Rocket Science: Alexandra Hodkowski
HEAD Hi’s co-founder on new magazines, interesting architects, surf terminology, states of mind, and working in an interdisciplinary world.
Alexandra Hodkowski is the co-founder of HEAD Hi, a bookshop gallery dedicated to art and design publications (with an espresso bar) located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Head Hi is a space for exploration and interaction that hosts talks, book launches, art shows, music performances and other events.
What is your favorite wall decoration in your home?
You know, it’s a funny thing because my partner at Head Hi and in life, Alvaro Alcocer, is an artist, and I’ve worked in the arts for two decades, but we like blank walls.
So, most of our walls don’t have much on them, but we do have some walls with floor-to-ceiling shelving for books and records. We have so many books collected over time, it’s a reminder and library and decorative feature all rolled into one.
What’s a new magazine we should check out?
There is a magazine that we recently did the launch for called Mother Tongue. They say it’s a magazine about motherhood, but not about how to parent.
It started in 2020 when all the moms were told, “Everything’s gonna be okay. You’re okay,” and they were like, “We’re not okay.” We’ve seen all sorts of people drawn to it because the idea of motherhood is not a singular experience. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that you have your own kids, but kind of like caring for each other.
It’s a very design-forward magazine featuring all sorts of artists and writers and people talking about the environment. It’s one of our favorites right now.
What’s your favorite outdoor space in Colorado?
There are so many good ones. I grew up in a place called Evergreen, which is about 45 minutes west of Denver. It’s the Foothills, but it’s still up there at 8,000 feet.
There is a small mountain park hike called Elk Meadow. I’ve spent so much time there. I try to go back there when I visit my family. You can hike, run, do an all-day thing, do a short thing. The trails are incredible. Sometimes you see people, sometimes you’re just alone out there with the pine trees.
Where’d the name HEAD Hi come from?
The name HEAD Hi means many different things. It is a state of mind. It’s the feeling a good book or great coffee gives you, or after a good song plays. It is the feeling when you’ve hit your stride during a run. And, it also is used in surf terminology for the height waves can be when they’re great. ‘Head high’ means it’s a really good height. We like to say, keep your Head Hi!”
Who’s a creative person you really admire?
We feature a lot of architecture and design publications at the shop. I’m very inspired by the ability of architects to do such big projects and envision spaces in ways that change the way we live.
I just have so many favorites. One architect we feature here at the shop frequently, who has several incredible books dedicated to her, is a woman named Frida Escobedo. She did the Serpentine Pavilion in 2018 and just finished an addition to The Met.
You’re drawn to intersectionality: people and space and the tactile joys of art and design, all mixed together. Have you always gravitated toward that mash-up?
I think that it comes from the eagerness to check things out and keep fresh with what’s going on. Growing up I was always someone that asked, “Who’s the newest band coming to town? What’s the latest exhibition? What are the top books? What are the more underground things going on?”
There are nights that we go to until like two or three in the morning, Openings, talks, movies, anything. Especially living in New York, it’s part of the ecosystem, which is why we live here, and that inspires a lot of the intersectionality in the publications that we have.
HEAD Hi focuses on art, design, and photography publications, but we like to mix them up and arrange them in a way that’s not strictly sectioned into categories. You’re seeing everything mixed together, which is kinda how we live.
I studied art history. I focused on, and then worked with, artists that practiced in an interdisciplinary world, whether it’s an artist trying to create a community organization, or a museum that’s focusing on, say, a topic like energy.
That’s a beautiful thing, when cultural organizations focus on that mix. We want to be a part of that, taking these themes and the hard work that artists are doing to amplify it to a broad audience. To do that, you have to know what’s going on in the world, and how to relate to different types of people. And rethink how we tell stories for different audiences.
It must’ve been so gratifying to have HEAD Hi survive COVID.
2019 was our first full year, then 2020 happened and we closed the doors for a couple of months. We were then trying to sell books curbside. To the few people that we had come by, we would bring them out on trays and say, “Here’s the selection!” Coffee was a little easier to serve curbside, but still challenging.
I think now, looking back, it was more overwhelming than I actually realized because we were just in go mode, just trying to figure it out. Not even day by day, but minute by minute. We set up a web shop and built an outdoor structure so that people could sit outside and enjoy their coffee and read. We added outdoor programming, through all different types of weather. That felt really good.
We based HEAD Hi on the example of experimental and alternative arts organizations that try different things all the time. It didn’t feel abnormal to us. But I think when I look back, I think, “Wow, we did so much to try to survive.”
I had two other jobs just to keep things afloat. I teach a class called Design Dichotomies at the New School, but I’m now back to HEAD Hi full-time, which feels like a big resurrection. It feels now like we got through the hardest part.
In addition to what you’re teaching now, is there a class that you’d like to teach? Like if you had carte blanche and you could teach whatever you wanted to.
This is kind of not exactly an answer, but I have been thinking more about the conversations we could have at HEAD Hi, in our programming.
We do book launches and talks and book-related programming throughout the year. What I’ve realized is having a good conversation about design-related publications really opens the door to important conversations about how design is being applied in various different people’s lives.
We’re also in the process right now of developing an architecture and design book club. It is so fun to read and share what you took in … how it related to something in your life. That methodology can be a big part of our book club.
What’s a restaurant we should visit in Brooklyn?
Allswell in Williamsburg. It’s delicious. It is a true New York experience, just walk in and feel welcome. Plentiful dishes, casual ambience, great vibe. It’s just the best, and I go there at least once a week. Beautiful nachos.
What’s a non-profit we should donate to?
The first thing that came to my head is not a non-profit, actually, but worth supporting. WeeklySenator is this really cool initiative started by artists and designers. I think it’s one of the first official political organizations that’s defined itself as that.
Every week you give $2, and basically, they do a lot of research into senators and politicians outside of New York that need help. I think sometimes we live in a bubble, and our support is needed outside of New York City.
You get an email and they fill you in on what they’ve decided as far as where they think your $2 should go. If enough people give a small amount, like crowdfunding, it grows and grows into something much larger.
We need new music. What are you listening to right now?
Lately, I’ve been listening to mostly electronic music, and there is a producer and internationally renowned DJ named Kim Ann Foxman who I love. She has a studio pretty close by to HEAD Hi. And she has a new album coming up soon, but she frequently makes mixes you can find online.
There’s also a publication-oriented music DJ duo called Love Injection. They produce an important amazing zine-style publication about the music scene in New York, available at Head Hi. They play quite frequently – Barbie and Paul are their names – and they have a show from The Lot Radio in Brooklyn. They put the music on a playlist you can listen to every week.
What’s your current favorite winter cocktail?
A Mexican hot chocolate (available at Head Hi), which is a hot chocolate with spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mezcal giving it a little smoky flavor. So, it’s a hot cocktail, and it’s delicious and has that smoky, spicy amazingness.