way to France to take care of some family issues. We thought we were going to head back to New York after a month, we had already been abroad for a couple years, and then everything started happening with COVID. As we had an apartment here in Stockholm as our home base since 2001 we decided, instead of going to France, we would come here. This place has always been kind of our safe zone. You know, like when we lived in New York and we were renting weird apartments or had annoying landlords, the whole New York story, we always had this little apartment as our kind of: “If anything ever happens, we can always go there.” place. So when we were about to take the flight to France we said, you know, maybe something's happening and we should head to Sweden.
Marco: I think France was supposed to lockdown the very moment the plane was going to touch down.
Alisa: So we decided to come to Stockholm, it was a good decision.
You clearly made the right decision, I’m a big fan of Sweden during the COVID era. Here in Hawaii we’re still with the COVID full theatrics, driving with masks inside cars, masking kids, scaring people. It’s very frustrating for children and those with children. So I look to Sweden sort of in awe…
Marco: To be honest I think everyone was guessing in the beginning and didn't really know what the fuck and we ended up guessing right.
Alisa: Well, we don't know if we guessed right…
How did you guys fare thru the pandemic - I presume you did ok because of the online store…
Marco: It's been okay, but we don't really have anything to sell. This is the problem. The website is currently more or less just a marker saying we are still around.
Alisa: Maybe that will be this week's email subject. We know things have to change, we haven't been traveling and it's for a variety of reasons, not only COVID but environmentally as well.
So Alisa, before we go into where KIOSK is going, maybe you could fill us in with a sentence or two on how old KIOSK is and what's your overall description of KIOSK as a project?
Alisa: We started in 2005.
Marco: Really, 2005?
Alisa: Yeah, in November, right after our nephew was born. That's how I remember how many years we've had this company, I ask him how old he is, it's gone by really fast. About what KIOSK is? We have that discussion probably every week.
Marco: You never use the word store, you always describe it as a project, an experience.
Alisa: Store is a really a hard word, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this Robert?
Well I loved being a shopkeeper. I think it's such a great honor to meet people, to select products, make them look nice and try to find the story behind them and to make people's lives happy with them.
Alisa: Yes. It is nice to make the person you are buying from and selling to happy. That's important. But the problem I find is when I say we are a store, it simplifies things so much. And many people, I don't know if you've experienced this, when they hear “store” they shut off. They imagine me to have a boutique, you know, which isn't KIOSK in my mind to say the least. Generally when people visit the physical or digital store they get it, it comes together for them.
The beautiful thing about having a shop and being a shop is people come in with a relaxed manner. If we were only an art piece / project, I don’t believe it would be the same. I think when you go into a shop, you have the power of purchasing and therefore you're on equal ground with the people who are inside. But when you go into say a gallery or you visit someone's installation, in some way you should be in awe of the work that's being presented. You can't touch it. You're in a different position, it's a different status. You're not on equal footing. And so the shop element for us is super important because it creates equality. That is why touching all the objects at KIOSK has always been so important as a concept and being able to take them away with you as well because then an engagement happens, which is an equal dynamic. For me, this is one of the reasons I find our having a shop is super important.
When people visit for the first time they often ask, “Where am I?” “What is this place?” At first that was really frustrating but now I like these questions. Over time I finally understood what we do, with all good intentions, puts people off-balance, so visitors pause. But when we were new and trying to keep things afloat and we were really struggling it was challenging. It still often is.
Marco: Your question, what we are, has vexed us for years. We really can’t ever describe ourselves.
Alisa: We could be really short and just say we're KIOSK, which is what I insisted on doing for a long time, but that didn't really solve anything. It is difficult because KIOSK is a personal project and by nature therefore something different all the time. KIOSK is also an ongoing work of art. Any art is personal, unique and always changing.
Marco: I think we were a shop that slowly became more of an art project. I think we both were probably more interested in creating an experience for people as time went on, which also meant we didn't turn into millionaires. We were having really great fun with a store.
Alisa: With the physical shop, we always had very high and very low moments every day, the high moments made it all worth it. That could be one person walking in and asking, “Where am I?” This is amazing. To hear that made a huge difference, that was enough. For Marco it is more about creating an experience than anything else and until now that experience is in a store and related to consumption, but change happens. We are now discussing how the form has to change because here in Stockholm, if we did the same concept, in my opinion, it would not fly as it did in New York. If we do something here we have to modify KIOSK for this location and moment in time.
Marco: I think also New York at that moment for us was kind of amazing. We had this space on Spring Street.
Yeah I loved that store. I remember you had this death skateboard on a 2*2 plank of wood. I still think about that product. I found your store before I became a retailer too. I don’t know how I found your shop, but maybe it's because I lived in Japan before, and I was used to retail as an art practice. Finding your magical shop, I connected immediately with it.
Alisa: It's true. You can walk into any type of shop in Japan and so many places have that kind of magic where you're just totally transported.
When you first opened the shop, what was your approach to curation?
Alisa: The whole shop thing initially came about because I was doing what I do for KIOSK before KIOSK. So I just kept doing it to support the project. I was working as a set designer prior to KIOSK and I would work really hard for a period of time, the industry kind of ebbs and flows throughout the year, and then I would have a few weeks or more off. I would go away during a gap in work and then I'd look for, I always looked and had an interest in objects even when I was a kid, these very basic things that suited my budget. In addition, small objects because I would be traveling and I'd have to fit them in my backpack or my bag or whatever.
So I just kept doing it. People always ask, how do you choose? It was really just what attracted me and told the story of our trip, the objects were under my control. Marco would always come with good input and suggestions and he added to the selection, but we agreed from the start, he did certain things, like I would never decide the lighting for instance in the store, and I handled the objects. I would have the final veto because of my interest and I was handling the inventory and the logistics. So basically I just choose what speaks to me and tells a story. There was no committee, no marketing or sales discussions, just going from the heart and choosing what really told the story of our experience in a place.
Marco: We did have some arguments, ha.
Alisa: True, we did have a few arguments. Also if the supplier wasn't nice, to work with or they weren't respectful, then I just would say (to myself), you know, we're taking money from the customer; they're entrusting us with this funding. We're purchasing things and we want to purchase from the right people who have the same kind of values. Therefore, some objects, no matter how great they were, if the person wasn’t coming from the right place, we wouldn't stock the object. It was, it is, a very idealistic way of doing things. I think we always work with a lot of sincerity. I believe that is a lot of the reason people really appreciate almost everything that we've sold and that’s a lot of stuff!
What has been your guys' best seller and, well, we'll start with that one. You know, I'm just curious what is the number one product, your bread and butter?
Marco: I think the Danish dish brush.
Alisa; Yeah, the Danish dish brush is probably our biggest seller of all time.
Marco: Some dark gray plastic thing; it works great. I can’t live without it.
Alisa: Yeah it's so great even now - we should just distribute that brush in the United States… although I don’t want to ruin it
Marco: Ha we even got DanishDishBrush.com
And then on the opposite end - what is the one product that you're still stuck with in back storage? You thought it was gonna be a hot seller and it's just you. No one wants it.
Marco: That must have been something that I did.
Alisa: I think it was something from Romania. Maybe that cookie press thing…
Marco: Well, it was when we started selling Nescafe.
Alisa: Ha, no that sold. Marco has this certain Nescafe brand that's impossible to find in the United States but is the best one. We repacked it and sold it with a story.
I’m curious of all the countries you’ve been to - what is your favorite country to buy from and which is the one that had really nothing matching your tastes, etc?
Alisa: I think we should each answer this separately. Japan is my top place. By the way, the Mitsubishi pen, which they no longer produce, which is a crime, was one of our all time best sellers as well. It's that yellow pen, you click it, which is so important because you don't have a cap, which you lose, so few pens click, and it has such a fine point. So I hoarded some of those for myself, like 20, not 200.
And then Norway actually has really nothing much for KIOSK. I mean there are a few food things, like cheese, which is delicious, but I have never found objects there. Maybe it's because I don't look to Norway for them; besides edibles, I look for nature in Norway.
Marco: It’s like another reindeer hide or viking helmet. Obviously I would sell old bottles of oil from Norway…
Alisa: ha ha, fake oil…
Marco: Well there is actually a weird luxury market of accessories made of salmon skin. Salmon wallets.
Oh yes, that is like Alaska where they have salmon skin products. A friend loves his salmon skin wallet, but honestly it's flakey and not a very nice leather.
Alisa: Another Swedish military boat is going by, passing us. Almost 20 years ago our 2nd collection was Sweden and two days ago, I thought, wouldn't it be great if you could come here and find a store with all these great Swedish made things… but then I realized there are so few consumer things industrially produced here now.
Marco: I wanted to make a collection of military stuff, military industrial parts - maybe just a bolt that comes from a military factory. I would like to highlight that a lot of the industry that is left in these countries is military.
Well I love utilitarian products. Here in Hawaii we have great hunting shops with products from small vendors that you can’t find on Amazon. Great little boxes, travel suitcases etc. It's all gold and could be repositioned in a nicer environment.
Alisa: Hunting and fishing stuff is always a good one.
Yeah with a bit of editorial work, you could have the Ramona furniture line. Just a bit of editorial design work and you could really develop nice products from these vendors.
For you Marco, what's your least favorite country? Where you couldn't find anything. Instead of favorites, let's just say what was not a successful shopping country.
Marco: The one that I was shocked over was France. We spent a lot of time in France and I've always had a foot in France, my entire life. And somehow I imagined France to be hyper-industrial and small stuff everywhere, but it's not anymore. Long standing products have been marketed into luxury or heritage goods and the rest of the production has closed or been moved abroad. That was kind of a big disappointment. Maybe if you dig in there is plenty, but I couldn't see it on the surface, not like the other countries we have covered. I also think all the other places we came to with really fresh eyes, in France we were kind of “home blind”. I think that was really an important thing because we were going to all these places and finding stuff that people who lived there were like, what, really? Are you serious about selling this?
I mean, there's definitely something anthropological about you guys. I can see what Marco was saying that because you were, I like the words you used, what was it? “Home blind” ?
“Home blind.” Yeah. I think it's actually a Swedish expression that I just used. Yeah. It is basically after a while you get blind of all of the amazing stuff that is around you because it’s normal. You see it every day. That is why sometimes you need to come in as an outsider.
That brings me to my next question: how do you feel, as a retailer, about globalization? Maybe this is the big topic, but your store's kind of anti-globalization, but also pro-globalization. KIOSK is trying to highlight the benefits and differences about all these countries and unique products, but at the same time, you're trying to bring them all together. So that's pro but one of the problems with globalization is that everything now is not only Americanized, but Westernized, so I'm just curious what you guys think as retailers.
Alisa: I mean, for me because of globalization, we were able to do what we have done. But now it’s gone to the next level and that's another reason why the project has to change because I don't think the things we used to find are out there like they were before. When we started KIOSK, it was to give a counterweight to homogenization and globalization in some sense. Now, 17 years later, we have reached the point where most of the world has a lot of the same stuff, you know? I have traveled in India and there you can still find a lot of small industries. I haven't traveled in Africa but there, I am told that Asian imports have taken over what was made locally.
So we've kind of come to this point. For me, it seems like we have to take another look at what globalization is today and work with the benefits it brings. I mean, obviously it brings some negatives, but also some positives. We talk about tapping into manufacturing in places that we can now access and doing production in a good way, in a better way, that doesn't necessarily follow the existing manufacturing models and to actually make a semi-chain store that does things right. The challenge is to find the positive, to use it and to create a new model that is environmentally acceptable. Also community is important and to use globalization to bring people from all over the planet together, literally, using technology in a social environment, this is a goal. I think we all miss the community that is found around a store. KIOSK was so much about community and socializing and I feel that loss now.
Marco, what are your thoughts as an artist / retailer on the global Americanization. One of the good things about the COVID era, I guess is that I feel like places are becoming more separate and while I'm obviously anti-war, the one interesting thing right now with the Russian / Ukrainian War is that the world may be splitting again into a cold war between the global west and Russia, you know, there's about 30 countries in the west who hate Russia. But if you talk to South Americans, they're pretty neutral and the rest of the world is kind of neutral. So that's creating a really interesting force. I saw that in Russia now they're nationalizing all the companies that left. For example, Coca-Cola, instead of calling it Coca-Cola, they're calling it Cool Cola. They're appropriating products and making them over into a Russian based brand. It's interesting as a retailer to see in 20 years, if Russia is friends with the west again, when you go to Russia you're going to have all these alternate products again. Russia's creating a different path. So I'm just curious how you feel, how that's gonna affect your curation going forward.
Marco: It is a forced diversion of the path where we're going or where the world was going in respect to globalization. So the world definitely creates this place. It's very interesting.
Well they, the Russians, the Chinese want what they call the multi-polar world. America obviously wants the world to remain under their one polar hegemony. It will be interesting to see - you can go to Mexico to a neutral third country. They're non aligned. So it be interesting aesthetically to see how this plays out as the world de-globalizes in a way.
Alisa: It will be interesting. It's gonna take some time.
I read that you are exploring person to person sales through the website.
Alisa; Yes. Exactly.
Marco: We’ll, we’re having a discussion
Alisa: We're having a discussion about that because we follow what we're interested in and what we can access at any given time. For example, we didn't want to start a store. I wanted to travel. And I was interested in these types of objects. And so, one of the reasons we opened a store was to fund KIOSK, not the other way around. And now, well, we haven't been able to travel. We haven't been able to look for things but I do have this whole cache of things that I've acquired over what, 30 years or whatever and now I'm sitting with them and I'm happy to keep very few of them, but you know, the rest… I don't want to just give them away. I definitely don't want to destroy them, and I do want them to go to a better place and I would like the things to not sit in boxes in storage as then there's no use in having the objects. You could say the same thing about our archive, but that's a whole different discussion. So then I thought, I want to move on and start selling my personal stuff.
I'm also very anti-consumption at this stage of the game. I want to encourage people to sell between each other or exchange because I think we have to decrease the amount of manufacturing in the world until we can manufacture in a better way. We're manufacturing in 2022 with a 1950s methodology. We can't use the materials in the same way. We can't have the same types of factories that pollute and don't treat people right. But often in the manufacturing of these basic, common items that have been around, you find an old company. They're still producing with the same machines. They're still working the same way, which is really beautiful until you realize it's not healthy in a lot of ways, for the planet and for the people.
I think we all need to take the masses of stuff we've acquired in the past 30, 40, 50 years and create a new economy with those things and then move on.
The community is also very important to KIOSK too. Right now KIOSK is primarily an American community, but it's possible, thanks to globalization and technology, to more easily bring people together over something. I mean, KIOSK, this experience, it's always about bringing people together, getting people together, giving them a space to come together. I want us to tap into that more with what we do next.
On a strange note what kind of item is in Marco's mouth.
Is that a flute?
Marco: That would be cool. It is a smoking secession tool.
Oh, it's great. It’s such a beautiful product. It looks space-esque. I thought in Sweden everyone uses snus?
Marco: Well they do. They all actually use snus.
Alisa: It's gross. When people put it in their mouth and take it out, they try to do it in a sneaky way.
Haha. Alisa I try not to judge any cultural practices… haha.
Alisa: Ha, they toss all these little baggies of snus on the ground.
Marco: Oh come on. You Americans have jelly shots!
So Marco, off the nicotine, what are your thoughts on globalization and retail?
Marco: I think everything is becoming normalized and it doesn't really matter. Swedish designers are obviously super inspired by Japanese designers who in turn are super inspired by Swedish designers. And then all of a sudden is just a big soup of everything all across the world. I mean, you look at a design magazine it's now like, what's the difference? There's no national divergence, but this is actually the really interesting thing you said, about the war starting to diversify things again.
Alisa: What we thought was going to become the new normal or is the new normal is now going to change unless something super dramatic happens.
Marco: I guess there is a silver lining to everything. But then for me it was a little bit like, well, globalization is bound to happen, we are in this era. So for me it was more like the shop is turning into more of an experience rather than something else. A place where you start to, or where you have the opportunity to get people to think a little bit. So maybe it's not necessary to have exotic products, but only products that make you think or you display them in a way that makes people think. So it turns more into an exhibition.
I think your storytelling about the products is so critical to KIOSK. So I'm curious to learn more about how you come with the narratives, because you're really just telling stories. The products are just a vessel to tell a story.
Marco: Exactly. To me, that's also where, for example, my idea of selling all this military gear or only stuff from CVS or I have a bunch of ideas that are really not about the actual product. Let's say it's more about the way of telling stories. I see the objects as more of an illustration to the story and it's the story that we sell.
Alisa: You can get rid of every object you own, but you can't get rid of the stories about people and the places in your community and your friends and your family and all of that. It is the experiences that are most important. The storytelling will never go away from our practice, but maybe the objects will, maybe they are just the enabler.
Marco: You remember the story by having the object as the token of the story.
Connecting back to the real world - how was your Museum Show at MoMA / PS1 in New York?
Alisa: This is actually a pretty long one. How can we condense this? The museum has a show they do every five years called “Greater New York” that presents what the curators feel is happening on the art scene in New York at the time. We were asked by one of the curators to be in the show because he viewed KIOSK as art. And we were like, yeah, great, finally we're getting some recognition that KIOSK is an art practice.
Marco: I don't think we saw it as art practice until that moment
Alisa: No, not at all. You didn't, you still don't see KIOSK as art, but I did for sure. For the exhibition we were asked to show our archive and we were like, yeah, people would love to see the archive. But when we were installing, at that point around 1300 objects into the room together, it became a total chaos; too much to take in when the text was on display. So Marco made an audio guide for the show where you called a toll free number with your phone and then you input the objects assigned number and the text for the object was read to you. That was great. Visually the show was exactly perfect. We produced the display ourselves with the help of 2-3 amazing installers and a team of friends and family. We created a factory in the space to produce the display. It was the hardest work experience I ever had but very rewarding.
However, there were some downsides. Unfortunately the curator who invited us faded away and the registrar and the rest of the team failed to see the value of our piece and asked us to create a spreadsheet detailing every object for insurance purposes at the same time we were doing this massive install. They refused to see the work as one unit. They claimed that every sculpture is scrutinized in such a way and an itemized list of components that make up a sculpture is always given for insurance reasons. So now I had to do a breakdown for each of the 1,300 objects. Mia Locks, who went on to do the Whitney Biennial, was rude and condescending, questioning the values I listed, “How can lollipops be valued in such a way?” (they were irreplaceable) and at one point saying “Yeah, it’s really horrible to be a part of this show isn’t it.” She naturally has done well as a curator since then. That aspect of the show turned me off on the world of art to this day. The museum simply did not want to have to take responsibility. I understand this to be the norm.
In addition, at the beginning we said to the museum, objects and showing objects and the experience and the environment, this is part of our practice. But the other part, which is really important, is the exchange, the selling, the store, the passing on of the object, people going away with it, the financial exchange that funds the project, because we really wanna make a point that we don't get grants but the public supports us through their purchases. So the curators, Mia, etc were like, okay. Yeah, sure. Okay, well, you should do the store. And we were like, okay, great. So then we started planning and organizing to set up a store in the space and then they're like, oh no, we talked to the lawyers at MoMA and you can't do the store because you can't sell in the galleries at MoMA. And we were like, what do you mean? Almost every artist who's been in these galleries has been selling the work on. Okay, come on. That's stupid. But then they just said, no, you flat out, you can't sell. So then we're like, okay, well this is a problem, you are asking us to ignore half of what our practice is. Then they came up with an idea of us doing a store around the corner, in this workshop space they have, and Marco came up with an idea to do a video link. Again, we put effort down on it and were like, okay, that could work. That could work. So then we start planning for that. All of this is happening during the build and install. Then, the night before the move in DAP, the publisher, who holds the retail contract at the museum decided they were not ok with us having a store, even around the corner and they decided we should have a store in their space and give them a cut of the sales. We canceled the store at MoMA/PS1, our practice was entirely disrespected, the curators completely let us down and I was seen as a pain in the ass. Although I was really grateful to have the show and super happy about the results we really got burned. This type of forum is not right for us.
Going back to your KIOSK project, aren't you doing a book now?
Alisa: Environmentally. I have a big problem with the book - all that production, the paper, dye, the shipping…
I personally think it could be a good thing for KIOSK because people can interact with the books. Find a publisher in Sweden who uses goat milk to print, make the dye or whatever. <laugh> You know what I mean? And that can be part of your book, you can have a whole chapter on how you made the book, the lightest, uh, nuclear free or nuclear, you know, Greta, whatever version.. Use the salmon leather for the cover…
Marco: Alisa you're such a you're book, book blocker…
Alisa: Book blocker. Yeah. Yeah. It's true. I mean there are not many things I buy without any feelings of guilt. I buy food and books without thinking twice, that's about it. Yeah. Like I'll buy food at whatever price, if I wanna try something because it's an experience and it's the same thing with a book. I don't buy so many anymore though. But if I find one I like, or I want, I don't hesitate. I really value books, but I don't want to add to the waste stream.
I, I think you guys have a special product and the product is your creation and the storytelling. And I think you should give it in a book to people who can't experience the store. That's just me. So, I mean, what's interesting is I'm surprised how fluid the KIOSK concept is even after 17 years. You guys are still evolving it and it's interesting.
Alisa: That's interesting to hear. Thank you for pointing that out. It's good. Sometimes it's bad.
Marco: I'm not sure if we're evolving or devolving really, but uh, something is happening.
Alisa: Maybe it's because it's two of us that helps because we're usually in opposition to each other. It takes a long time to get to the same point. Also, because it's such a personal project. Another good point is there's no debt. The project has never taken on debt. I mean one month of credit card debit, but you know, we have no investors, no debt, no outside parties. So we have that freedom, which I consider to be a luxury but we have worked really hard for it. I think a lack of outside input is why it remains so fluid, possibly too fluid, because we can turn the boat a totally different direction and we don't have to answer to anyone but ourselves. If it goes well, if it goes bad, if it makes sense, if it doesn't make sense, you know, that's the beauty of doing your own thing too. Right?
The first chapter of your book could just be an essay trying to answer what is KIOSK? And that's like a full essay right there.
Alisa: Yeah, it goes in circles.
Marco: It’s the only chapter ha….
Going back to the physical - which store incarnation was your favorite?
Marco: The Spring Street store was, I don't think we could ever compare anything to it, we had a roof. We had the craziest stairway. I don't know. There was this homeless guy who was amazing, who lived in the stairway. And we were living in the store and you know, there were so many stories with that building. It was just kind of crazy. Amazing!
Alisa: The location made the project and made KIOSK what it is. So, I mean Spring Street was what it was born out of.
Marco: The place had been this solarium and there were outlets everywhere. So you could plug electrical things in anywhere.
Alisa: The space had history - It was Paper magazine's office in the eighties. That whole building, everything it contained from top to bottom was basement to the roof was super special, unique, not always positive but very New York. That should be a chapter - just the floors of Spring Street.
Marco: We had this war for years with rats. Spring and Broadway is, was, the most rat infested corner in all Manhattan. I had an experience with rats in the night outside the building.
Alisa: For us, it really is about finding the right location as the location influences our work very much in terms of the experience we can offer. For a short while after Spring Street we had the store at 41 Union Square West in a studio on the 9th floor. That came about as before KIOSK I had a studio in the building. The building was special as in the 70s the super convinced the owners to divide up the floors into artist spaces. That super was the Dad of the current super, John, so when we found out we had to leave Spring Street we rang him up in a crisis and he found us the space that we still currently have there, currently sublet to our friends who have a gallery. Moving to that place was like moving back home. Now sadly most of the artists have moved out and the charm is gone. No more oil paint smells in the hallway. The location, wherever we've been, is always super important. That also makes it sometimes very complicated when we go to work in another person's place.
After Union Square we had a space on LaGuardia and it was really special too. It came about as we used to hang out at Fanelli’s, a bar around the corner from Spring Street. It's one of the oldest bars in New York and we would go there for our office meetings. Sasha, the owner, really generously offered us the space on LaGuardia at a discount to support KIOSK. It used to be his mother’s ceramic studio, it had a very unique character, a lot of soul and an interesting basement and sub-basement.
Marco: On a sidenote, I think that one of the reasons KIOSK has to be in America is the shitty 110 volt like ease of just hooking everything up. Here in Europe, everything has so many rules and is so fucking annoying,
I would actually agree with that in the sense that I think over the last few years I've realized that America's pretty wild and that allows a lot of entrepreneurial creativity that you just can't do in other places. Yeah. And it has pros and cons, obviously there's guns everywhere and rats everywhere. But at the same time you're getting kind of those sparks of energy that you're not finding in Sweden right.
Marco: Especially maybe in New York I can do whatever I want and no one is gonna come and be like, wow, you can't do that
Alisa: Really pretty much. So. Yeah. I mean, or they'll come and unplug it and then you'll plug it back in when they leave.
Marco: Yeah. A little bit like you might have a fight with the fire department until they win and you have to change it a little bit. But you start by doing and then maybe you have to correct yourself. While here in Europe, if you don't do it by the rules directly you're toast.
Alisa: Yeah It's impossible to do anything here. Maybe not in Italy. We are in the north now.
Marco: I can imagine in Japan, if you're doing something outside the cultural framework you're toast too. And it's amazing in Japan, it is amazing in Europe, but you don't have that liberty like you do in America.
Alisa talking about audience. Maybe we can go to the bigger audience and how you approach KIOSK online?
I think online for everyone requires constant online engagement. And whether it's social media or email or whatever, when we send an email out, we get sales. If I don't do an email for a month sales go down to a trickle. You have to keep reminding people when you are only digital. In many ways there is no spontaneity and in other ways there is tons, I mean, open 24 / 7!
Do you view online as an extension of the physical store and the project?
Alisa: The day we opened the physical KIOSK, we opened the online store. We made a point of doing that. It was essential. I don't know why I was so set on that, but we said physical and digital online must open the same day. And we did. I believe I felt it was democratic, that everyone could have access at the same time. Because Marco is a programmer he was able to build the online store and we didn't have to count on anyone else.
Marco: It was very unusual in 2005 to have an online store.
Alisa: Online has always been a component for us. Yeah. But, the thing is, like I said, I think it's great in one way because we can reach people and people all over can access our stuff and read the stories. That's super. And when we send out an email 10,000 people can read it, if they find it. As an artist and a writer, that's pretty amazing. Usually you write a text and put it in a show and, you know, 50 or 100 people come to the show. But in our case it's totally different. It's nice to have that reach. But I don't like social media. Most of the time I don't like being on the computer. In terms of what we're talking about, the beauty of a physical store, the personal connections and communication, online gives you, in my opinion, none of that. But we can do fun stuff online too. If we focused on it more, we could do it. A website that's more engaging is possible. Right.
Marco: I mean, we're kind of terrible business people. If you haven’t realized it.
Alisa: Not really. We frankly just operate in a different way. I think we're not terrible business people, we have stayed afloat with no debit supporting ourselves with an independent shop for 17 years. We just don't put the business and the making money first and sometimes that's frustrating. And we have to put down a lot of time to contemplation and creation and practice as an artist does. It's difficult because we're split down the middle in one direction and the other. Art and business. That's always made the project really difficult and also makes it difficult to describe. But maybe that is also what makes it so great.
It is great talking to you guys in detail because it helps me know how much effort there is behind KIOSK. It's not just traveling and looking for trinkets. What are your guys' favorite stores right now? Or have been or are there retailers you really wish you were like?
Alisa: McMaster online, which was around when we started KIOSK… we were like this is the best online shopping experience I've ever had. Ross Menuez who we started KIOSK with introduced us to it.
Marco: The book, the KIOSK book, if we ever find a way to make it, I wanted it to be like the McMaster printed catalog which is super thin paper. 5000 pages of thin paper.
Well the store does feel like a McMaster Carr offshoot - products that are kind of stuck in time, which I think is important. There is no sense of politics or trends in the curation. I think that is important to me and honest. I don’t see a bunch of Ukrainian flag items or political themes.
Marco: I am very political myself, but I personally don't want to involve that into the KIOSK chaos necessarily. I'm obviously not a conservative person, but I want the conservatives to come to the story. I want to talk to them. I want to have the opportunity to actually engage with them if I can and not scare them away with, you know.
Alisa: I can understand that it's good to talk to both sides of the fence, coin or whatever. But I think you have to express opinions, this is a personal project and expressing our personal political opinion from time to time is important to me. It is important to be clear so people know where we stand. And that doesn't mean I choose to express it through the products I offer: a t-shirt, a this or that, you know, mug or whatever. As I said years ago when we were living in France, KIOSK is now changing. In France the political voice and protest can take on a whole intense thing. I find it good. The French can make themselves heard and they come together. That’s not really the case in Sweden where people are elected or given power and then it is assumed they will take the right decisions and they are given license to make decisions without questions. At the time I realized we needed to change our focus we were making a project showing art at Cobusier’s “Cite Radieuse” in Marseille, a place which was radical when it was built. And I said to Marco, no more of this, I want to turn KIOSK into a political movement. And Marco was like, absolutely not! Here we are, logjam!
Sometimes people just wanna have an escape from that and then having a retail experience is an escape also.
Alisa: And that escape is super important and having some fun is super important and just sending an email out also that doesn't just sell that isn't just political, but just is funny is really important too. You know? Like our last email was just to be funny, we didn't really get any sales out of it. That was fine. It was only, let's all laugh a little bit or have a weird thought. But it’s also important in my opinion to always express political views in times of trouble, like now.
This is another chapter for your book. How and where politics belong in retailing. Conspiracy theories of KIOSK, floors of KIOSK, the future of KIOSK - I can’t wait to read your book… ha!
Anyway, I don't wanna take more of your coffee time.
Thank you it's great to talk to creative people.
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