To highlight the international circuit of interesting and independent bookstores, we continue our new series “Bookstores Around the World.” 

Nestled in the streets of bustling Istanbul, artists and designers seek inspiration in the workshop and bookstore that is torna. We spoke to David Unwin and Merve Kaptan, the faces behind this project, to find out how this all started. 


When was torna born? What was the need behind it?

Torna officially started working on projects in September 2011. I had just come back from London after my studies and was in need of having a small studio in Istanbul. Once I had the studio, I wanted to use the space as a project space for various contemporary art projects and a bookshop for artists' publications. As an artist, it is such a gift to be able to create your own opportunities to meet and collaborate with artists and creative people around the world, and as a result I have a whole room full of amazing books and art works!

What publication do you carry that we may not find anywhere else?

It is a newspaper we produced for a torna exhibition this summer. The exhibition was called Invisible Movements by Australian artist Caitlin Franzmann. It is a limited edition of only 50 copies. I think you may be able to find it in a couple art centres in Brisbane, but i like to hold on to them for the torna visitors.

What magazine/publication are you most proud of carrying?

I am quite proud of folio, a publication I co-edit with London based artist and friend Charlie Coffey. We describe folio as an exhibition space on paper.  We try to find ways of 'exhibiting' 3D, sound and performance works on paper. I am proud that we managed to publish three in the last five years. It is quite a challenging task to maintain this aim of not 'documenting' work but 'exhibiting' the works on paper. We are not there yet, but each issue gets closer, I think.

The strangest?

Hmm.. strange books…, I think most of them are quite strange in their own right. But one of my favorites in the shop is by LemonMelon (run by a London based graphic designer Marit Münzberg). It is a series of seven publications written by seven different writers / artists. All are based on Kafka's sentence 'Lemonade Everything Was so Infinite.' Each artist uses one word from the sentence as a base to their publication. I really like these works and appreciate the confidence and creatively of the makers. But most torna visitors don't know how to respond to them. Some think it is a mistake or a draft print, and some politely put it back on the shelf as soon as they lift it up. These kind of reactions to such 'publications' are quite disheartening for me. People should be more willing to get involved with the paper they are holding.

What is your current hit?

It depends… to keep the selection as varied as I can, we usually have only two copies of each publication. Once they are sold, I make room for new titles. So there are no 'regular hits' as such that I can say. However, I have restocked Visual Editions' books a few times now. I love them. We also restocked loads of Mono.Kultur editions and zines by Good Press.

What are some challenges you have faced within the art and publishing community in Istanbul?

In terms of contemporary art, it is not as varied in Istanbul as much as I am used to in Britain. There is a high interest in photography and there are great photographers in the city. Not being particularly keen on photography myself, it is quite difficult to get attention from the audience for more conceptual work that we try to concentrate on at torna.

In publishing, the 'artist book' is a fairly new medium in Turkey (although there have been a couple of great artists and designers who have been working on this before our generation; artists like Banu Cennetoğlu). So it is quite difficult trying get more people to come and see less 'conventional' books. There is still a lot more interest in photo books. I think there is so much room and potential in the publication format than to just to use it as a storage space of images one after another.

Although I think it is only a matter of time in Turkey. More and more artists are working with publications now. I look forward to new works!

Also, one other big problem for me is that a lot of the books we have here are written in English, and it straightaway puts a barrier for non-English speakers. Most books made by artists from Turkey are usually image based. I would love to have more Turkish text based work here and be able to share the books with more people.

How do you foster and maintain relationships with other independent bookstores around the world?

Nearly every other day, I find out about a new space or a publisher. Social media plays a big role in this. I meet people who run shops in Argentina for example, who I wouldn't have met otherwise.  We also had a pop-up shop and an exhibition by Good Press Gallery from Glasgow. They are quite similar to torna. They work on various art projects, as well as running a great bookshop. I invited them over to take over half the shop and present their work. They couldn't come in person, so sent over the books, and we set them up the way they instructed us! We still haven't met face to face yet, but I really like these collaborations with other spaces.