At Istituto Marangoni Firenze, Arts Curating students spend long hours on books. We often study and analyse the graphic and technical choices that make a good publication. With this in mind, you can imagine our eagerness to visit Testo, a vast book fair that took over Florence last weekend.
by Isabella Chevasco Champsaur and Asia Niero. Cover image: Testo 2023. Stazione Leopolda, Florence. Photo credits: akastudio-collective. Courtesy Pitti Immagine / Testo.
A discreet yet unavoidable element of the I’M Firenze educational experience is developing an obsession with book design. My graphic design for publishing class turned me into a paper nerd. Just as it sounds, I now love the printed medium and all other paper oddities. It’s all in the details, such as texture, thickness and finish; paper can make or break a book. And it’s so sexy. It has become second nature for me to drag my fingers across any piece of paper within my reach.
And the second edition of the Testo book fair took place this year.
This book fair prioritises the value of editorial design by inviting contemporary publishing houses, most of which challenge the essence of books with experimental aesthetics. We saw the flyers around town, “ma che testo sarà?” [what book will it be?], promising a complete experience through the book-making process, from concept to reading. Aside from the exhibition itself, which was about showcasing books and ideas, there were workshops for everyone.
The venue, Stazione Leopolda, was a train station in 1860. Like most Florentine buildings, it still stands in all its glory. After the station’s closure, the space had plenty of purposes, serving as government offices and, during wartime, as a factory. Today, Stazione Leopolda hosts some of the main cultural events in the city.
The grand entrance was an open courtyard that nested three Porsches of a colour I would describe as testo-orange. I may never look at the colour orange in the same way. The shade is now fixed in my mind, and there is no forgetting that. Following the beaming lights and the crowds of eager visitors, we went to the ticket office and took complimentary pencils from the cashier.
The main exhibition space was a long room with several hallways divided by metal panels. There were seemingly infinite rows of booths for publishing houses and book dealers, each consisting of a tall table with piles of books. The metallic divisions also had shelves with more books. Rather than following a common thread of topics, it was a general exhibition with publications of all kinds. Asia, a fellow Istituto Marangoni Firenze Multimedia art student and book fair visitor, says Testo “wasn’t just for readers, but also for people that are into art, photography, illustration – because of the number of publishing houses that focus on these topics.”
I agree that the coolest part was embracing new possibilities about what a book can be. Our favourite publishing house from this exhibition was Rorhof. When thinking about books, our mind usually goes to novels with a preset time frame or intellectual challenge in the reading process, with some intrinsic hardship to face. This publishing house goes beyond the standards and stereotypes of a book, publishing photos and drawings as in Peak, with illustrations of the Patagonia landscape.
We saw all sorts of crazy, including people who, by their first hour there, were dragging their feet across the floor in a futile attempt to see everything. “I got so overwhelmed,” Asia admits. “It was so strange to be stressed at a fair about a product that usually relaxes me.”
How does one get so overwhelmed in a room full of something so silent, so seemingly pacific? Maybe because of how book covers can arouse our curiosity. There was so much to see and learn in front of our eyes and within our hands’ reach. The hunger for knowledge was universal. We’re so small, and the fair was so big! While curiosity is always a good thing in any environment, it does not mix well with the awareness of a time limit. So, you have to keep moving.
Later that evening, far away from the fair, my friend Massimo had to take a pamphlet away from my hands because I was obsessed with it. I was already missing the number of books, covers and fine paper. For the next edition, we will plan a better tactic.
Isabella Chevasco is an Arts Curating Undergraduate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.
Asia Nero is a Multimedia Arts Undergrauate student at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.