Books and time in SLQ
Siganto Foundation Creative Fellow Marian Crawford, reflects on her time in the library and how this informs her creative work.
Alberto Manguel’s book The Library at Night explores the habit of collecting and owning books, aka The Library. He comments ‘Knowledge lies not in the accumulation of texts or information, nor in the object of the book itself, but in the experience rescued from the page and transformed again into experience, ... In the reader's own being.'(1)
I’ve been observing that SLQ is a very sociable place, with its booths and desks occupied by eager readers who are engaging in that transformative experience. There is a fascinating meeting of worlds in this library, in a get-together of text and the printed image, the book and its readers.
As I observe this I wonder if, as an artist, I read a book differently.
I am an artist who makes prints and I think of the printed image as a social thing. An editioned print can be one image on one piece of paper, and it can also be shared, as the image is editioned and multiplied beyond its singularity. It can be a single, unique work which is also shared by a community of viewers over time. For me the special quality of a print is in this happy vibration of shared interests. And so for me, the print is very much like a library book.
A rendezvous with a book is to engage with its contents and form, and a sense of the history of the book. And reverberating alongside this multi-layered experience is the knowledge that many others may have read it before you.
Manguel notes 'The world's tiniest book (the New Testament engraved on a five millimetre-square tablet) or the oldest multiple-page codex (six bound sheets of twenty-four-carat gold in the Etruscan language, dating from the fifth century B.C.) possesses qualities that cannot be perceived merely through the words it contains but must be appreciated in its full and distinct physical presence. On the Web ... They become nothing but phantom text and photographic image’. (2)
This aura of the book is generated by its physical presence, its object-hood, and by its social nature, to the books that came before it and that will come after it, to its place in the history of ideas and the social forces that enabled its production. Frameworks of thinking and of knowledge are historically wrought in this argument, and an artwork and the book are both produced and embedded within these frameworks.
Another point to make about reading is that is can slow time. If your reading is absorbing, time is no longer counted out in regular, measurable, sequential units.
I experienced this while working at SLQ. I was reading, writing and looking at a collection of books as part of my Fellowship. I reached the end of reading a selection of texts, and five hours had passed. This was unusual for me, I had read through both lunch and afternoon tea. I felt as if I had been sitting at my desk for only a moment and time for me at that point hadn’t been chronological. I had been in the zone that philosopher Henri Bergson calls the 'Duration'.
Searching the SLQ library catalogue, I found an annotated bibliography exactly matching my curiosity - Egon F. Kunz’s 1959 An annotated bibliography of the languages of the Gilbert Islands, Ellice Islands, and Nauru. Once I arrived at the library and got my hands on the book, I spent two days reading though it, searching for further references. Before I could read a book, I found a book about the books that I might or might not read. There was an enormous pleasure in knowing that there were books that I might, in the future, want to read.
This is really a gift I think, the gift of reading. And also, this is a way to know the world as it is, in a many-headed, many-things-at-once sense of the world. The book is how I know the world.
It is this different sort of durational time that I also experience while I work in my studio. I experience many things at once, making many small practical decisions about images, texts and printing; and constantly arranging and re-arranging my printed pages until they become an artist book in a marriage of concept and materials.
I am very fond of Cuban artist Wilfriedo Prieto’s work Biblioteca Blanca (White Library) 2004. It is comprised of more than 5,000 white blank books, presented shelved as if in a library or reading room. A selection of the volumes is open on a table in this white library, to reveal blank pages. ‘No words, no pictures, no stories.’ (3 )
Content has been removed from this library in a way, nothing distracts the viewer from the resonance of the form of the book and its home in the library. This work rouses the horrors of cultural invisibility, and its pristine whiteness perversely also signifies the sacking of libraries, Sarajevo and Baghdad to name only two. But even though Prieto’s blank books picture nothing, Biblioteca Blanca’s emptiness quietly asserts an overwhelming presence.
Thank goodness for the library and the book.
Marian Crawford July 2016
This text is drawn from from my lecture Channelling the departed: the book and time, presented as part of the Verso lectures 2016: The Book as a Work of Art in our Time. The full text will soon to be published along with the two other lectures by Alan Loney and Sheree Kinlyside. See Verso : a magazine for the book as a work of art.
(1) Manguel, Alberto. 2006. The Library at Night. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p 91
(2) ibid p 225
(3) Andrews, Max. Journal Articles, Freize Issue 110 October 2007. http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/wilfredo_prieto/. Accessed 8 May 2015.
Matsumura, Akira ‘Contributions to the Ethnography of Micronesia’ Journal of the Collage of Science, Imperial University of Tokyo, Tokyo: Published by the University, Dec 5 1918, Vol XL., Art. 7
Plate VIII ‘Fig. 1. - Truk canoe, with bananas on board, approaching our ship.’
Het Onze Vader, Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, 19--?
Kreiger, Herbert W. ‘Island peoples of the Western Pacific, Micronesia and Melanesia’ 1943. Washington: Smithsonian Institution War Background Studies Number Sixteen
p.20 ‘… House and family of Chief Nakirora, Kiwa village, Taritari atoll, Gilbert Islands.’