Posted by: Emily | May 25, 2010

Shelf Life report back

It was hot and it was crowded, but it was worth it. Julia Weist and Andrew Beccone shared their projects with Radical Reference folks at the Brecht Forum last night, and I was really inspired. I always feel threatened and angry when people knock on weeding, an essential part of collection management. (Some books, in some contexts, are garbage, and that’s the truth. If we didn’t weed, you’d complain about dirty, out of date collections.) But both of these projects were interesting new ways of thinking about discards and how new contexts can bring old books back to life.

Julia’s work involved travelling all over the country exploring discards and booksales, repurposing them into a few different installation works. Andrew’s Reanimation Library collects discards with compelling images, making them available to artists and deploying the collection for site specific shows. I was struck by how much contexts matter. One of the things working in libraries has done for me is turn me into a staunch materialist when it comes to books. They’re no longer fetish objects or ideal forms to me. They matter only to the extent that some reader can engage with them, and the moment that becomes unimaginable with a text, I cease to care about it. Andrew’s work in particular inaugurates new engagements, making work possible that would not happen if those books were left in a general collection. Not much use for a 1989 psych textbook, unless you’re an artist, in which case the book is a revelation.

So we weed, and those weeded materials can take on new creative life. Any art in these dire times seems like a triumph, so that was politics enough out of the conversation for me.

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