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Ott Metusala is a graphic designer who moved to Amsterdam from Estonia to study Graphic Design at the Gerrit Rietveld Acadamie where he met Pieter Verbeke and Elisabeth Klement. Pieter is a librarian and Elisabeth is a graphic designer. Together, they created San Serriffe.

Ott is pleased to talk shop!

The shop stocks art books and self produced publications and the stock is changed weekly to keep titles fresh. In addition to international titles, works come from Amsterdam, some of them produced and published with San Serriffe. It’s usual for the shop to hold an event on Thursdays; a book launch, performance, reading or talk.

There is a careful selection process for book-works, partly given that due to the small space they can’t take all the books but decisions are curated and rely on gut feeling. I am thinking this gut feeling is based on the design sensibilities of Ott, Elisabeth and Pieter.

Many artists/designers come to the shop to show their work to Ott with a view to having their books stocked. More often than not these works aren’t suitable for the book shop. Ott seems to feel a bit sad about this but we talk about the feedback he gives in return and the networking opportunities he sets up as a valuable resource – this is something they are working on – a kind of agency. He often advises artists to hook up with designers to enable content to be realised. I think by this he means a kind of neat, minimal design as this is reflected in the types of books stocked in the shop; it contrasts well with the glorious messiness of Boekie Woekie.

Ott is interested in artists working with designers and interprets this as the way to work now. His tutors on the Graphic Design course at Gerrit Rietvald Academie are both artists and designers. This is interesting to me having worked previously with Graphic Designers who perceived my background as an artist a barrier.

It’s interesting that Ott, Peter and Elisabeth are very much focussed on what they want to do with San Serriffe. They work independently in Amsterdam concentrating on their own ideas of how they want their space to evolve.

On shops, or the ‘Art of the Shop Keeper’, its worth noting that Ott refers to the mercantile history of Amsterdam: people from Amsterdam are ‘good at shops’. Perhaps the long history of seminal Dutch designers and architects is key. He likes that there are lots of small specialist shops all over the city – it’s a way of life here.

San Serriffe take work to showcase at art book fairs like Offprint Paris, which helps them assess the types of books similar organisations carry. This research enables San Serriffe to go out and find other titles as an alternative offer. They also scout graphic design student shows and invite some graduates to work with them on publications.

Talking to Ott about the sense of connected living/working spaces that seem to be scattered all over Amsterdam, he explains that people are cramped and need to find a way to live together, especially as it’s expensive to be based here.

Studios and social enterprise hubs with intriguing windows of objects, graphics and activity are common. These units are located in residential apartment blocks dotted around the centre and suburbs of the city. Creative people are visible here. Like the UK, funding for small art projects has been reduced and Ott says that there are fewer projects in the city because of these cuts.

Ott says that although its expensive to live here, it’s a great place to connect with people and it’s easy to reach other cities like Berlin. He suggests that Utrecht and Rotterdam would be good places to visit next.

The visit ends with book buying: Widgets by Bastien Gachet, A Play by Uta Eisenreich & James Langdon and Neem Me Mee, Zei De Hond (Take Me With You Said the Dog) by Wim Brands.