A Literary Reading of the Archive

April 26th, 2011 § Comments Off on A Literary Reading of the Archive § permalink

On friday I attended a ‘colloquium’ in the Comparative Literature department at NYU, at which Cristina Vatulescu gave a presentation related to her recent book, “Police Aesthectics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times”.

After giving an overview of the state and history of police archives in eastern Europe in general, and detailing some of the bureaucratic hurdles she had to climb over in order to gain access to some of these archives (and quoting Derrida and Foucault on archives along the way, naturally), she got to what I found to be the most interesting part of her presentation.

Ultimately, she found that gaining access to the archives was less of a problem for her than the act of actually working through the materials: basically, she had no idea how to read the documents, and she had to undergo a process of “patiently re-learning how to read.”  She soon realized that she was essentially the second reader of these files, the first being a supervisor or archivist who had made numerous markings in red pencil.  However, there was a huge difference between herself and the first reader: the document had been written to meet the expectations of the supervisor and thus, the files can tell us more about the police than about the individuals who are the subjects of these files.  The traditional biography aims to create a comprehensive portrait of an individual, but the purpose of the biographies created by these files is to do the opposite: its intent is to eliminate any doubts or any contradictions and to transform all aspects of one’s life so as they fit into the context of “legal” or “illegal”, thus estranging the subject’s relationship to his or her own value system.  The only value system of any consequence is ultimately that of the interrogator, and that value system is aligned strictly with the secret police’s goals, whatever those might be.  She likens her own experience with the documents to surrealism: the groups of documents, when laid out on the table, seem absurd to the viewer, unless one looks at them through the strange lens of the secret police’s goals.

In the end, she makes the comparison between literature and the secret police file as a genre of writing, and how the two influence each other. She argues that the position of the author and the shaping of biographical materials (in literary practice in general, but more specifically in Eastern European literature) must be re-evaluated in light of the roles played by authorship and biographical truth in creating these police files.

[Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images]

Sacred Trash

April 26th, 2011 § Comments Off on Sacred Trash § permalink


“At least once a month, from the ages of 5 to 15, I would take the little train from suburban Maadi to Cairo and back. Today it is electrified and goes underground as it reaches Bab-el-Luk Station in Cairo (not far from Tahrir Square), but it still stops at Mari Girgis, or St. George, on the way. This is where the Coptic Church stands, visible from the train, in what was once the center of Old Cairo. Right next to the grand Coptic Church, though invisible from the train, is the tiny synagogue of Ben Ezra.

The synagogue once housed a remarkable treasure trove of written material, thrown any old how into a small room high up above the women’s gallery and handed over, quite unlawfully, in 1898 by my grandmother’s great-uncle, Moise Cattaoui, then head of the Cairo Jewish community, to a Cambridge scholar to take back to England. The story of that transaction, of the cache that was shifted and of the scholars who subsequently deciphered it, has been told many times but never so well as by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole in “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza.”

The room that housed the material was known as a geniza, from the Persian ganj, meaning “hidden treasure.” In the Talmud, the word usually implies concealment: Any writing that seemed heretical should, it was felt, be ganuz, hidden away. Gradually that came to include manuscripts that time or human hand had rendered unfit for human use but that could not be thrown out due to their sacred content and so required removal to a safe place that would allow them to decay of their own accord. In Old Cairo, the habit extended even further. Soon any piece of writing thought to include the name of God, and finally anything in Hebrew, was thrown into the upstairs room, there gradually to expire.

And so it remained for the better part of a thousand years, as Cairo shifted northward, as the synagogue of Ben Ezra became a backwater and as Egypt lost its place as the center of a thriving Mediterranean culture. But in the 19th century, material that had lain hidden for centuries in the Geniza, preserved by the dry climate of the region, began to surface, and stray items started to be sold to Western buyers in the markets of the region”

~from Gabriel Josipovici, “A World Revealed,” Review of Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole, Sacred Trash (Nextbook, 2011), Wall Street Journal (April 23-4, 2011): C10.

Goodbye, Google Video

April 20th, 2011 § Comments Off on Goodbye, Google Video § permalink

Via Steve T.: Google Video will meet its maker on April 29, but Archive Team is working to save its content from oblivion. Their site includes downloading instructions; I know some of you were looking for these.

Spaces around Digital Access: Kiosks in sub-Saharan Africa

April 11th, 2011 § Comments Off on Spaces around Digital Access: Kiosks in sub-Saharan Africa § permalink

Spaces around Digital Access: Kiosks in sub-Saharan Africa

In “The Atomized Library” Geoff Manaugh asks a closing question “when it comes to public libraries, whether we’re referring to New York City or Ciudade del Este, what is the architectural equivalent of One Laptop Per Child? Is the future of the community library a modular shed, or has an entire building type been made obsolete by handheld devices? “ (BLDBLOG, 11 Feb 2010).  I would like to explore the work ongoing with several kiosk-based initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and try to address at least some parts of Manaugh’s question by developing an understanding of how these emerging environments work to provide something like “public libraries.”

 

I will first provide an overview and background of the Digital Drum and Digital Doorway projects.  These are being run, respectively, out of Ugandan and South African technology development centers.  Second, I will discuss some of the issues around library and space, particularly through the lens of “information as experience” raised by Anna Klingmann in her essay on datascapes.   Finally I will explore how the “physical space [of these kiosks] supports, or fails to support … core information provision and public service functions.”

 

I. Background of Kiosks as Libraries

 

The two “libraries” that I will discuss are variations on the same theme.  They are both rugged physical objects that can be left in rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa (or elsewhere) with relatively little day-to-day care and maintenance.  They are built to withstand climate (dust and temperatures regularly over 40C), social dangers (theft, abuse) and most importantly the curiosity of children who will inevitably try to make “creative” upgrades to such devices using twigs, rocks or other bits of material that may be lying around.

 

The Digital Doorway (Fig 1, below) was built in South Africa by a team of researchers at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria.  The Digital Drum (Fig 2, below) was built in Uganda by UNICEF’s Technology for Development unit in the UNICEF Uganda country office.

 

Figure 1: Digital Doorways awaiting deployment in Uganda, built by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa (photo: Chris Fabian)

Figure 2: Children in Kampala, Uganda using a Digital Drum (built from used oil drums) prototype at an education fair. (photo: Sean Blaschke)

 

Both of these kiosks are similar in many regards, and they do not stand alone in the world of technology for development.  Manaugh mentions the One Hundred Dollar Laptop (or OLPC) in his blog post, but that particular device has had a troubled history and cannot be, at this time, considered as “library” environment in the way that these kiosks can.  The issues behind the failures of the OLPC are manifold and could (should) be a dissertation in their own right, but for the purposes of this discussion, the OLPC failed because it was not tested with users, Negroponte was not able to secure any significant agreements from country governments to go to scale and the device itself was foreign enough that its uptake in communities was at best troublesome and at worst a danger to those carrying it around.

 

Without spending too much time on the pedagogic particulars of the kiosk projects, they do come, fundamentally from the same constructionist (Seymour Papert et al.) school of teaching and learning that inspired the OLPC.

 

Many of the theories expressed at MIT’s Media Lab concerning the use of technology for education and dissemination of information came to life in Dr. Sugata Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” project in India.  In this project, Dr. Mitra provided children access to a terminal and watched while, with no external instruction, children from some of the poorest slums began to teach themselves how to use the interface.  (TED Talks, Sugata Mitra).

Link to Dr. Mitra’s TED Talk

 

Figure 3: Artist’s rendering of how kiosks can supplement traditional information sources by providing localized audio / visual accompaniment to textbooks.

 

With these elements in mind, the teams behind the Digital Doorway and Digital Drums have sought to understand how a fixed, ruggedized kiosk – an Automated Teller Machine for access to information – placed in some of the most difficult operating environments in the world can become a source of information and a place of learning.  The kiosks contain tremendous amounts of information.  Content includes everything from a cached / offline copy of Wikipedia, to books from Project Gutenberg, to a wide array of videos in local languages on topics from health to basic mechanical engineering.  They also include panoply of content that is slightly less traditional from the library point of view – every thing from educational games to content created by young people (the kiosks have microphones and webcams) and their teachers.   Hardware, operating system and all content are entirely open-source and in the public domain.

 

Figure 4: Over 200 Digital Doorway locations in South Africa.

II. Kiosks and Public Space

 

The kiosk computers described above are meant to be eminently “public.”  The locations where they are located are not inside facilities rather, within the limits of security concerns, in places that are as accessible as possible.  Concretely this can mean being placed outside of youth centers, near government or traditional leadership’s buildings, in proximity to schools or health centers.  In theory this sounds terrific.  These “libraries” of information are expressly designed to be externally facing, and to be non-enclosed.  This obviously makes it more difficult to maintain and care for them, but the expectation, following from Dr. Mitra’s work in Indian slums, is that this public-facing nature will create a kind of accessibility and universality that would not be present in the sort of enclosures described in Manaugh’s blog post.

 

In a sense these new access points can potentially become a new information landscape.  As Figure 4 (above) shows, this potential is enormously exciting.  The green dots that pepper the north-east districts of South Africa in Figure 4 are not a landscape of lack, a landscape of misery or sorrow (though of course they do indicate, obliquely, some of the most poverty-ridden communities).  The green dots in Figure 4 are indicators of access, of places where there is information, there is access to “a library,” where kiosks present hope rather than represent its absence.  “Encompassing both …concrete delimination as well as the potential of unlimited space… the new library constitutes an emergent typology,” says Klingmann, “[it is n]either restricted to territorial boundaries of physical enclosure nor to a space entirely aterritorialized…” (Klingman, 408).

 

Perhaps these kiosks can help us understand what the coming library is –  particularly in heavily resource-constrained environments.  However there are (at least) to enormous hurdles that are already arising – which, interestingly – mirror historical barriers to access put in place by / with / near libraries of various types.   A major area of discussion and further understanding concerns control of the space in which kiosks in sub-Saharan Africa exist.  I break this into two sub-areas for ease of discussion – first access restrictions placed on “users” of the library by authority, and second access placed on groups of users by other groups of users.

 

II.I Restricted Access by Authority:

Klingmann says “… it could be argued that the library throughout history has always presented a contested territory of prevailing powerstructures affected simultaneously by economic conditions, technological innovations and most importantly the social production of knowledge” (406).

 

On a recent (March, 2011) trip to Uganda, our team visited a site where a digital doorway had been installed several months prior.  When the initial installation had happened it was agreed, with the community leaders, that the Digital Doorway would be placed outside a youth center, in an area still covered by an awning.   This would provide access to anyone who wanted to use it, and also some amount of shelter from both the hot northern Ugandan sun as well as the heavy seasonal rains.

 

On the second visit, the team found that some minor changes had been made:

 

Figure 5: Digital Doorway in its very own child-proof cage.  Engineer Jean-Marc ironically signals his disapproval.

When the community leaders were asked why a huge metal cage had been built around the bullet-proof, fire-proof, child-proof Digital Doorway the response was: “well, to protect it.”  In many ways this sentiment is exactly parallel to the feeling of protectionism (particularly historically) in libraries.  When the resources (books) are so valuable that their loss or damage would have a financial impact on a person or facility, notions of ownership and care change considerably.  Similarly, today in the Morgan library (where volumes were originally collected for their pure financial value) every book is behind bars.  The Morgan’s filigreed bars look a bit nicer than the 6cm iron in Figure 5, but they serve the same purpose.  Keep the value in, and keep the peoples’ hands out.

 

 

II.II Restricted Access by Users:

 

Access controls from authority figures can be managed.  Allowances can be negotiated.  Metal bars can be removed (as the ones in Figure 5 have been).   What is potentially more difficult are access controls put in place by the users themselves.  Dr. Mitra’s TED talk paints a quite rosy picture of the heterogeneity of users who have access to a digital library such as the Hole in the Wall or the Digital Doorway.  In many of the sites that I have seen in sub-Saharan Africa there is a slightly different dynamic.  What is wrong with Figure 6 (below)?

 

Figure 6: “Old boys’ club” using a Digital Doorway in South Africa (photo: Grant Cambridge)

Average age of the “library user” in this picture is probably mid-teens.  Gender balance is 100% male, 0% female using the kiosk.  While there are some very irritated looking young girls in the foreground, it does not appear that they will have access to the Digital Doorway anytime soon, or with any sort of ease.

 

This is a huge problem.  It means that those who often most need access to information may not have it, and that the expense and thought that goes into installing a kiosk may be maintaining, if not growing, a divide in the communities where they are being placed.  This pattern of usage is common among many of the installation sites, both for these kiosks and also for more standard “computer labs.”  It extends, as well, to paid centers of access.  Plan International’s recent report on adolescent girls and technology highlights this gulf excellently.  Resoundingly, in the developing world adolescent girls find internet cafes to be less safe than their male peers do. (Plan International, Because I am a Girl)

 

III Can this “library” work?

 

Exploring the question of success of this new type of library, specifically how does the “physical space [of these kiosks] support, or fails to support … core information provision and public service functions” brings up some issues particular to the context in which the kiosks are being placed that are slightly different to issues that would be raised in, say, suburban America.  The main issue to be noted is that in these contexts, in, for example, north-eastern South Africa or in northern Uganda these kiosks may be the only things providing information and public service functions.  This means, of course, that there is enormous potential, but it also means there is an enormous responsibility to ensure that there is equity of access to this resource, particularly because it is most likely the only technology kiosk of its kind anywhere nearby.  As Grant Cambridge, the lead engineer of the Digital Doorway in South Africa loves to say: “for many of these villages technology is so far away that a “mouse” is just a mid-day snack.”

 

It seems that using some historical lessons and understandings from the world of book-libraries may help at least mitigate some of the issues of physical space and how these kiosks can support their communities.  In-depth exploration of these solutions is too involved for this essay, but I will suggest, at least, some areas of discussion that may be had towards developing the necessary parity of access among age groups, genders, and populations of differing needs.

 

III.I Overcoming Limitations of Access by Authority

 

As mentioned above, authority can often be negotiated with.  In the example of the iron cage that negotiation could have been fairly simple: “remove the iron cage or we remove the Digital Doorway.”   That would have been the wrong way to achieve that particular end.   Instead, our team lead discussions both about the ruggedness of the device itself, but also about how necessary it was for it to be accessed at all times.  Reassuring leadership that the thing itself was not going to be harmed by being in the open, and that it was locked to a bed of concrete, so not liable to being easily stolen, provided a solution.

 

This, however,  is not sustainable.  Libraries began to open their collections to the dirty, un-manicured fingers of the masses particularly after the commodity price of individual books in collection was low enough that loss or breakage was not a career-ending tragedy (for a librarian).  Even now, there is a clear parallel between the specialized collections with unique and expensive items and the levels of security around access.  I would suggest that as we find technology solutions that are cheaper, have less perceived value, and are more omnipresent than a looming kiosk there will be a change in the way that “authority” in these communities deals with the library function.

 

III.II Overcoming Limitations of Access by Users Against Users

 

Libraries in the States increasingly design for their users.  Examples of collections where the “media” (DVDs, etc.) are close to the front of the building, where the foreign language sections are placed in relation to how many people speak only that language in that community, where children’s areas are separated from the places in which research is done are plenty.  It is clear that these same user design research engagements, and mappings of how all types of users encounter a “kiosk library” must be done in order to ensure equity and equality of access.

 

It is also quite apparent that as with the question of authority, many of these issues of access can be resolved through having less specifically localized points of access.  A kiosk, and to some extent a physical building, will always be able to have those who are physically stronger and more “able” block access, if they want, for other groups.  Looking at radios, and now, increasingly, mobile phones, we find examples of technologies that are so ubiquitous that they are very difficult to block.  Perhaps here too there is a space to explore the extension of kiosk libraries.

 

In conclusion, the physical setup of kiosk libraries in sub-Saharan Africa provides an enormous set of opportunities to ensure access to information and use of that information to populations that desperately need it.  Perhaps, foremost among those opportunities, though, is the chance to engage in active research, as these initiatives progress, in how users use the new library, who becomes the librarian, what is the book that is accessed and read, and many other questions.   There is the opportunity to leapfrog past many of the historical advances of library science- and to leapfrog by looking at best practices and the trials-and-errors of others, rather than repeating them.  Finally, there is the possibility to use both the ethnographic and technological research from places like northern Uganda to contribute to, and inform “back” into concepts of “library” in the “developed world” as these facilities, globally, morph and shift into the digital age.

 

 

ChrisF, April 2011

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Klingmann, Anna. Datascapes: Libraries as Information Landscapes, In Susanne Bieri & Walther Fuchs, Eds., Building for Books: Traditions and Visions(Boston: Birkhäuser, 2001): 406-23.

 

Manaugh, Geoff. The Atomized Library BLDGBLOG [blog post] (11 February 2010).

 

Plan International. 2010. Because I am a Girl. Available: http://plan-international.org/about-plan/

resources/publications/campaigns/because-i-am-a-girl-digital-and-urban-frontiers-2010

 

TED Talks . Sugata Mitra: Can kids teach themselves? < http://www.ted.com/index.

php/talks/sugata_mitra_shows_how_kids_teach_themselves.html > .

 

 

Ann Hamilton: Videos + A Little Text

March 30th, 2011 § Comments Off on Ann Hamilton: Videos + A Little Text § permalink

All the videos I would have shared with you in class today if we had more time:

On Indigo Blue @ the Spoleto Festival & SFMOMA:

On Testimony, at the Venice Biennale:

On Corpus @ Mass MoCA:

And here’s a little something I wrote a while ago for a conference:

We might say that visual artist and MacArthur honoree Ann Hamilton feels a sort of “archival impulse”—although not the kind that has gripped some of her contemporaries, like Sam Durant and Tacita Dean. While these artists, according to Foster (2004), collect and combine détourned everyday objects into a “quasi-archival architecture [of]…platforms, stations, or kiosks,” Hamilton uses quotidian materials—from bread to blue jeans to pink Pearl erasers—to form inhabitable, multisensory archival landscapes. In her installations, which engage the histories of their sites, she creates these palimpsestic landscapes by layering sight, sound, smell, taste, and texture, then activating the scene with simple, repeated movements, or what Lunberry (2004) calls “accretions of gesture.” I argue that, through the material abundance of her work, and through its lack of familiarity to typical “archival architectures,” Hamilton’s work allows its inhabitants to create new, unfamiliar affective connections to history. It calls attention to the limitations of the official historical record and suggests means of refreshing the archive’s architectures and materials.

“I’m very interested in the hierarchies of our habits of perception,” Hamilton says, noting in particular “our” prioritization of “the discursive structure of words” over other “ways of knowing” (quoted in Coffey 2001). Her work frequently questions the authority of the verbal and textual record. Aleph, for instance, includes a video close-up of Hamilton’s mouth, full of marbles, rendering her mute. For myein, she recited Lincoln’s second inaugural address in phonetic code and covered the inside walls of the Venice Biennale’s American Pavilion with a Braille translation of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony: The United States (1885-1915). Both pieces questioned the universality of language and called attention to the archive’s—and, in the latter case, American history’s—unheard voices. Meanwhile, indigo blue and tropos involved the “unmaking” of a book through erasure, or by burning away the text, line by line. Rather than an act of destruction, however, this unmaking represented a means of “clearing the field,” making room for another “material kind of telling” (quoted in Wallach 2008).

Hamilton seeks to evoke history’s “untold stories…through a material presence” (ibid.). In mattering, for instance, a person sitting in a perch draws up from the floor a long line of typewriter tape and “weaves” it around his hands. The gesture links mechanical production to handicraft, and, considered in light of the installation’s title, “mattering,” represents the transformation of materiality, and the human labor that produces it, into something that matters. Embodiment is entwined with epistemology (even her experiments with mouth-held pinhole cameras argue for an embodied record-making). Hamilton’s work addresses “the way the body through physical labor leaves a transparent presence in material and how labor is a way of knowing” (quoted in Wallach).

While we might not regard Hamilton’s installations as archives themselves, they do call into question the contents and architectures of the historical record. She proposes that a history rooted not only in extraordinary events, but also in the everyday—its artifacts, sensations, labor, simple gestures—requires an archive that is embodied, material, and living.

“What Is Jennifer Aniston Having for Breakfast?” and Other Important Research Questions

March 29th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Our classmate Steve sent me an Economist Flash Interview” with Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, who cites a University of Michigan study in which “they had a team of students find answers to a set of questions using materials in the campus library. Then another team had to answer the same set of questions using Google.” According to Hal, “It took them 7 minutes to answer the questions on Google and 22 minutes to answer them in the library. Think about all the time saved! Thirty years ago, getting answers was really expensive, so we asked very few questions. Now getting answers is cheap, so we ask billions of questions a day, like “what is Jennifer Aniston having for breakfast?” We would have never asked that 30 years ago.”

And the fact that we’re asking that question now — and valorizing the technology that can provide a quick answer — is a sign of progress? The study, “A Day Without a Search Engine,” is here.

Steve writes:

Its an interesting study, but what I find more interesting is a) how they conducted it and b) why Varian finds this to be so interesting/awesome.

We were talking about ideology in relation to archives and, while we can agree that the internet is not an archive exactly, I still think this illustrates a good point about how an ideology can shape the nature of an archive (or at least can set parameters as to what information is considered valuable, which in turn could form the basis of a given archive’s content).  Apparently, the study took “a random sample of 2515 queries from a major search engine”; this is a great method for studying many things, but not necessarily for studying the efficacy of googling vs. researching in the library.  I think that this (and Varian) assumes that a) search engines and libraries are used for the same thing and b) that the two contain the same information.  It also assumes that one would ask the same questions of the search engine and of the library (or archive).   The internet (or search engines) gives rise to not only new sets of information (such as celebrity breakfast habits- and yes, google quickly directed me to the fact that Jennifer Aniston eats egg-white omelets when she needs to lose a few quick pounds!) but also to new sets of queries. Varian acknowledges the new set of queries, but merely treats it as something to be quantified and spoken of in terms of efficiency and productivity, but we are only being productive in a very narrow sense- yes, trivia is ever-more accessible, but that is because search engines are designed to make it so, not because it has more actual value than obscure documents or bits of information.  This is a problem for the future of both libraries and archives, I think: as this worldview (that something’s value is proportional to how many people search for it or link to it) becomes more normalized, more obscure pieces of information will be inevitably cast aside; worse, less and less people will notice or care when information and documents are cast aside.

 

What’s Your Ontology?

March 24th, 2011 § Comments Off on What’s Your Ontology? § permalink

Spotted by Rory in C-Town:

Now that’s one hell of a classification system!

Ex Libris @ Adam Baumgold Gallery, thru 2/26

February 7th, 2011 § Comments Off on Ex Libris @ Adam Baumgold Gallery, thru 2/26 § permalink

Alice Attie, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (detail), 2009, Ink on paper

January 26-February 26, 2011
Adam Baumgold Gallery, 60 E 66th Street.

Adam Baumgold Gallery presents the exhibition “Ex Libris” from January 26 through February 26, 2011. The exhibition will focus on art about books and will feature 28 artists: Ed Ruscha, Chris Ware, Maira Kalman, Chip Kidd, Seth, Roz Chast, Robin Tewes, Ruth Marten, Richard Prince, David Hockney, Jean Lowe, Cyrilla Mozenter, Charles Burns, Richard Baker, András Böröcz, Vivienne Koorland, Saul Steinberg, Jennie Ottinger, Nan Swid, Bette Blank, Josephine Halvorson, Molly Springfield, Rebecca Bird, Ryan Brown, Tom Burckhardt, Alice Attie, Renée French and Adam Dant.

Among the works included in the exhibition are Tom Burckhardt’s large “Bookshelf,” 2005 from his exhibition “Full Stop” at the Aldrich Museum – a faux cardboard bookshelf that showcases the artist’s eclectic book collection and simultaneously honors his influences, and Ed Ruscha’s “1984,” 1967 a print whose typography slyly references Orwell’s book with that title. Also featured in the exhibition are many of Ruscha’s early artist’s books and two cover drawings by Chris Ware of his ACME Novelty Library books numbers 16 and 17.

“Ex Libris” also includes Josephine Halvorson’s painting “Many Books,” 2009 that depicts three anonymous stacks of books and Richard Prince’s art book that juxtaposes a drawing of a girl with his drawing interpretation of a ‘DeKooningesque’ woman. Also featured will be a group of Chip Kidd’s actual book covers and book prototypes – master works in graphic design. Jennie Ottinger imparts her unique style in her mini paintings of classic book covers with her own humorous summary of the book’s plotlines within, and Seth’s cardboard sculpture of the fictional “J. Morgan Smith Private Lending Library,” 2009 from his book George Sprott, gently spoofs the seriousness of the institution of the library. Alice Attie contributes dense drawings of text from Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” and Sartre’s “Being and Nothingness.” Nan Swid’s collages from book covers and pages deconstruct the book from utilitarian function to art objects, and Bette Blank’s painting “Ye Olde Book Shoppe,” 2011 depicts a bookshop crammed with colorful books executed with her unique perspective.

Additionally in the exhibition are Richard Baker’s paintings on paper of covers of books such as William Burroughs’ “The Job,” that pays tribute to classic graphic design yet bears the artist’s unmistakable painterly touch, and Charles Burns’ drawing “Love in Vein” from his book “El Borbah” that is an ode to pulp fiction and comics. Maira Kalman’s closed “Proust’s Notebook,” 2010 plays on the viewer’s curiosity about the notebook’s contents. In Robin Tewes’ painting “Her Story: She Reads Like an Open Book,” a female figure is defined by the texts that surround her and Rebecca Bird’s painting “Depository,” 2010 considers books as a receptacle for memory and history.

-from adambaumgoldgallery.com

New Stuff

February 2nd, 2011 § Comments Off on New Stuff § permalink

I’ve posted our Reading Response schedule here.

I also wanted to encourage some of you to make use of The New School’s own archives, Kellen Archives, in either your Institutional Critique or your final project. Kellen’s archivist, Wendy Scheir, has offered several exciting project proposals:

  • You’re welcome to contribute to Kellen’s forthcoming Radical Shifts exhibition (March 23 – April 8), which track’s Parsons’s famous Interior Design program’s reinvention as Environmental Design — a shift that broke “institutional barriers to expand design’s role as an agent of social transformation.”
  • Archival collections are traditionally differentiated by creator (as opposed to subject or other categories). Conceive, and defend, re-shufflings of Kellen collections, producing new combinations of materials according to variety of categories.
  • Interrogate the “content=content=content” no matter the form, “content-agnostic,” point of view vs. the “archival material as evidence” (its evidential as opposed to informational value); some say archivists fetishize “stuff” and the traditional archives is outmoded – does that hold true for a design archives?
  • Consider how various appraisal theories and real-world events/approaches/circumstances affect what is collected, and what ends up in the institutional/historical  record?
  • Investigate the often-repeated trope of archives as holding “buried treasure.” Is this a useful metaphor? How do institutional history/structure/etc. affect, capitalize upon, inhibit and/or promote archival access?

Dewey’s Library Bureau Catalog: Turn-of-the-Century Sharper Image Meets J. Peterman

January 10th, 2011 § Comments Off on Dewey’s Library Bureau Catalog: Turn-of-the-Century Sharper Image Meets J. Peterman § permalink

From the Classified, Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau: A Handbook of Library and Office Fittings and Supplies (Boston, 1891).