Image courtesy of Luminous Books.
03 Jan 2012
Places: Luminous Books in East London
Luminous Books in East London is an artist curated bookshop specializing in second hand fiction, philosophy, art and curiosities.
Founded in 2009 by Louisa Bailey, Luminous also stocks a range of artists' books, limited-run zines and hosts regular literary events, combining music, films and readings alongside pop-up projects throughout the city and two Luminous collections at the ICA Bookshop SW1 and Andor Bureau E8. BJP's Joanna Creswell talks with Bailey.
BJP: Louisa, your previous ventures have included being the book buyer for the ICA is this right?
Louisa Bailey: Up until a few months ago, yes! I recently left the ICA to pursue projects with Luminous Books in the UK and abroad. Through the ICA I discovered lots of different small presses and independent book projects and built connections with artists, writers and publishers many of which I have continued collaborating with on projects at Luminous.
The ICA Bookshop kindly host a curated shelf of vintage classics and rarities from Luminous books. This is one of two Luminous outposts, the other is at Andor Bureau, a café and exhibition space in Hackney.
BJP: Was your decision to open this smaller, niche bookshop because you felt something lacking in the bigger, more mainstream bookshop? Perhaps you wanted a certain mood that couldn't be found in a large and commercial bookshop?
Louisa Bailey: I was definitely aiming to offer an alternative to mainstream bookshops and also to question what a bookshop could be. I opened Luminous Books in 2009 inspired originally by a fascination for the effect and potential of grouping books, by the tangents, the lines of enquiry which can be linked and the furtive ground in those overlapping ideas. An understanding of the position of a bookshop like this in the current book trade and the urgency of the discussion around independent bookshops came later and has become of real interest to me as a bookseller.
In the current trade I believe bookshops need to be niche in order to survive, it is one of the defining qualities being consumed in the rise of supermarket and online trading, a loss of personality and of independent thinking. At Luminous and at my favourite independent bookshops there is not something for everyone and not a copy of everything you might be looking for but instead the selection is full of personal preoccupations, oddities, preferences and editing. This is what encourages browsing and discovery, in a time of unlimited choice this slows things down a little bit and asks the customer to be led by the stock and to find something unexpected.
BJP: What's your background in the arts?
Louisa Bailey: I studied Fine Art Sculpture at the University of Brighton and have worked in the arts and in the new and antiquarian book trade ever since. I opened Luminous Books in 2009 from a collection of books, which had grown out of the reading I was doing around my practical artwork. Through the connections between the books, a love of printed matter and the object of the book combined with an immersion in the book trade and in its current state of change I became fascinated by the bookshop as a project.
One of the things I am really interested in exploring with Luminous is the role of fiction for artists and in the way in which artists or visual thinkers re-appropriate fact. This is reflected in the way I select and curate the books at Luminous.
BJP: The fact that Luminous is only open once a week seems inspired, as it makes the experience of visiting so much rarer and more precious - is there a reason for having it open for just 6 hours on a Saturday?
Louisa Bailey: I think the sense of a rare and precious experience is a very welcome side effect, one cultivated by the bookshop's slightly obscure location! Originally the opening hours were out of necessity, as it's a one (wo)man band operation and I was working a full time job alongside, but became something which worked with the ethos of Luminous and also with my interest in reevaluating the model of the bookshop and questions such as: does it need to be a fixed physical space, how often should it be open, when it is open what is happening there, can it be somewhere else and still be Luminous Books?
The weekly bookshop is one part of a number of aspects that in my mind make up Luminous Books alongside the blog, events, pop up projects, reading lists and collaborations. Now that I work full time on Luminous I have not increased the opening hours, I use the time to programme more regular events and to look at ways of developing the project as a bookshop which is active, engaged and flexible in whatever form it may take.
BJP: What photography-related books (and books including photographs) are laying on the shelves at the moment that you're really excited by?
Louisa Bailey: I have a second hand copy in stock of ‘The Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière ‘ which is totally fascinating and pretty disturbing. There are some incredible images of the female inmates at the asylum in the late 19th century as they were forced to portray their specific types of ‘Hysteria'.
As with many of the books at Luminous there is a connection between other books, I bought this book after reading a novel by Siri Hustvedt called ‘What I loved' which includes some discussion around psychiatry, hysteria and several references to Salpêtrière. I like to find the books referenced within other books and explore the play between the real and the fictional and learn more about the subject informing the writing.
BJP: It's the issue everyone's been discussing lately - with the continued advances in digital technology (e-books etc) and people's increasing reluctance to spend their money on art books as much these days, do you think the market for books (especially self-published) will be able to sustain itself?
Louisa Bailey: I do not believe that e-books and physical books are mutually exclusive, they offer very different experiences. I will always read physical books because when I want the experience of reading it is completely tied to the physical qualities of the book its weight, its pages and most importantly its removal from digital forms to an old form one more closely aligned with imagination than entertainment.
A reluctance to spend money on art books is part of a general devaluation of books, perpetuated by online undercutting and unsustainable margins, but within this the artist's book has began to carve a space for itself as a form which utilises the qualities of the book and which becomes a piece of work in and of itself. In this crisis for bookselling I think there is actually potential for self publishing and there is an opportunity to reinvestigate the traditional modes of publishing and distribution.
BJP: So what do you think the British art and photo book market will look like 20 years from now?
Louisa Bailey: There are a number of really interesting less commercial book projects, publishers and artists who are pushing the potential of the book and there is also an audience for it but as I mentioned earlier the book trade evidently needs reinvestigating if we are to find ways to sustain it. Books have been around for centuries and despite the rise of e- books and a certain dematerialisation of writing I imagine in 20 years there will still be books but the alternatives will have progressed and therefore the way to work with this progress and re evaluate what the physical book can offer, the spaces which present it and what they do, the bookshops the libraries, the institutions is all an important part in imagining the future of the book.
BJP: Is there anything else you think we should know about?
Louisa Bailey: I would like to draw attention to a really important map supporting independent bookshops launched at this year's London Art Book Fair: The London Bookshop Map. Edited by Louise O'Hare The London Bookshop Map is a bi-annual publication combining a piece of artist's writing with listings and a beautiful map of 87 independent bookshops in London. This is a fantastic resource to highlight the variety of independent bookshops in London and it is available at each of the listed bookshops including Luminous Books so do come and pick up a copy and start supporting your local independent!
For more information, visit luminousbooks.tumblr.com.
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