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Back home in Stockholm – Konst-ig

Konst means art in Swedish.

Konstig means strange.

May 2020

From HÅNDVÆRk bookazine no 3

Sold out with English text, available with Danish here

Konst-ig is the name of Scandinavia’s hands-down best-stocked art bookstore. It is located on Åsögatan in Stockholm’s Södermalm district.

Konst-ig is a meeting place, a fixture in the city. The locals come here on Saturday mornings when they have slept in and had their morning coffee in a café. They typically come in to buy a present for someone. At Konst-ig they bump into people they know, decide to go out for lunch or talk about where and with whom they are going to eat. Once the morning rush is over, the post-lunch crowd shows up; they too buy gifts and exchange tips for that evening’s dinner appointments. In that sense, Stockholm is quite predictable, Charlotte Ekbom and Helene Boström explain.
Konst-ig is a source of inspiration for creatives or anyone with an above-average interest in design, architecture, art and fashion.

Konst-ig sets up shop in the lobby to sell design books during the Stockholm Design Week.

I never go to Stockholm without stopping by the shop. On my past two visits I had the pleasure of dropping off a stack of HÅNDVÆRK bookazines to Charlotte and Helene, who have been in business together since 1994.

Although the shop is far from strange it is remarkable, unusual and chock-full of knowledge and dedication. And the name?

It is an apt reflection of the humour and word play that permeate any conversation with the two owners. I wish this article were  a podcast – and in Swedish! Swedish is rich, wonderful language, and I miss it when I have been away for a while.

The air is thick with quotations, some that Charlotte or Helene remember verbatim and recall the source of as well as some that have taken on a life of their own.

‘One thing we have in common,’ says Charlotte, ‘is a strong competitive streak.’ What or whom are you competing with, I wonder (since I cannot think of a viable challenger)?

‘Anything,’ says Charlotte, a twinkle in her eye. ‘It may not be my most charming feature, but I never back down; even the pronunciation of a word can make me dig in my heels and bring out the fighter in me.’ ‘Yes, can it ever,’ Helene comments.

Another common feature is humour – the humour that carries them through difficult times.

‘It certainly isn’t easy running an art bookstore in Stockholm. In Berlin, Paris and New York, perhaps, but not here,’ says Helene. ‘It’s a rollercoaster ride, and it can only work if you have a partner who is as crazy as you are.’ ‘No, eccentric,’ Charlotte corrects her. ‘And because there’s two of us, one of us always has the energy, and there’s no sign that we’ll ever give up.’ Charlotte recently turned 65, ‘but I’m not going to retire,’ she says with conviction. ‘When my time comes, I imagine it’ll find me bent over a book crate that I just finished emptying, and then I’ll topple over into the crate, and Helene, who is younger than me (58), can simply close it up and carry me out.’

Apropos of roller coasters, the impact of the coronavirus crisis is felt by anyone running a business. ‘To us, it was a turning point,’ says Charlotte. ‘We usually get most of our verbal affirmation from cultured tourists who appreciate our vast selection, but now that they’re staying away, the Stockholmers not only pop in to buy gifts and find inspiration. They tell us, “You are an essential institution for the city, and we want to back you up.” Of course, we never wavered, Åsøgatan would not be the same without us, and the coronavirus is just one among many crises we have had to deal with over the past 26 years.’ Helene remembers a quotation, but part of it eludes her – it’s still early in the day, she points out, but it’s something about how new things sprout and grow when the old structures crack. She sees the pandemic opening up a fruitful crack in the familiar structures.

The future holds opportunities for the very big and the very small, Helene and Charlotte predict, while anything that is medium-sized will have a difficult time. A challenge to a society such as ours, which is founded on the middle class and rigid systems.

Rigidity notwithstanding, we exchange observations on the benefits of being small and agile, able to bend and twist, change course and make adjustments, and inevitably, we speak of sustainability as a basic business premise in today’s world.

‘Our concept is quality books, and even if one might question the sustainability of devoting resources to producing books, we have no doubt. What we are dealing with here is legacy, and any well-educated and responsible book designer knows that he has to make something that will last for at least 300 years. Books are a source of culture and learning, which are a condition for any healthy development – and really, what is a home without books?’

Currently, Helene’s day begins with a visit to her aging mother; she has cancelled visits from the homecare provider to prevent infection. ‘So I’m reading up on geriatric medical care,’ she explains. And what else are you reading, I wonder: ‘I’m a news junkie,’ she replies, ‘and I read several international newspapers every day, combined with occasional fiction on recommendations from Charlotte or my best friend.’

Charlotte, meanwhile, is a voracious fiction reader, ‘Ever since my childhood. I grew up in the country, and books were my best friends,’ she says without looking as if she feels that she missed out. I am curious to know what sort of literature she prefers, and Charlotte promptly answers, ‘Anything good.’

Naturally, they both read art and design books, and they are truly knowledgeable. ‘But the best part,’ Helene concludes, ‘is that no matter how much we know, there’s always going to be a customer coming through the door who knows more and is willing to share their knowledge.’

Epilogue: Charlotte Ekbom passed away on 26 January 2024.
The bookshop continues under Helene Boström’s leadership.



#visitstockholm

 

Konst-ig

Åsögatan 124
116 24 Stockholm

Konst betyder kunst på svensk.

Konstig betyder mærkelig.

Konst-ig er navnet på Skandinaviens uden sammenligning mest velassorterede kunstboghandel; den ligger på Åsögatan på Södermalm i Stockholm.

Konst-ig er et mødested, en institution. Her kommer de lokale lørdag formiddag, når de har sovet længe og har drukket morgenkaffe på café, de kommer typisk for at købe en gave. Hos Konst-ig løber de på bekendte, aftaler at spise frokost sammen eller taler om, hvor og med hvem de skal spise.
Når første ryk er ovre, kommer et nyt hold, som allerede har spist frokost, også de køber gaver, nu udveksles tips til aftenens restaurantbesøg. Stockholm er på den vis ret forudsigelig, fortæller Charlotte Ekbom og Helene Boström.

 

Det er hos Konst-ig, man henter inspiration, hvis man arbejder i den kreative branche eller bare er mere end gennemsnitligt interesseret i design, arkitektur, kunst og mode.

Det er Konst-ig, som står i foyeren og sælger design-bøger under Stockholm Design Week.

Selv er jeg aldrig i Stockholm uden at aflægge butikken et besøg. De seneste to gange har jeg haft fornøjelsen af at aflevere en stak HÅNDVÆRK bookazine til Charlotte og Helene, som sammen har drevet virksomhed siden 1994

Mærkelig er butikken på ingen måde. Men den er bemærkelsesværdig, særegen, fyldt til bristepunktet med dannelse og dedikation – og navnet?

Det er meget dækkende for den underfundighed og den leg med ord, som gennemsyrer enhver samtale med de to indehavere. Jeg ville ønske, at denne artikel var en podcast, på svensk! Det svenske sprog er rigt og elskeligt, og jeg savner det, når jeg har været længe væk.

Luften er tyk af citater, nogle af dem kan Charlotte eller Helene huske ordret og huske ophavet til, andre lever deres eget liv.

“Et fælles karaktertræk”, siger Charlotte, “er et udtalt konkurrencegen”. “Hvad eller hvem konkurrerer I med?”, spørger jeg (fordi jeg ikke kan få øje på konkurrenten).

“Hvad som helst”, svarer Charlotte med et glimt i øjet, “det er måske et lidt ucharmerende træk, men jeg gi’r mig aldrig, selv udtalen af et givent ord kan gøre mig stædig og kamplysten”. “Åh Gud, ja”, kommenterer Helene.

Et andet fællestræk er humor; det er humoren, som igen og igen overvinder besværlighederne.

Det er i sandhed ikke let at drive kunstboghandel i Stockholm. I Berlin, Paris og New York måske, men ikke her”, siger Helene og fortsætter, “det er som at køre bjerg- og dalbane, og det kræver, at man er to, som er lige tossede”. “Nej, excentriske”korrigerer Charlotte, “og når man er to, er der altid en, som orker, og der er ingen tegn på, at vi kommer til at give op”. Charlotte er netop fyldt 65, “men jeg går ikke på pension”, siger hun med bestemthed. Når den tid kommer, så forestiller jeg mig, at jeg dør, mens jeg står med hovedet nede i en kasse, som jeg netop har tømt for bøger; jeg falder ned i kassen, og derefter kan Helene, som er yngst (58), blot lukke og bære mig ud.”

Apropos ”bjerg- og dalbane” – at tale om konsekvenserne af coronakrisen er uundgåeligt, når man driver virksomhed. “For os har den været et vendepunkt”,

fortæller Charlotte. “Vi plejer primært at få vores verbale bekræftelse fra dannede turister, som påskønner vores enorme udvalg, men nu hvor de er borte, så kommer stockholmerne ikke bare og køber gaver og henter inspiration, de siger: ‘I er en vigtig institution for byen, det vil vi gerne støtte op omkring’. Selv har vi jo aldrig været i tvivl,  Åsøgatan ville ikke være den samme uden os, og coronakrisen er bare en af de mange kriser, vi har skullet håndtere de seneste 26 år”. Helene kommer i tanke om et citat og kan alligevel ikke rigtig huske det; det er tidligt på dagen, undskylder hun, men det er noget med, at det nye gror, når det gamle sprækker, og corona efterlader sådan en frugtbar sprække i de kendte strukturer. I den nye tid er der muligheder for de virkelig store og for de meget små, forudser Helene og Charlotte; alt, som er middel, går en vanskelig tid i møde. Udfordrende for samfund som vores, som er bygget op omkring middelklassen og rigide systemer.

Rigiditeten til trods udveksler vi tanker om fordelen ved at være lille og agil, om at kunne sno sig, ændre kurs og justere, og vi taler uundgåeligt om bæredygtighed som en grundpræmis for al moderne virksomhed. “Vores koncept er baseret på kvalitetsbøger, og selvom man kan spørge sig selv om, hvorvidt det er bæredygtigt at bruge resurser på at producere bøger, så er vi ikke i tvivl. Det, vi står med her, er arvegods, og enhver godt uddannet og ansvarlig bogdesigner ved, at han skal lave noget, som kan holde i mindst 300 år. Bøger er en kilde til dannelse, og dannelse er en forudsætning for en sund udvikling, og hvad er et hjem uden bøger?”

For Helene starter dagen for tiden med et besøg hos hendes gamle mor; hjemmeplejen er sagt fra for at undgå coronasmitte. “Det betyder, at jeg læser en masse om medicinsk ældrepleje”, fortæller hun. Og hvad læser du ellers? vil jeg vide – “jeg er nyhedsjunkie”, svarer hun, “jeg læser mange internationale aviser hver dag, foruden nu og da skønlitteratur, som Charlotte eller min bedste ven anbefaler mig”.

Charlotte for sin del fortæller, at hun læser mængder af skønlitteratur. “Det har jeg gjort, siden jeg var barn; jeg er opvokset på landet, og bøgerne var mine bedste venner”, siger hun uden at se ud, som om hun har savnet noget. Jeg vil vide, hvilken type skønlitteratur som er hendes foretrukne. Charlotte svarer prompte: “Alt, som er godt.”

Begge læser de naturligvis kunst- og designbøger, og de ved virkelig meget, “men det bedste”, runder Helene af, “er, at ligegyldigt hvor meget vi ved, så kommer der altid en kunde ind ad døren, som ved mere, og som deler sin viden.”

Efterskrift Charlotte Ekbom (herover) døde 26. januar 2024,
boghandlen drives videre af Helene Boström

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