We asked what people thought of us, and Sina Sohrab came back with this funny and touching writeup.

Like most of the things I’ve come to enjoy, I discovered KIOSK late. I arrived just at the wane of the Spring Street salad days, sometime in 2012 when I moved to New York. As far as my memory serves, there was a neon arrow that led to a graffitied staircase that led to a room lined with shelves. I remember the display was styled like an exhibition; small objects all lined up, often dwarfed by the size of their placards. I think I bought a teapot and reluctantly scribbled my email address on a list for a newsletter.

Once I started receiving the frenetic voice of “Yves,” KIOSK’s would-be shopkeeper (a pseudonym used by Marco and Alisa with an accompanying unhinged personality), in my inbox, I followed along as they gathered new things and became intermittently homeless over the years. Sometimes they would send word of a new location; LaGuardia Place, I remember quite clearly; sometimes I would buy something online. It’s one of the few newsletters I have not unsubscribed from.

The premise of KIOSK seems illusory at best when you hear it; Marco and Alisa live a charmed life traveling, finding objects that have some indiscernible value in foreign places, and bringing them back to sell in their shop. The funds from the sale of the loot from one trip funds the next. It’s a premise that the endless accessibility of online shopping and fast globalized shipping systems would appear determined to upend, which has somehow weathered nearly 20 years. More than likely, this has to do with Marco and Alisa’s exacting composite eye; their methods of collecting and presenting; and the nature of the project.

Marco and Alisa’s selection is regional by the nature of its procurement. Insofar as KIOSK operates as an anthropological project, it serves to mine, archive, and proliferate the culture of production and consumption specific to each locale. The objects they find don’t conform to any particular categories. Sometimes they are products of handcraft, sometimes of industrial production; sometimes they are old, sometimes new. There are pipe cleaners, worker jackets, steamer baskets, miniature calendars, metal clips, coat check labels, fishing lures, lighters, whistles, cheese presses, cuckoo clocks… Their sole uniting qualities are that they are each from a specific place; notable for their construction, design, or human quality; and are not otherwise available where you are.

This last point is worth an expansionary tangent: exclusivity is not the objective. KIOSK takes some lengths to describe the source and their encounter with the product—you can hop a flight to Italy and buy a red tape dispenser yourself, but you can’t do it the way they did it. What’s more is that you certainly will find yourself in danger of not spotting the exceptionality of the thing in its natural habitat; Marco and Alisa’s particular blend of curiosity-cum-mania leads them to a selection of objects that the regular flaneur would stroll right past. [fn: Some people might call this ‘curatorial prowess,’ but when the subject is melamine dishes, packaged yeast, or carpenter’s knives, the phrase falls stiff and heavy.]

That KIOSK was born in New York also holds something of meaning. It follows in the footsteps of institutional everyday anthropology projects like MoMA’s defunct annual Useful Objects exhibitions from the 1930s and 1940s and the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall shops carrying the good stuff, passed down through word of mouth—the common theme between the two being affordable, well-selected wares. To this end, it is part of a cobbled-together New York tradition of resourcefulness, one that faces a sort of perennial existential doom brought on by the city’s never-ending obstacles; escalating living costs, real estate development, gentrification, you name it. This sentiment was better captured in a review of MoMA’s 2016 Greater New York exhibition, in which KIOSK’s archive was included when Jonathan T.D. Neil from ArtReview penetratingly commented (in an otherwise pretentious tirade): “On the evidence, art making and meaning in New York has become a Sisyphean task minus any sense of Beckettian perseverance. There is no failing better, there is no failing because there is no succeeding, there is just going on.” [fn: Blowing a snot bubble, Neil continued: “Whether intentionally or not, [KIOSK’s] 1,303 People models an insouciance to the glut of consumer junk that proliferates seemingly of its own accord...” I’ll save you his ostentatious tone and just say that he goes on to criticize the privilege of travel and the ego in curation too. It’s a fair critique, sure, but it makes your eyes roll so far back that your brainstem comes into clear view. It disregards any nuance in the project, and is just about the laziest list of charges you can levy (which, by the way, can be brought against almost any design museum or gallery). To co-opt a line from David Foster Wallace, “We already “know” U.S. culture is materialistic. This diagnosis…doesn’t engage anybody. What’s engaging and artistically real is, taking it as axiomatic that the present is grotesquely materialistic, how is it that we as human beings still have the capacity for joy…?” In consideration of which I think KIOSK as a project is an apt response for all of the reasons mentioned herein. Calling it “an insouciance to the glut of consumer junk” is just about as useful and insightful as blowing your nose on your sweater; it only makes you seem dull and petulant.] [fn: Neil, Jonathan T.D.. " Greater New York." ArtReview, 19 February 2016, https://artreview.com/december-2015-review-greater-new-york.]

For KIOSK, going on has been the real challenge. On more than one occasion I have received a particularly desperate newsletter, usually in service of rehousing their extensive archive or of finding a new home for the shop. Every time, Alisa and Marco find a solution and the project continues. In its many manifestations, KIOSK has been interchangeably a gallery, a shop, a website, an exhibition, and (soon) a book. Today, KIOSK largely exists as an online shop, digital archive, and a newsletter.

One could credit this survival to their reluctance to rigidly define the project of KIOSK. It remains malleable by necessity; shaping itself to endure. The closest Aliso and Marco come to articulating their goal is when they express an ambition to safeguard “vernacular, everyday objects…quickly disappearing from the global marketplace, often to be replaced by inferior copies produced at a lesser cost...” [fn: Grifo, Alisa. “About the Archive.” KIOSK, https://archive.KIOSKKIOSK.com/pages/about-the-archive.] While the sentiment may not be groundbreaking in concept—most museums share this same aim—it remains individual in their execution of it—museums only serve to preserve, not disseminate, their collections. And this is the point that most miss when they examine KIOSK, its unexpected longevity, and its straddling of categorization: it confronts today's pervasive materialistic culture by leveraging its very framework to preserve what the culture seeks to erode. If this indeed is KIOSK's project, it appears infinite, because it responds to a seemingly perpetual cultural condition. In other words, KIOSK doesn’t end simply because it has no end.