Natassa Pappa, Desired Landscapes
Graphic designer Natassa Pappa teaches typography and runs walking tours in her home city of Athens.
The latter inspired her to launch Desired Landscapes, the pocket-sized magazine exploring the sense of place through visual culture. She shares her week ahead, her inspirations, and thoughts on the contemporary city.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
Mondays are my favorite. I have high levels of enthusiasm, a long list of tasks, and the illusion of an abundance of time of a full week lying ahead. I work from my home studio, and since this is a one-person company, I have found that it is more efficient to spread roles per weekdays to stay on track. Monday is the distribution day.
Most magazine makers hate this part, yet I tend to enjoy it as I feel closer to our readers. I see from which cities they come from, or which issues they have picked, and I prepare the packages one by one. The main challenge is to go to the post office before emails will start to pile up—this is usually the point when the Monday magic disappears and stress hits. And today is snowing too here in Athens, so I have two reasons to get done with it as soon as possible.
I try to plan as little as possible on Mondays, to keep it as a creative window and set the tone for the rest of the week. Today though, I will attend an online guest lecture that my graphic design students have organized, before that I have an advising session with one of them, and later on, I have another online meeting to discuss a text proposal for the next issue. I will be happy if most of today’s tasks will be done by 5pm when I should leave to join my Monday dance class. Usually, I miscalculate and assign for Monday as much as I should assign to the whole week!
Describe your desk and your work space.
In one word: modular. I work from a big space, but my goal is to have it as empty as possible so I can move things around to fit any creative process. Most furniture is on wheels and frames are not hung but are just standing against the walls. My latest favorite spot is two big pillows on the floor right next to the heating system.
Whatever is lying on my desk, is what I need to take care of. Year by year I got rid of accumulating papers and might-need materials. I keep only what is relevant and helpful for projects, and only a few selected notes and prototypes reach my archival space. Behind my desk stand two big magnetic boards for all the little notes that would otherwise be on my desk.
The first is the flatplan of the upcoming issue, and the second may accumulate mood boards, time plans, lists, notes on logistics, or even ideas for my business plan. These days it is all about distribution and finding new writers for the upcoming issue.
On my right side, there is a console with four drawers including everything I need for distribution: folders, wrapping paper, stamps, scissors, tape, etc. Almost next to it, there is a bookshelf as a mini version of the warehouse, hosting all the products available on our e-shop. Across from my desk, there is my small collection of guidebooks found on flea markets and my trips abroad. This is where I go when I need inspiration for the magazine. Or, I go to the reading room, right behind me, where I keep favorite books and magazines. In the middle of my office room, there is a pole, for my dance breaks. (told you: ‘modular, to fit any creative process’)
Which magazine do you first remember?
Oh dear, thank you for this question. You made me activate a forgotten shelf of my bookshelf. The ones I first remember are some magazines my mom had from the 80s-90s with ideas for interiors and travel. But the one that got me into the sphere of independent publishing was Ozon, a Greek free-press magazine that was—and still is—all about fashion and urban culture. I still remember how the advertorials made me dream and escape the mundane life of the Athenian suburbs, and part of it must be one of the reasons I run a magazine today.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
I skimmed through one of the back issues of The Plant, to enjoy (once again) the quality of images and how this blends with crisp use of typography. I read a bit of Pin Up’s latest issue Radical Optimism, which I bought only because of its tagline, how powerful.
Another one that always stands in my studio view is Luncheon, as it can’t fit my bookshelf due to its format. That’s handy because I am a big fan of their texts and choice of archival imagery, not to mention their magnificent covers.
Describe Desired Landscapes in three words.
Cities – Escapism – Archives
Tell us about your relationship with cities in general, and about your home city of Athens.
Cities are my playground. Walking in a new city, or even watching a city in a film, can bring me chills. True story. Happened last week too when watching Rome in Moretti’s ‘Dear Diary’.
I was born in Athens but grew up in the suburbs, so the first thing I did when I got my first job, was to move to the city center where “life was happening”. For me, it was all about walking to every destination instead of waiting for a bus that was never coming, the infinite events that may occur when walking on an ordinary street, the juxtapositions of different styles of architecture, the accidental meetings with people, and later on the link with the myth. Athens is an ancient city with all these co-existing layers, so as I got more into urban research I wanted to capture and understand fragments of it.
When I went abroad walking became my main research method, as it creates a linear order to a rather chaotic urban experience. I started by designing an app to explore your own city by drawing a random shape on top of its grid, and then I focused more on mapping. My first guidebook was an index of the neglected Athenian passageways forming a city within a city. I don’t know, there is a certain joy in discovering gems in complex cities and then documenting them in print. The magazine expands that approach to more cities through diverse voices.
My favorite city is Tokyo, and I am looking for a good reason to visit again and live there for a few months.
What drives the choice of cities for each issue of Desired Landscapes?
For each issue, I aim for contrast and patterns. Iconic cities, charged with existing narratives, next to not-so-covered ones or misrepresented. From issue four, I also introduced the idea of always one island being part of the mix. The choice of cities though goes hand in hand with the authors’ voices and perspectives. A rather uninteresting city could be featured only because of an unexpected take. Reading through one, or a series of issues, it is nice to see how many things unrelated cities may have in common, and then project such thoughts in your own travels.
The overall sense is of loving the idea of ‘city’; would you ever publish an anti-city feature?
This takes me back to the question ‘what is a city (now)?’. This occupied my mind quite a lot during the pandemic, as a big part of cities are public spaces, which seem to have migrated to online spaces. Could a recurrent Zoom call be a city? Maybe yes.
Well, in that case, since I can’t recognize the seductive elements of it (yet), I would be more interested in exploring ideas of anti-cities. For some reason though, my love of cities is strictly linked with the bodily act of walking and my fascination with architecture, so any future setting that rules out those two might be off my interest.
But that’s what I love about this magazine, that I can ask this kind of questions to a different set of people shaping today's cities and imagine together ideal futures.
Most of the cities you cover have time and history behind them; how do you feel about the new mega-cities of China?
Yes, indeed. Nice observation! China has been on the table quite a few times and never made it to the magazine’s pages. But again, it was mostly through the prism of failed attempts to build cities from scratch ending up being massive ghost towns.
That gets me thinking that the focus of the magazine is more on the person-to-place bonds and the myths around places. History and literature always add to that kind of narratives. Mega-cities though is a quite fascinating topic and if I would find an author with a valid connection to that kind of place, I think we could craft a relevant angle. Desired Landscapes aims to offer perspectives on cities, and new ways to approach them.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication.
Be naive! If I would have taken seriously all the ‘warnings’ from people around me on the sound of “starting a print magazine” I would have never launched Desired Landscapes. I would say, dream big and be consistent to plan these smaller steps to reach that dream. I can’t imagine my life without a magazine, and I think that’s why I kept pushing even when times were hard.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
I just announced the Open Call for the next issue, and I think I will be sneaking into the submitted proposals to meet new voices and unknown destinations. In the meantime, I will be preparing the two main interviews, which is one of the most motivating phases of building a new issue.
But the most exciting thing is that we are preparing a launch in Rome for the end of February—and while writing this I keep my fingers crossed that covid will allow us this and more meet-ups with our Desired friends.