Conceived of for the Sideways festival in Belgium in 2012, a peripatetic event that travelled on foot across the breadth of the country over a period of four weeks, the walking library was filled with books that people have suggested are good to take on a walk. Books about walking, books about journeys, books about place. A team of walking librarians carried the collection on their backs providing a library service to other walkers and festival visitors. The festival paused in a particular location each weekend for a 2 day break, during which the library hosted readings, book groups, and accepted donations of new books. At the end of the walk the library was donated to the festival’s organising associations as a stand-alone collection made specifically for the walk route that it followed. With this idea in mind Heddon and Myers are now working on libraries specifically for other walk routes – including a recent commission for a walking library for the Scottish Isle of Eigg, to be housed (following its public walking) in a new bothy built for walkers on the island.
There are many many more works that I could describe and discuss – including Rachel Whiteread’s nameless library, her controversial holocaust memorial cast from books, Uriel Orlow’s works for the Wiener library in London, Jorn Ebner’s Impending unrest – and online work for the Harris Library in Preston, Martin Creed’s conceptual toilets for the London Library, Lucy Harrison’s Library Bingo, Mark James’s Library of Independent Exchange and Maria Benjamin and Ruth Höflich’s ‘The Librarians’, but I only have half an hour and I would also like to touch on the work that my students have made.
I first worked with students on this library based project in 2011. Over a period of 12 weeks students researched and developed individual projects that came from, and were to be sited in, the library. There were no restrictions to the form that thei r work c ould take, but the brief specified that it must be developed in response to, in collaboration with, or for the librar y – including the many communities that interact with it.
In the early part of the module students used fieldwork research methods to develop and extend their understanding of the library space, how it’s used and by whom. This included working alongside library staff, and gradually evolved into more independent, student led research tasks as they began to define the scope of their projects. Each student submitted a proposal which was discussed with the library to ensure feasibility, and work began on realising the projects, a few of which I will outline here.
Nest extends from observations of students settling in to long periods of study in the library, and from Corrin’s preference for studying in a homely environment. The installation was constructed from cushions, duvets and other ‘homely’ materials, lined with the type of detritus produced and left by students using the library (paper, food wrappers, notebooks, bottles etc.) Corrin occupied the nest throughout the day – inviting visitors in to share a snack or rest for a moment.
My Book and I uses video to construct a personal narrative of the relationship that we have with books. Mubarack worked closely with Cath Johnson, subject librarian for Architecture and Visual Arts, building a portrait of her through the lens of her favourite book – Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’. The resulting film combines interview footage with images from the American South, drawn from Cath’s personal archive of time spent living there, as well as stills from the film version of the story.
Rona worked with students using the library, asking them where their favourite places are in the building, and why they like them. These texts were used to construct an alternative audio tour of the library. Entitled Favourite Places the tour highlights some of the overlooked and unusual spaces in the library, walking you through students’ experiences, memories and preferences.
Library Games engaged computer games students, amongst others, with the library at Docklands by developing real-time games that physically explored the library building. Laura devised a real-world version of ‘Pacman’ in which competing teams raced to collect coloured ping-pong balls from the bookshelves. Several rounds of hide and seek were also played in the library building, with groups ranging from four to ten players.
I repeated the project this year, with a much larger group of student who again took on the task of exploring the library in a range of interesting an exciting ways. Collecting stories of unusual goings-on, playing with signage that subverts the usual systems, calling on readers to take a quick work-out break – using their books as weights, and a project to uncover and celebrate the unrecognised work of library staff were just some of the ideas that emerged, and were delivered. As with the first running of the project students commented on their new understanding of, and relationship with the library.
This final point perhaps helps me to clarify what it is that interests me about the idea of the artist in the library – that it is works that evidence a process of real engagement – either in their research and development processes, or in the way that they interact with viewers or audiences, that pull me in. And perhaps this speaks to a broader point about libraries – that they can be used individually – as resource repositories that users can go and serve themselves within, but that they are much richer, more exciting, more meaningful and more rewarding when you interact with them in the fullest sense possible, after all a library is always more than a collection of books……
The Artist in the Library