For the second episode of Metamorphosis we went to Gogol & Company, a cultural outpost where literature, visual arts and good food meet in an atmosphere open to sharing and socializing. To welcome us Danilo, one of the creators and founders of the space.
So Danilo, first of all tell me a little about the birth of Gogol & Company and your philosophy
Gogol was born on the benches of a park, from the desire of a group of young people to get involved and create a social center that could be configured as a place of meeting and dissemination of independent culture. We opened in 2011, a symbolic year for the publishing sector as Borders, one of the largest US bookstore chains, fouls, opening a debate on the new ways of managing the sector, with e-books advancing and paper books stoically blaming the blow. We too began to wonder what the meaning of literature was, coming to the conclusion that all we really wanted to do was open a place where our passions, reading and food and wine, could meet, and where fans like us could recognize themselves.
So what are the factors and values that have made and are still part of your identity today?
I can tell you that when we opened we were kids thirsty for culture and good food. We certainly didn't know if combining these two things was a good idea, but that was what we wanted to do and so we threw ourselves into this adventure. I say "we threw" because we were a bit naive, dedicated to reading, but rather ignorant regarding the economic management of a space and a kitchen. We had no idea what a chef was, to tell you, but none of this was important: we were about twenty-seven years old, and an energy that could not be stifled. Of course, we learned a lot of things along the way, surrounding ourselves with people expert in entrepreneurship, and following their advice we were able to continue this crazy, but absolutely stimulating journey.
What initially distinguished us was certainly the fact of not give a damn about so many codified rules regarding the approach to the public. Anyone could come here, take a book, read it or simply rest a few minutes and not consume or buy anything: it was still welcome. On Sundays we organized lunches where we united the tables of the restaurant and all together ate homemade passatelli: you customer could choose whether to join our table and share this wonderful experience, or have your meal alone. We didn't give a damn about the way we dressed, we were against fashions and labels. Then things changed over time, we began to take care of our image and the aesthetics of the place more, but at a time when people were already talking about us, and most of the customers came here precisely because it was reflected in our way of being, in our approach to culture. In other words, we never complied with the demands of the public, it was the public itself who identified with what we were doing, in our values and how we passed them on, considering us almost a second family where we can take refuge.
I have seen that you organize many activities, from literary meetings to photographic exhibitions. Based on what criteria do you choose guests and artists?
We are very happy to host these types of formats, and I will tell you, initially we did not foresee them until, talking around with friends and acquaintances, I received the enlightenment from Paolo Cognetti - Witch Prize 2017, ed -, which was a case of extraordinary growth for us. Ten years ago he was a rather well-known writer, I was an absolutely useless and unknown bookseller. On this path we have been very close, here he found a home. It was he who proposed me the projects of creative writing, effectively changing the fate of space. But not only that, he also proposed the creation of a cycle of meetings on the art of the short story, where we would have invited young Italian writers to adopt a putative “grandfather” of the literature that had inspired them and that they felt like telling the public. The whole community of Gogol was intrigued by this activity and not only that, even press offices, publishers and other writers attended this show that I would define magical.
Today these elements are our trademark, as well as the exhibitions related to the visual arts.
As for the selection criteria, I can tell you that it has always been our prerogative to rely on our personal taste, calling people we firmly and strongly believed in. Same thing for photo exhibitions. On this side, Tosca, who has been working in the world of visual art for twenty years, has given us a great hand. We left her carte blanche on selecting which artists to promote and exhibit in here, and we never regretted it once.
In short, we still do what we want today, we expose what we like, what we believe in and what speaks to us on an artistic and aesthetic level, in an approach made of heart, instinct and "punk" attitude.
It must not have been easy, especially with the current speed of diffusion of new cultures and subcultures in the digital universe
In fact it was not, and I certainly can't tell you that we have always had everything under control, nor that we had foreseen such strong interest from the public. What I can and what I really want to tell you is that without a continuous study and cultural study we would not have gone anywhere. We need to study, we need to deepen. On this, even if "punkettoni" in the soul we have never let ourselves be fooled. It is very simple, either you know something, or you don't know it and you don't make judgments about it. A certain taste requires study, passion, deepening, continuous enrichment and we have never had any doubts about this. Even today I meet people who ask me "but how do you also find the time to read?". I am stunned, because I think it is unthinkable to carry on such an activity, a space that wants to be social and cultural protection, without continuing to study, to deepen, to delve deeply into one's passions. Rather I sleep less, but I read. Rather I don't go on vacation but I find the time to dedicate myself to my world, and like me all those who work here.
And what about music can you tell me instead?
Look, there are so many bands that I would like to come and play here, one out of all Verdena, a band that I respect very much, but at the moment there are several critical issues in this regard. For now we have limited ourselves to entertainment evenings, inviting guys from Civic School. Last year we had this format "Jazz and Beer", or "Jazz and Wine", where we invited beer or wine companies with particular stories about their products, about theirs way of understanding craftsmanship. For two hours he did one exceptional pouring of a label that would be released shortly thereafter, and it was the story of it the same master brewer or artisan producer. At the same time a boy from the Civic School was playing his instrument to entertain this moment of tasting and conviviality. In this sense I think that the Civic School is the right interlocutor from several points of view: on the one hand why educate students about professionalism, on the other hand because I find it extremely beautiful and stimulating that a twenty-five year old from the Civic School sounds to a twenty-five year old who is studying in here, or working, or simply bivouacking. Finally, there is also the economic aspect of the initiative to consider, and at the moment Gogol cannot afford large fees. But without having to bother with big names, I can tell you that anyone can come and play on their own initiative. It has happened several times that they showed up at our counter musicians with their strictly self-produced CD asking us to be able to perform an afternoon or an evening: we never refused because, as I told you before, Gogol is a place that spreads culture, it certainly does not limit it.
I saw on your site that you are organizing pitch dates: what exactly is it about?
Inside is Michele Vaccari who is not only an extraordinary writer, but one of the greatest Italian editorial directors. Alongside him is Daniele, very powerful literary agent, and together they make themselves available to be able to make those who participate do what they are work increasingly in demand, the writer. The meetings consist in having the participants read one small draft of their works, placing them to the attention of Michele and Daniele, who based on their experience and personal taste they evaluate it artistic quality and saleability. They ask themselves "does the extract I just heard have potential? Could you sell? ". This type of meeting continues until one or more manuscripts are found in hand, which then will present to publishing houses I am in contact with. They are funny, they don't have an academic approach but very light-hearted, and they are ready to welcome any type of writing and literary style. It is the first year that we organize this type of activity, so for now I cannot tell you that Michele and Daniele have arrived saying to me "we discovered this very powerful writer from your pitch date, soon we will publish it and we will present it to you", even if I have to admit , and I could not do otherwise, than if all this happened I would be really proud of it. The project is still ongoing, we will see what will come of it, but I can tell you that from what I have heard so far I am very confident about it, as well as very curious to see what will happen in the coming months.
Danilo, it was a real pleasure to meet you and have a chat with you, I hope to see you again soon!
Imagine, it made me like it too! When you want to drop by for a chat or something else, you are always welcome.