The following are various sites, articles and media resources that have to deal with art, libraries and books. Please feel free to add to our collection of resources.

Stair/bookcase by Levitate Architecture.

Folded page messages. Book art by Isaac Salazar

Photographer  Cara Barer

Book Sculptures by Jacqueline Rush Lee

Book Cutouts by Robert The

Peeled photographs of book covers by RICHARD GALPIN

Photographed cutout book covers by Thomas Allen

Manga @ the British Museum on …

Book Poster for P.P. McGuinness book sale. By TBWA.

“These bookshelves are located at Karl Lagerfeld’s Parisian studio.”

Jardin de la Connaissance / 100Landschaftsarchitektur ‘Garden of Cognition’, Quebec. Arch Daily.

Enrgrained on – Hardback Book Pinhole Camera

Anouk Kruithof installation of over 3500 books.

Luzinterruptus| Literature Vs Traffic on Buzz Beast

Luzinterruptus, is an anonymous artistic group, who carries out urban interventions in public spaces. We use light as a raw material and the dark as our canvas.”

TALES TO TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY,Books in cigarette packs. Tank Books.

  Walk of Ideas, Berlin.

Celebrating 30 years of the Ikea Billy Bookcase with a library on the beach. Daily Mail.

Artist Tom Bendtden‘s Arguments series.

BookWave Mehtap Obuz’s hanging felt bookcase design on Better Living Through Design.

Brian Dettmer’s book carvings.

NZ Book Council – Going West

Organizing the Bookcase Video

Library Ireland Week Ad

Walls of books at Japanese restaurant Brushstroke, on the gothamist.

Artist Eva Kotátková Home Detention Series.

Photographer Yusuke Suzuki Story For series.

Love Agency Ltd. reading ad campaign.

Luminato Conversation #4

Tom Bendtsen @ Metro Toronto Reference Library

Nicolas Galanin book sculpture

How to start your own library on

    • 1

      Love the printed word, or at least the act of learning. It is best if you believe that books, and knowledge, are some of the greatest gifts that one human being can give to another.

    • 2

      Obtain a sizable collection of literature, of all different types. This is best done via used book stores, in which you generally get more bang for your buck: Powell’s and Half-Price Books are particularly good chains, and your local community likely has at least one independent shop.

    • 3

      Locate a suitable location for your amateur library. This can include: the break room at your workplace, a local cafe or restaurant, a storefront sympathetic to ambitious bookworms, or anywhere that is regularly frequented by anywhere from dozens to thousands of people.

    • 4

      With your site chosen, catalogue your books. Comprehensive and reliable records will help you to know if anyone decides to check out a book permanently.

    • 5

      Relocate your store of books to your new library. Make sure that the books are accessible, and that the purpose of your collection is obvious. You might erect a legible sign announcing that these books, in fact, constitute a library, and not a lost and found.

    • 6

      Encourage a sense of community, trust, and bookishness.

Read more: How to Start Your Own Public Library |

Clegg & Guttmann’s  Library as Social Sculpture

Frieze Magazine discusses Clegg & Guttmann Open Public Library

Clegg & Guttmann

Georg Kargl, Vienna, Austria

Libraries are public sanctuaries. With their enforced quiet and air of contemplation, they are like churches or museums. From an early age we are trained to handle library books with care – some of these institutions even put up barriers, behind which the catalogued treasures are stored. Libraries embody history and the potential of knowledge that can be acquired. They represent worlds with their own sets of rules, devoted entirely to intellectual exertion and physical inactivity.

When Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann carried out their Open Library project for the first time in 1991, the main point was to suspend the fundamental properties of the social institution of the library. Three unprotected bookcases were placed around the city; their contents could be removed without surveillance, restrictions or administrative complications. These open-air libraries bore only a small instruction, which invited people to use them and gave the phone number of the Graz Art Society to call for further information.

‘Social Sculptures, Community Portraits and Spontaneous Operas 1990–2005’ highlighted the different ways Clegg & Guttmann have used the form of the library over the last 15 years. Of the original project (The Open Public Library, Graz, Re-contextualized – A Social Sculpture, 1990/1993/2005) the slightly trashed bookcases remains, plus photos of their dreary locations in the urban periphery. On the ground lay boxes of books donated at the time by the local population. The flea-market-like hotchpotch of literature made it quite clear that Open Library was not about channelling knowledge. This approach saved the project from accusations of being patronizing, similar to those levelled at Thomas Hirschhorn’s Bataille Monument (2002) at Documenta 11.

Clegg & Guttmann have also referred to their interventions as ‘community portraits’. On the one hand this links back to their earlier staged portraits, but the term also weakens the sociological emphasis of their art. For their Project Unité in Firminy in France (1993) the two artists devised an audio library with recordings supplied by the residents of the eponymous Le Corbusier apartment block. In this case the ‘community portrait’ category took on a literal sense, with Clegg & Guttmann photographing people for the covers of the cassettes they had donated. A miniature version of the Modernist building served as a storage unit, as well as providing information on the predominant musical taste in any given apartment.

The allegorical meaning of the library as a place of memory was the focus of the installation Sha’at’nez oder die verschobene Bibliothek (Sha’at’nez, or The Displaced Library, 2004–5), which the artists designed for the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna. When Freud fled Vienna in 1938, his library was torn apart. In their installation Clegg & Guttmann brought back together for the first time books formerly owned by Freud from Vienna, London and New York on the psychoanalytical concept of displacement. Freud’s own fate as a ‘displaced person’ was commemorated in the form of a hybrid, leaning tower of books, temporarily reuniting his dispersed collection. The symbol of the library was also used by Clegg & Guttmann in their looped wooden bookshelf Moebius Strip Library (2004) and in the installation Die sieben Brücken von Königsberg (The Seven Bridges of Königsberg, 1999), both based on mathematical models.

The participatory projects of Clegg & Guttmann are convincing and likeably open, experimental set-ups that sound out and perforate the borders of social domains. This is also true of their latest work, The Sick Soul V: The Lost Letter Technique (2005). To recreate a sociological experiment from 1964, stamped and addressed letters were dropped all over Vienna. In the gallery visitors could watch video recordings of passers-by, with the constant thrill of not knowing whether or not a given individual would pick up the lost mail. The similarity between these sequences and programmes such as Candid Camera is no coincidence, as this TV format was devised at the end of the 1950s, roughly when sociology began turning towards everyday life. Together with the letters that were actually returned, this most recent installation by Clegg & Guttmann successfully straddled the line between art, science and entertainment. This overdetermined approach constituted a clear rejection of any oversimplified institutional definition of art.

Nicole Scheyerer

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Clegg & Guttmann on

Clegg & Guttmann on

Kunst & Bau / BIG Art: Clegg & Guttmann

Fillip Publication

Jeff Khonsary

Browsing the AAAARG Library

In the Fall of 2010, Fillip commissioned the AAAARG Library, a site-specific installation, in conjunction with the the fifth annual NY Art Book Fair, held at MoMA PS1, Long Island City, New York. The installation was a collaboration between Fillip, artist Sean Dockray, and AAAARG, an online platform for the redistribution of textual material.

Begun in 2005, AAAARG operates through an open community of artists and scholars who help collect and circulate an ever-increasing catalogue of critical, theoretical, and philosophical texts. Used by tens of thousands of students, educators, curators, and artists, the AAAARG Web site provides access to books and essays on critical theory, art, architecture, and film through a set of discreet postings linked by various keywords, bibliographic lists, and an active commenting system.

Developed around a near 10,000-item dot matrix printed card catalogue that indexes the content of the AAAARG Web site, the Library attempted to create a temporary, participatory framework within the highly active space of the NY Art Book Fair. During the course of the Fair, members of the Fillip staff served as librarians, fulfilling book requests from library “patrons” accessing the physical catalogue. These patrons, NY Art Book Fair visitors, were given paper request forms on which to write titles they were interested in reading. Links to these files (typically OCRed PDFs created by scanning printed books) were then sent to patrons’ respective e-mail addresses.

A computer and scanner were available in the installation so that patrons of the library could share material with the communities of both the Fair and AAAARG. Exhibiting publishers were encouraged to submit material to the Library in physical or digital form throughout the project.

The AAAARG Library existed alongside the paid economy of the Fair, offering an extra-institutional space that developed through a symbiotic (rather than an oppositional) relationship with the systems of exchange that structured the Fair. In this way, it mirrored the position of AAAARG itself, which, as is explained on its Web site, was established to be specifically para-institutional: “Rather than thinking of it like a new building, imagine scaffolding that attaches onto existing buildings and creates new architectures between them.” This strategy is played out in both the different formations of AAAARG itself and its political position vis-à-vis discussions of copyright and intellectual property.

In daily use, the AAAARG Web site serves an academic community lacking a physical structure or institutional affiliation. It bridges the interests of many different types of users who mobilize the site because they lack the funds, ability, or energy to access the same material elsewhere. This community coalesces around both the electronic discussions that fuel the development of and research with the archive and, importantly, the activities of other non-institutional institutions such as the Public School, a global “school with no curriculum” co-founded by Sean Dockray, one of AAAARG’s initial architects. For the Public School, AAAARG serves as an off-off-campus library and digital textbook distribution point, facilitating student access to course readings through a semi-structured (and semi-chaotic) collection of bibliographies, called “issues,” on the site.

Through its relationship to the various institutions and communities that both facilitate and co-opt its database, AAAARG and its users exist within complex legal and moral space. As Dockray has explained, AAAARG was developed not, as many think, to contest intellectual property rights, but, more specifically, to address issues of access. This has not dissuaded publishers—most notably OMA and Verso Books—from submitting cease and desist letters to AAAARG. (The irony of the latter’s action was not lost on many, inciting hundreds of comments on the AAAARG Web site and even sparking a spin-off site, Fuck Verso, dedicated to redistributing Verso publications.) These take-down notices issued by the publishers of titles distributed by the site have always been complied with by AAAARG, while other attempts to take the site offline have been thwarted in various ways (often through subtle changes to the name; thus the ever-changing URL of AAAARG).

Within the space of the Fair, the Library emphasized AAAARG’s complex relationship to its community of users and the (often overlapping) professional and institutional stakeholders in its content. It was significant that the project was situated alongside Fillip’s official presence within the Fair, just down the hall from other publishers, artists, and writers who form a community of friends and colleagues in the relatively small (but intensely diverse) world of independent art publishing.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the majority of the thousands of people who visited the Library had never heard of AAAARG. More curious, though, was that only a fraction of the people to whom the concept of the Web site was explained questioned its basic premises (or its role in a fair created by a bookseller for other booksellers).

Despite a lack of litigious melodrama, several productively awkward conversations did occur—mostly initiated through conversations that began “Is Sean Dockray here?” or “Where are AAAARG’s servers located?” The ambiguity of the intention behind these comments underscores the tenuous position of a non-organization like AAAARG. Unfortunately, theirs is a locale whose topography will be dramatically shaped by the (re)actions of others. As digital distribution becomes increasingly marketable through a new prevalence of e-book readers, authors and readers may begin to demand freer access to information that such devices potentially promise, yet intellectual property may also become increasingly centralized and commodified by those who seek to control its dissemination.

The AAAARG Library was developed as an artist’s project for Fillip 13. It is a continuation of Fillip’s interest in investigating the potential overlaps between magazine publishing and public programming. The project was curated by Jeff Khonsary and realized with the help of Fillip staff members Michael Cadamia, Kristina Lee Podesva, and Kate Steinmann. Special thanks to AA Bronson, Peter Russo, Liza Eurich, Publication Studios, and David Horvitz.

This project was made possible through the support of the Printed Matter, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Guns N' Roses, St. Louis, 1991

Julian Myers

Riot Show
: Some Notes on the Archive

Against the distorted pulse of a rhythm box, we hear voices. The voice of the singer, first, inhuman, amplified and drenched in tape-echo, crooning and shrieking, as if Elvis Presley enduring a schizoid break. And then the voices of the crowd, scattered shouts and cries coalescing into waves of terrifying sound: boos and chants, threats, their own songs. “I hate your fucking guts!” the singer shouts at them, early on, still confident in his possession of the means of sound, in his ability to drown them out. “This song is about somebody just like all of you—every one of you!” But then we hear a cheer. An intrepid member of the audience has stolen the singer’s microphone. The rhythm hovers in place as the crowd’s chanting grows louder. A plaintive voice from the stage: “We’re just a bunch of poor musicians, just like everybody in here, we’d like to have that microphone back! It ain’t gonna do you no good!” But the singer’s newfound solidarity is rejected; folding chairs are thrown at his head. He flees the stage. The show is over.1

Recorded at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels on June 16, 1978, this was the second date of Suicide’s quixotic, abbreviated European tour. After headlining the Third International Science Fiction Festival in Metz, France, Suicide (made up of Alan Vega and Martin Rev) was opening for Elvis Costello, and, indeed, amongst the crowd’s raucous singing, one can hear some of its members chanting, “EL-VIS, EL-VIS!” The show was recorded on a hand-held Sony cassette player—a year before the Walkman’s debut, it would have been a comparatively large and clunky device—by the band’s A&R representative Howard Thompson. The recording was subsequently released on their UK label, Bronze Records (home of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Uriah Heep), as a promotional flexi-disc titled 23 Minutes Over Brussels. (The title is a riff on 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, the 1944 film about the US’s revenge against Japan for Pearl Harbor.)2 Reclaimed from that antagonistic dissolution by the recording’s quasi-commercial release, the event was incorporated into the band’s self-made mythology as avant-garde provocateurs. Described in a 1996 narrative by their “Former Minister of Information,” Roy Trakin, the event was “as notable an occasion as the debut of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and every bit as controversial.” The romantic account continues, “[We] sped through the city’s Kafkaesque cobblestone streets down alleys while the gendarmes rushed about lobbing teargas canisters to disperse [the] unruly mob.”3

Listening to the recording itself, however, one experiences something altogether more ambivalent, fragile, and comic. Vega and Rev do not come off as heroes. One hears less a band acting out against their audience, who responds conservatively, than the reverse. The drama belongs entirely to the crowd: their variegated noise, their steady evolution of counter-tactics to the band’s program, their repudiation of narratives, spun out by the band, of sonic seduction and attack, of rock’s economies of martyrdom, gestures of camaraderie (“This song is about somebody like you”), and worship. The crowd returns these unwanted gifts, with force. This is no less true because the band and its “ministers” of publicity have attempted, in retrospect, to interpret the event in the other direction—to restore their own authorship of the troublesome imbroglio.

The Ancienne Belgique document is the cornerstone of a small archipelago of recordings and accounts sometimes called by the fan culture that exchanges and distributes them “riot shows.” Over the last five years or so I have presented, a few times a year, and in various institutional contexts,4 my personal archive of these “riot shows”: concerts in which the audience actively intervenes in the performance, forcing the performers to end the show unexpectedly. The collection includes about fifteen sound or video recordings (Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Leonard Cohen, Guns N’ Roses, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Bob Marley, Morrissey, Pantera, Public Image Ltd., and others), with many more written accounts and images, some of which are reproduced below. Each is marked by the convergence of four things: 1) a concert of some kind, with a large audience, 2) a part of that audience who, for one reason or another, stops that show by various means, 3) the crucial presence of a recording device of some kind, and 4) the exchange or distribution of that recording, either as a bootleg or as an official release. Strange, funny, boring, and scary in turns, these recordings allow us to perceive certain intensities and instabilities at the heart of the rock concert, and perhaps in spectacular entertainment in general.

My last phrase, “spectacular entertainment,” is meant to invoke a particular period and apparatus from which these events seem most often to emerge (though the archive, it must be said, resists most pat periodizations and typologies)—that is, the historical colonization of culture in the late twentieth century, in its various forms, by a vast, consolidated, technologically dependent system of representations and experiences designed for consumption on a grand scale. The evolution of the loudspeaker or electronic amplifier, first in movie palaces and public address systems and then in the performance of live music, is key to this historical development, in which new technologies of transmission and higher volume dramatically restructured the situation of those public performances (e.g., movies, rallies, and concerts) as more and more people were able effectively to witness them “live” at the same time. The invention of stadium-scale concerts in the mid 1960s with the Beatles’ 1965 US tour, for instance, attests to this phenomenon, despite the fact that their amplifiers were notoriously too small for their massive audiences to hear.5 The amp-apparatus comes to dominate this intensified relationship between performers and audiences, even in the smallest venues; whoever possesses the means of sound production largely controls this relationship. This axiom explains why the theft of Vega’s microphone, at the Ancienne Belgique, so injured the egos of the performers and transformed the narrative of the event.

My use of the term “apparatus” to describe this historical transformation in the logic of performance is specific. It is meant to call up the sense introduced by Jean-Louis Baudry in his 1974 essay “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus”: that is, as an “instrument” introduced into human relations, that works both to conceal the technical base and to “produce a knowledge effect.”6 It should be said, though, that the amp-apparatus I mean to describe, and its “ideological effects,” differ in substantive ways from those set out by Baudry in the context of cinema. The amp-apparatus is differently composed, of course: its principal elements are performers, amplifier, and audience, versus projector, screen, and audience. And, where Baudry accounted for a cinematic spectator who is disembodied, transcendent, absorbed in phantasms, “‘elevated’ to a vaster function” by the situation of viewing,7 the concert audience is, by contrast, energized, vocal, embodied, and collective. Rather than suppressed, as in cinema, states of identification, negation, and aggression (between performer and audience, and amongst the crowd themselves) are super-charged in the concert situation, not least by the presence of the performer—this audience is “amped up” rather than diffused. (Though now, as more screens enter the concert situation—from enlarged projections of whatever is happening onstage, to synchronic, filmic accompaniment, and the now omnipresent mini-screens of mobile phones, cameras, and PDAs—these distinctions between live performance and cinema, and, by extension, the social forms they organize, have become progressively blurrier.)

Giorgio Agamben has recently expanded on Michel Foucault’s use of the term apparatus, defining it as “literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions or discourses of living beings.”8 Agamben points both to the familiar disciplinary institutions—the university, the prison, etc.—but also to “the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular phones, and—why not—language itself….”9 Entrants on this list can be ambient and pervasive (language, agriculture, philosophy), or rather plain devices seemingly empty of content (the pen, the phone). But even mere tools act to “capture, orient, [and] determine” the lives of those they involve, Agamben avers. And, indeed, the amp-apparatus creates an expanded and volatized arrangement of performers, audience, instruments, and labourers, demanding new relationships among intersecting spheres: the grunt workers of the spectacle (sound techs, truck drivers, stage crew, and the like); the musicians at the centre of the array; mass audiences, themselves divided and classed; managers, advertisers, ticket-sellers, promoters and sponsors; and various kinds of bootleggers and tape traders (who enter this fold alongside the amps, as recording technology becomes portable and miniaturized).10 Add to this arrangement an increasingly militarized or policed system of entertainment, embodied by bouncers, ushers, and security, where control of the crowd is paramount, from the enclosure of the concert space, to the confinement of members of the audience to their seats, to the enforced separation of the performer from the audience. That the final sound of so many of these recordings is police sirens or helicopters (recall Trakin’s “gendarmes”) points to the collusion of these commercial operators with systems of government-sanctioned force: “When a spectacle agonizes, the guns reappear at every margin of the image-array.”11

A similar situation, of course, evolves in all forms of the modern mass event: arena sports, political rallies, and so on, each staged with their own guarantee of force behind the mounted spectacle. The rock concert distinguishes itself only inasmuch as it depends so often on rhetorical denials of hierarchy (“We’re just like everybody in here…”)12 or charged, ritualized forms of boundary-crossing (putting the microphone in the crowd, Morrissey’s habit of pulling audience members across the security barrier). And, indeed, the riot is constantly evoked by rock, soul, and punk musicians in particular, from the prison riots of Wanda Jackson’s “Riot in Cell Block 9” and Public Enemy’s “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” to Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, to endless variations across the punk diaspora (The Clash’s “White Riot,” Arctic Monkeys’s “Riot Van,” Sonic Youth’s “Teen Age Riot,” Riot Grrrl, etc.; the Mekons’s “Never Been In a Riot” is a clever inversion of this trope) to the dance-floor-as-riot in electronic music (Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Riot in Lagos,” Royal House’s “Black Riot,” Donaeo and Shy FX’s “Riot Music,” among many others).

That each of these evocations should be relegated directly or indirectly to the sphere of consumption suggests that the market relies not only on controlling such tumultuous crowd energies but also on deploying them for its own gain. See, for example, how the disastrous events at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969, in particular the murder of Merideth Hunter by members of the Hell’s Angels, have somehow redounded to the myth, public image, and bulging pockets of the Rolling Stones as the satanic bad-asses who set loose such mayhem with their songs of darkness. Never mind that footage of the concert in Gimme Shelter (a documentary directed and released by Albert and David Maysles in 1970) shows the band to have been stupefied and helpless witnesses to the violence their concert occasioned.13 And never mind that Greil Marcus effectively skewered the Altamont legend in his 1988 essay “Myth and Misquotation.”14 Publicity succeeds one more time at the magical feat of transforming chaos into cash. Recuperation is how capitalism works. But this is an old, and familiar, story.

Fortunately the riot show recordings themselves allow their viewers to construct counter-narratives somewhat closer to actual events, which cut against this mythic grain. So, too, do they offer substantial pleasures. The fun is in watching things go wrong with the relations of power I have described. Responding in 1992 to a survey on boredom, Hal Foster wrote that “…sports really thrill me only at the moment of crack, when the body-psyche-machine breaks down (when the skater crashes, when the basketball becomes a brick), when the commodity-image-screen goes dark.”15 A similar schadenfreude might explain my own fascination in watching these concerts go haywire, in seeing rock’s clichés come boomeranging back on those who elsewhere benefit from them. I feel a special thrill in watching the mere matter of the concert apparatus disassembled and upended, its arbitrary scenery demolished: stray ferns chucked at Axl Rose’s noggin, a bonfire of shredded merchandise, a mound of shattered chairs at the foot of the stage. (A favorite moment from the 1997 Pantera riot, which was recorded by a brilliant Hessian Statler and Waldorf: “I’d still like to have that tour book and video, though.” “Fuck that tour book and video….”)16

And in this pleasure I am one with the great many collectors of such quirky rock memorabilia, voracious fans plucking material off torrent trading sites or from photocopied catalogues—trophies won from the digital jungle. In this bootleg economy different constituencies flicker into view, subsets of this counter-public: fans who privilege riot shows for their distinction in a run of recordings, much as one might prize shows where the band played a particular song, or a recording of especially high fidelity; novelty seekers and ambulance chasers; those like Khan and Lary 7 (who bootlegged the Black Sabbath riot of 1980) or Sonic Youth, for whom the riot show offers a talismanic meta-commentary on rock culture; and, finally, those like me, whose amusement and fascination with these artifacts forms a vector through all of the above. I should add that over time I have developed an aesthetic affection for the layers upon layers of mediation-schmutz that overlay the artifacts gathered from these rather obscure networks. Hiss, muddiness, imagery recorded on the cheap and bit-crushed into near-abstraction: these things seem as important, in their way, as the performances and crowd-recordings—wagers against the phony infinitude of digital reproducibility.

Alongside these gratifications sit certain misgivings. Let me try to sort out a few of them. First, though it is easy (for some of us, at least) to understand the urge to negate and demolish, to attack the instruments of an apparatus does nothing much to dispel its force, its ability to capture and secure. Here, we might elaborate on Agamben’s idea: An apparatus requires material conditions, yet it does not reside in them. Smashing a particular cellular phone (to borrow one of his more prosaic examples) will hardly obviate the phone as a concept and system, or dispel its organizing force. Nor will such an act somehow extricate the smasher from a world of social relations that demands that each of its members have a cellular phone in order to exist on its terms. She will simply need a new phone. This is no less true of the amp-apparatus; the “pure activity of governance”17 is nowhere to be found in the mere material—wood, concrete, metal, electronics—from which it is composed. So any such direct attack is bound to be ineffectual, disruptive energy ultimately misplaced.18 Second, to watch thousands steadily, furiously dismantle the Riverport Performing Arts Center, after chasing off Guns N’ Roses, is to see something more than interesting. The process is terrifying and mesmerizing: an appalling sort of counter-spectacle. You laugh but then flinch at the flying rubble, at men lunging from the dark. You momentarily pity the police, targets in this mayhem—at least until their cronies arrive and start bashing heads and gassing people. Third, it is dismaying to watch resistance relocated, sickeningly, from city streets to dim exurbs, immense parking lots, and band shells where consumers exact pointless revenge on those who have ostensibly ripped them off. Such mass events depend on compelling crowd form, the elemental sociability of protest, ritual, and festival, to the ends of consumption—yet, overflowing, finally freed from its bounds, this ambivalent social force expends itself in these blank spaces. The individual rioter sheds, momentarily, the role of cooperative consumer, but no new or other form of life (to say nothing of class consciousness) comes into view; no emancipation follows.19

Let me extend my doubts still further. It is relevant that my archive has its apocryphal origin in the darkest days of 2005, after the crushing reelection of George W. Bush to a second term and during the elaboration of events in New Orleans and its neighbouring parishes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I watched these events with horror and outrage, as many of us did. The grotesque images of the Reliant Astrodome, in Houston—the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World,” and the scene of such policed entertainment as I discuss above—filled with tens of thousands of starving and miserable evacuees, relocated there by Homeland Security, are burned indelibly into my memory. If the archive represented to me in this moment a kind of wish fulfillment—evidence of the persistence of powerful negations in the sphere of mass culture—the Astrodome savagely deflated this wish, my negative ideation. As counter- and afterimage, it haunts my archive, in particular its representations of wreckage, mayhem, and destruction. What happens in these architectures of spectacle is dehumanizing—for the audiences cheering and disgruntled rioters as much as for the camps of homeless and dispossessed New Orleanians.

On witnessing one of my presentations, art historian Serge Guilbaut spoke up to say, “Guy Debord would be rolling in his grave!” (Though surely my archive would not be the only or best reason he’d have for in girum nocte.) Maybe I should join in his spinning. The last two paragraphs have attempted to set out just what I think his discomforts might be. And yet, and yet: It is important not to dismiss riot shows peremptorily, on the account that no revolutionary consciousness (whatever this Leninist shibboleth might mean in our present) suddenly emerges fully formed, or because no recognizable politics of emancipation seems immanent within them. Indeed, one thing my collection seems to make visible (and here I return to ideas put forward by Baudry and Agamben) is just what it means to become a subject under the complex conditions of policed entertainment. What happens and what is possible when a crowd engages in an impassioned negativity? How are those energies secured, and what happens when that securing fails, and everything comes off its hinges?20

The archive also brings into view a possible history of the amp-apparatus itself. It is increasingly true that the struggle seems to be not over who controls the microphone, but who produces the image. Rioters at the Ritz destroy the screen that separates band and audience; Axl Rose attacks the fan shooting pictures with an illicit camera. See also a passage from Kim Gordon’s account of the 1981 riot at a Public Image Ltd. concert: “The use of mirrors [in clubs] elaborates the already present narcissism, and individuals become spectators of themselves. Video monitors are standard design apparatus; the images are there to sustain the customers, as business dealings become mingled with fantasies—sexual, career, or otherwise.”21 This scenario—along with the swarm of cameras and glowing screens that now dominate most “live” performances—forestalls the antagonisms I have explored above, which rely on charged and actual presence, and on the complex and active (dis)identifications between the various actors. In this mirror-world, negativity is displaced by narcissism, self-combustion with compulsive self-mediation. Whose interests are served by everyone carrying a camera?22 Indeed, few riot shows have followed the advent of the camera-phone; one extraordinary apparatus confounds and multiplies another.

Still, there are other dynamics at play. Peer-to-peer sharing of music, for example, has forced an “exodus” to, and the placing of a new auratic value upon, live performance.23 And in this development there remain certain possibilities. In his brilliant, if today not so often read, book For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972), Jean Baudrillard describes what happens in such collective suspensions of value as I have described above, imagining them in the anthropological terms of gift economy and potlatch. Counterintuitively, Baudrillard argues that political economy imposes a gift onto its receivers, so rich and one-sided that they have no possibility of reciprocating. “The unilateral gift is as cold as charity,” he argues. “If no counter-gift or reciprocal exchange is possible, we remain imprisoned in the structure of power and abstraction.”24 Without the possibility of returning the gift, and absent the possibility of an “open relationship” of symbolic exchange amongst sound producers and concert consumers, we might at least demand the right to repudiate the offer, to refuse the gift—to say NO. The most compelling recordings in the collection—say, Public Image Ltd. at the Ritz, 1981; Guns N’ Roses at Riverport, 1991; the Ozzfest riot at the Polaris Amphitheater, 1997—present us with the uncanny image of such a negation. Resistance, after all, must be made of something, some real social texture. It is worth looking here. Suspend the rules of the game, its habits, presumptions, and forms of value, and see what happens next.

Further notes and examples are provided in the print version of Fillip 12, available September, 2010.

Logo for The Serving Library.

Dexter Sinister & Eric Fredericksen

Re: The Serving Library

Eric Fredericksen: During a recent session of classic American cocktails, German beer and sausages, pretzels, and pear schnapps, you told me about a new long-term project, The Serving Library. Consulting my foggy memory, I recall that you plan to create a licensed library in Los Angeles, offering both books and booze to visitors. The Serving Library would also embrace a larger set of activities and archives, both physically sited and online, to include a private-label whisky made at Christoph Keller’s Stählemühle, an online PDF archive, and—was it a residency program in Detroit?
Dexter Sinister: Your memory serves you pretty well, considering. Most of the things you mention are correct in the sense that we did probably utter them that night, but it’s worth backtracking a bit and saying from the outset here—in sober ink on paper—that they’re more accurately placeholders of ideas-in-progress than fixed propositions.
The term “The Serving Library” came out of a conversation with Nick Relph in Los Angeles. I was talking about my interest in establishing something along the lines of what I suppose I think of as the classically English, typically Soho-based, explicitly elitist and implicitly chauvinistic men’s club. I’m interested less in the chauvinism and elitism, obviously, and more in the idea of a cellar-like hangout, open during the daytime in order to escape the sun and traffic; equal parts intellectual and social—or literate and drunk. I’m also attracted to the perversity of the idea of such an institution being situated in Los Angeles, which would seem to be about as antithetical a location as possible for such an establishment. Nick was talking about a short film he was in the early stages of making with Oliver Payne, the only idea for which at that point was that it would be set in a disused library they’d found somewhere off the Hollywood section of Sunset Boulevard. The books had recently moved into a new building round the corner, but all the original shelves and desks were left intact. Then, we both simultaneously remembered a bit in the recent ghost-written Mark E. Smith autobiography, Renegade, in which he recounts moving to Leith, on the outskirts of Edinburgh in Scotland, for a couple of years in the late 1980s:
I had an advance from Polygram, the record label. I wasn’t living it up or anything. I spent a lot of time in these small specialized science and law libraries. They were the perfect places to go and kill a few hours before you had a drink. I’d peruse all these great psychiatric reports and law files. I spent 
a lot of time in there, just reading bits and pieces from these strange papers. 
It was like a second education in a way. I’d never read anything quite like that before. And more importantly, it was all free. Anybody was allowed in there. It’s not closed off like it is here, where only a doctor knows what a doctor does. You could have a cig in some of them as well. Some fellows used to bring hip flasks in: you’d see them nipping away while reading about nineteenth-century law. It was very civilized. That’s how it should be in England. Go into a library round here and you’ve got a load of repressed stormtroopers gawking at you. It’s no wonder kids don’t read as much as they used to.
By the end of the conversation with Nick these ideas had congealed into the idea of 
a reference library with a limited bar, a library that serves drinks during the day—
a “serving library.” Nick and Oliver then went on to make their short film based on this idea, which is a kind of crude, 3D architect’s impression—i.e., with footage of the abandoned library interior filled with Google Sketchup books and bottles. It looks oddly sinister, most probably because there are more bottles than people in there.
All this coincided with a few other recent productions we’ve been involved in that are directly or indirectly concerned with libraries. For example, a series of pamphlet-like printed signatures for a conference of art librarians at MoMA last fall, which were to be bound by each of the librarians back at their own libraries using their regular binderies, extra copies of which we’ve distributed in various contexts, sometimes loose, sometimes bound. Libraries, then, feature in a lot of these texts—
a close reading by Rob Giampietro of the 100th chapter of Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities, for example, which is a conversation with a librarian; or Seth Price’s self-fulfilling prophecy Dispersion; or a piece by David Senior, the librarian at MoMA who commissioned the pamphlets in the first place, about the philosophy of library classification systems called “∞ Hospitality.” And, in fact, the underlying conceit of the whole project was that these were all texts that had originally been dispersed via the library page of our own Web site. They were being turned into hard, analog print AFTER being distributed as soft digital PDF, which seemed kind of appositely backward in terms of our wider interests in the mechanics of contemporary publishing. We’re about to compound this by publishing the whole thing with a so-called real publisher, Sternberg Press, and call the book Portable Document Format.
I realize this is a roundabout way of answering the question, but the whole idea of The Serving Library is a bit of a roundabout. Since the conversation with Nick, then, what’s happened is that the few vague projects we’ve had in mind for the longer term all seem to fit easily under this umbrella The Serving Library, plus they all seem to merge into one overarching idea rather than remaining distinct. So, to itemize: the intention to make a twelve-year Black Whisky with Christoph Keller in Germany; a proposal to remodel the basic Bauhaus foundation course and make it specific to the twenty-first century so far rather than the 1920s; some kind of residency space, at least spiritually situated in Detroit because of the $100 real estate; a permanent home for a collection of artifacts we’ve been exhibiting at various provincial locations whose only objective connection is that they’ve appeared at some point as illustrations in Dot Dot Dot, our house journal; and an online library, which would take the basic format we’ve set up with our library page on the Dexter Sinister Web site and push it to allow for a certain amount of cybernetic adaptability as a live archive. Ultimately, it seems inevitable that Dot Dot Dot and Dexter Sinister will dissolve into this constellation, too, which seems to make sense as all the ideas are increasingly less location-specific and necessarily involve a wider group of people.
These ideas start to merge into one larger plan if you imagine, say, a specific location that contains a collection of books, perhaps for a start a single copy of everything we’ve ever sold from the bookstore at Dexter Sinister, all library-bound for longevity, and a bar that serves alcohol from Christoph’s distillery in advance of the whisky, which, amid the general reading and drinking, might serve as the venue for a residency program and/or attempt to consolidate a new foundation course, with the Dot Dot Dot artifacts permanently installed on the walls and all this mirrored in an online counterpart.
Of course, all this will necessarily change, and various aspects will be revised or altered or removed or added or become impractical or impossible … but this is the mental hologram at the moment. It’s also worth saying that it all coincides with our applying for non-profit status in the US. We’ve resisted this until now as the scale of what’s involved—the number of people, the legal commitments, the necessary collateral—has always seemed to overshadow the size of any ambitions we’ve had, but now there’s a better fit. All the ideas obviously require more funding and a bigger circle of people. Physically speaking, the plan isn’t necessarily any bigger than Dexter Sinister (which physically occupies a tiny basement), and perhaps even smaller, but the overall reach is definitely broader. Hopefully, these details give an outline of the background and fill in some of the gaps from that night.
Fredericksen: What is the relationship of this project to Dexter Sinister, which is both a personal identity for collaborations in art and design between Stuart Bailey and David Reinfurt and a basement bookshop, office, and event space on the Lower East Side of Manhattan? Does The Serving Library incarnate a broader set of practices and collaborations, and is that reflected in part by the move from a pseudonym (incidentally, Dexter Sinister is alphabetized under “S,” right before Reena Spaulings) to an institutional name?
Dexter Sinister: The Serving Library is more or less an extension of Dexter Sinister, but with a name change to mark it off from what Dexter Sinister has become, largely for the sake of securing non-profit status, to keep things clean. Without our really intending it, Dexter Sinister has evolved into a triangle of activities: a) a kind of studio involving writing, editing, designing, and hosting; b) a kind of shop and distributor; and c) a kind of exhibiting artist collective or group—though always under very particular circumstances. And, despite all this, we’re still a little dogged by our original intention to operate as a “just-in-time workshop,” which a lot of people interpret as our printing small-run fanzines and so on from our basement. We don’t, and never pursued the “just-in-time” aspect in any practical sense. It was really more of a frame through which to think through certain aspects of contemporary publishing. All we were really interested in was to consider anew the demands of each given job outside the expectations fostered by the habitual trajectory of art publishing over the previous couple of decades. Any switch from Dexter Sinister to The Serving Library will be slow and messy, and while it’s not untrue to say that our perception of The Serving Library is as more of an institution than Dexter Sinister, that implies we actually HAD a perception of Dexter Sinister beforehand. The exhibitionist-pseudonym aspect surprised 
us as much as anyone else; the name was only ever intended as a publishing imprint 
but was progressively changed by each new circumstance—as will doubtless happen with The Serving Library, too.
To summarize, I guess you could say we’re trying to profit from the non-profit by using the various requirements—a clear mission statement, an itemized budget, a circle of people—to force us into some clear-sighted thinking for a change. Up until now everything we’ve done has been backwards and stated indirectly or obscurely; it seems like time to turn around and be more direct and decisive.
Fredericksen: The Serving Library, as a name, suggests a move from workshop to archive, from commercial to philanthropic, from personal to institutional, and, perhaps, from sober to tipsy. Maybe the branding aspect shouldn’t be belaboured, as your history suggests an orientation toward definition through practice rather than concept—or a resistance to fixed definition at all—but I’m curious how those semantic shifts track changes in your interests and projects and how they might spur changes in your work.
Dexter Sinister: I think I’d agree with all your suggested shifts, other than the last, which might be paradoxically the other way round: it’s a sober bar, though not a dry one. I’d also agree with what you say about the apparent branding, though again, I’d emphasize that the apparent fixity of The Serving Library is mainly for the sake of appearing robust and far-sighted enough to qualify for non-profit status.
However, there IS something about wanting to play the non-profit line totally straight, to force ourselves into defining what we’re about to do primarily because it seems so uncomfortable to have to do it—and that discomfort is doubtless productive. What I mean is, I suspect we’ve become a little too comfortable with what we’ve come to regularly talk about as our haphazard backwards non-planning. It’s the same as saying anything over and over again—you become distracted, distanced from its original meaning, and begin to doubt whether you still mean what you vaguely remember you meant in the first place. So the idea of writing a mission statement, for example, as out-of-character as it seems on the one hand, feels a bit like going back to night school or something: adult education. We’re in the same state with Dot Dot Dot in that we’ve become more or less comfortable at—editorially at least—erring on the side of obscurity rather than clarity. Nothing is elaborated, connections are set up but not indicated, and it burns slowly—at least if you engage with it in the first place. But that’s become too easy, too expected (of ourselves). It feels right to try and break the situation, and the most extreme way to do that would appear to be to attempt the opposite: to be clear and direct, to state what it is exactly we stand for, what we want, and what we’re going to do with it.
Strange that you refer to “branding.” “Brand” means “fire” in German, the etymological root of the verb “Brennen,” which means “to distill”—obviously because burning is an integral part of the process. This, perhaps, too cleanly leads to the assertion that The Serving Library is “branding,” then, in the German sense—i.e. we’re distilling a bunch of raw ideas to make one high-end one, the sum being greater than its parts. The vocabulary of alcohol production is generally rich in useful metaphors for our purposes—proof, spirit, etc.
Fredericksen: Tell me more about the whisky project with Christoph Keller. As I’m writing these questions and emailing them to you, they start to feel less like an interview, with its imperative to mimic a conversation, and more like essay questions from a take-home exam. So I’d like your answer to do three things: 1) Describe in detail the conception, distillation, and aging of the whisky, with an emphasis on the significance of the choices made; 2) discuss the commitment to duration implied by making a twelve-year-old whisky, perhaps with reference to the orientation toward novelty and forgetfulness of the contemporary art world; 3) explain the distinction between whisky and whiskey.
Dexter Sinister: I’ll take the last question first, following the form. The distinction between “whisky” and “whiskey” is at once a result of legislation and of branding. According to Charlie MacLean, the author of eighteen books on the subject and recent guest of a dinner party that we organized in Edinburgh, “whisky” is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term uisge beatha, or water of life. (The Latin for the same is aqua vitae.) Once co-opted into English, the word became usquebaugh and eventually aged into “whisky.” But then “whisky” is used for Scottish-produced spirit, whereas “whiskey” is used for the same spirit produced in Ireland and elsewhere. In America, we usually call it “whiskey,” whereas, in Vancouver and elsewhere up there, it would be “whisky.” Of course, in the US it typically refers to corn-mash (bourbon) whiskey, whereas in Canada it is typically a rye-based or blended whisky. To further draw it out, in Japan plenty of “whisky” is made and plenty more consumed. In Germany, not much “whisky” or “whiskey” or even “whessky” (a German-specific variant) is produced, but can be named reasonably either way. In Scotland, however, it is a matter of law—Scotch Whisky follows an arcane code of standards that qualify its production. This, even the naming, has everything to do with producing a commodity, easily taxable, exportable, and consistent. The nicest part of the distinctions between the “e” or no “e” is that although there are consistent attempts at consistency, it remains easy enough to characterize in the abstract and just varied enough in application to make it impossible to completely account for.
The idea of distilling and producing a whisky began with a trip to Christoph Keller’s Stählemühle farm near Lake Constance in southern Germany a little over three years ago. I know the timing exactly, as my daughter Eden was three months old at the time 
I travelled to Christoph’s, and now she is three years old. When the idea comes to form and the whisky is ready, Eden will be sixteen and ready to sample the results.
As you know, Christoph had founded Revolver, an art publishing house in 1999, which had grown into such a substantial operation that the logistical and business concerns had overtaken the impulse to start publishing in the first place. As Christoph describes in an interview with Stuart that we published in Dot Dot Dot 14 and are including on The Serving Library Web site, he was thinking about changing his situation:
Then we found this farm in a newspaper ad, which, among the usual details, contained this phrase “Right to burn.” We had no idea what that meant—it might as easily have meant the house was only good for firewood! Then we discovered it referred to the distilling rights which came along with the property.
Based on this more or less coincidental opportunity to make alcohol, Christoph threw himself into the process. Typically in that region, wheat-based spirits are produced through distillation plus the addition of various fruits. The resulting schnapps then should, according to Christoph, retain all aspects of the process in the taste of the spirit. So that in drinking a Williams Pear schnapps that Christoph has produced under his Stählemühle label, you should be able to taste the fruit’s journey from the tree to the ground to the still to pure spirit. Along this production line, nothing 
is lost. Rather, one thing is translated to another (fruit sugars to alcohol, for 
At Christoph’s farm in 2006, he had already worked out his distillation to a pretty fine degree, and we sampled many of the schnapps he had produced. Subsequently, Christoph produced with us coordinated schnapps tastings and slide lectures in New York at the Dexter Sinister basement as well as in the Munich Kunstverein, and then Christoph floated the idea of producing an alcohol together with us. I’ll say of course because of course we said yes. In the three years of thinking this through, the schnapps gradually became a whisky, and its colour became black. It became a whisky mostly due to a residency at Randolph Cliff in Edinburgh, and the proximity to lots of people who know lots of things about Scotch whisky. It became black much earlier on, though the reason is harder to place—probably something as facile as its sounding aesthetically sinister or glamourous.
The idea of an actual black whisky—at least in terms of its colour—disappeared not long after arriving in Scotland, mostly due to the circumstance that producing such a spirit required external doctoring (molasses, caramel, other fillers of dubious origin). This seemed counter to the spirit of the project, which requires producing a whisky that is simply a good whisky as well as having some other aspect that perhaps models a point of view. We still call it a black whisky, but I’d just as soon leave other reasons behind that description for later. In the meantime, in Scotland we learned that twelve years was going to be the minimum amount of time to produce a whisky worthy of the effort.
Twelve years seems an attractively awkward period. Not forever, but long enough to flush from your temporary memory. Imagine how many things will be inconceivably different in twelve years. A good test of its efficacy is to watch how people baulk when we first mention the duration of the project—and invite them to invest. As designers, we’ve always been aware of trying to engage public commitment—and that’s part of the attraction of the slowness here. It demands a long-term investment of interest. The common denominator to all we do, regardless of the media it’s channeled through or the field it’s played out in, is a concerted attempt to engage an audience, a reader, and a big part of that engagement involves seducing them by whatever means into reaching out and making the effort of connection, in which case we’re then responsible for the payoff being worth that effort.
I think that the emphasis on the “institutionality” of The Serving Library may be misplaced, or at least overemphasized. Setting up The Serving Library as a larger organization with more people involved, with an explicit mission statement, a board of directors, yearly tax audits, and all the rest of the accompanying furniture adds up to something that is an institution, not a critique of institutions, nor a model of an alternative institution. Whereas perhaps with Dexter Sinister we were attempting to model an approach, I think that here we’re trying to make it concrete. Our model has been taught us, now it is time to build the real thing. This comes back to something 
I know that we’ve talked about before, in particular relation to the show that you’re curating at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver at the beginning of next year, called “An Invitation to an Infiltration.”
It seems that there’s a lazy tendency to file many of our projects under Institutional Critique. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong in terms of intentions and results, but most importantly in terms of spirit. In fact, Institutional Affirmation would be much more accurate. For example, projects like the True Mirror project at the 2008 Whitney Biennial, Dot Dot Dot 15 produced on location at the Contemporary Art Centre in Geneva, or True Mirror Microfiche at the ICA [Institute of Contemporary Arts] in London would be impossible without close coordination, consent, and trust on behalf of the commissioning institutions. Building this trust involves working with them over time and addressing concretely all practical consequences of the proposed projects. As Michelangelo Pistoletto says in a conversation in the upcoming Dot Dot Dot: “I don’t complain about institutions and I complain about institutions that I don’t like!”
So there’s plenty to be said for institutions. They persist longer than individuals, they embody information and relationships in a durable structure, they reach farther than the sum of their parts, they may be pointed towards altruistic ends that are impossible to realize in an individual arrangement and not sustainable in a commercial context. To incorporate a 501c3 non-profit company literally means to give it a body. And under the law, this new entity has all of the rights, responsibilities, and agency of a citizen.
Fredericksen: You have frequently engaged the subject of education. Many examples spring to mind: your project for the cancelled Manifesta 6 of Cyprus, 2006 (whose organizers proposed to create a school instead of an exhibition), your repurposing of that project for the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; Stuart’s contribution to Frances Stark’s USC [University of Southern California] symposium “On the Future of Art School” in January 2007, and the exhibition of the same title at Store Gallery, London, in March of that year. A library is different from a school, of course, but you’re also working on an explicit course under The Serving Library rubric, the foundations course modelled on Photoshop tools. As a quasi-institution, The Serving Library can negotiate direct connections with existing academies or operate completely outside of their structures. It could be posed as an adjunct to the academy, a critique, an instrument of reform, or an alternative institution. Or possibly some combination of those positions. How do you see the project in relation to existing educational institutions and educational practices?
Dexter Sinister: Again, it’s foremost a speculation (a hunch or a gamble). Alongside both regular and irregular teaching, we’ve also been involved in various satellite projects set up to reconsider and update curricula—theory rather than practice. This might seem to be something schools would constantly be doing as a matter of course, but in our experience there’s less and less time, resources, or energy available to maintain it. Personally, I’d largely stopped teaching after being so confused by what I was doing and why, and resolved to be able to answer those questions before I started again. The Serving Library toolbox plan is a first tentative toe back in the pool.
Actually, this is a little exaggerated, in that we have both been involved with quite a large number of art and design schools over the past few years, but never really with any degree of longevity, almost always on a temporary, itinerant basis. Of course, this is precisely one of the trends that seems counterproductive in the long run. To try to cut what could amount to a long digression short, it feels like any real change of the sort we’d be interested in implementing in an art/design school would involve working in spite of the existing setup rather than with it, i.e., superficially rather than integrally modifying the situation. Contemporary schools—at least the ones I know in the US—would be the kind Pistoletto would complain about, for more or less obvious reasons related to, for example, tenure, fundraising, and all the other hydra-headed forms of bureaucracy we’re all familiar with.
At the moment, the overriding situation seems to be that as one of this tribe of temporary, itinerant teachers, you’re often absolutely left alone to teach more or less what or how you want—and this might seem like a good thing until you realize there’s no shared departmental goal, no explicit set of aims or intentions about what a course amounts to: who you’re teaching what to do, how and why you’re doing it. The bottom has fallen out, as they say.
The Photoshop toolbox idea is, as usual, semi-serious, semi-ridiculous, and the ridiculousness is part of the engagement we mentioned earlier. It derives from something my better half, Frances, said a while back. She’s in what might be a typically incongruous situation of a tenure-track art professor primarily employed to teach graduate art students, but one of the conditions of her position, it turned out, was to teach an undergraduate design class. So you have someone who’s never actually taken a design class herself in the position of organizing one—within a month or so—at a major US university. The only “guidance” she had was being handed the previous year’s list of topics covered, which might well have been written at any point over the last eighty years, which is to say it was all colour wheels and primary forms and “contrast.” Trying to panic-grapple with updating this list to something that might be useful in the early twenty-first century, she came to the conclusion that running through the tools in a Adobe Photoshop toolbox might be a good start.
So we’re thinking of taking this literally. The foundation of the idea is: why is the model of the art/design school still apparently based on the Bauhaus foundation course, which was explicitly set up in response to the specific social and industrial conditions of the early twentieth century? If we were to start from zero—i.e., in the way no established schools are set up to do—and tailor such a foundation to the early twenty-first century, what would it be? What seems useful about thinking through the implications of the Photoshop toolbox (which is really just a cipher for at least all the various Adobe software toolboxes, and at most all equivalent commercial, digital variations of such) is that this has presumably developed during the current digital/information paradigm based entirely on market forces—with features an audience and, in turn, a software operator, demand. The manual skills taught at the Bauhaus, on the other hand, were rooted in the base function of the objects produced, rather than second-guessing the expectations of their eventual consumers. So, there has been a shift from a one-way production from Producer → User towards, if not exactly a reversal of this arrow, then at least a complex feedback loop between the two.
All of which is just to set up the idea that a useful approach would seem to be to take the Photoshop toolbox as a given set of commercial demands and use it as a kind of thesis: to dismantle and question each aspect of it in a constructive way. Our suspicion is that a zero-degree 2009 foundation course would be better weighted towards sociology or cultural studies, teaching an awareness and understanding of the cultural environment, how to talk about it, and, ultimately, how to be “critical” in a way that doesn’t just mean being mean. It seems to us that a large problem is that contemporary students have neither the ability or willingness to articulate clearly the conditions or purpose of what they’re dealing with, and until that happens all you have is a state of, at best, treading water, rather than acting progressively in any sense.
At the moment we imagine such a course involving divvying up the toolbox and handing the parts to a number of teachers, who would start by considering the background of that particular component (hand, pointer, pipette, brush, type, dodge & burn, etc.)—what analogue form it represents and why it’s there—then taking that term and proceeding largely how they want in terms of teaching. This line of teaching would always, however, be complicit with what the other teachers were doing and how their respective components were being exploited, and all towards this overall culturally aware end. The idea is that such a course would amount to an attitude, a practical philosophy. I’m reminded here of a notorious statement made by John Reith, director of the BBC, who, in the mid 1930s, claimed the channel never attempted to give the public what it wants but what it ought to have.
Fredericksen: Despite your protests, I enjoy thinking of The Serving Library as an institution. You’ll have letterhead, right? Let’s consider it as an amalgam of library, academy, gallery, and bar. Three of those four institutions have been greatly affected by the development of dispersed information networks, but all four could be broadly, and I think fairly, characterized as slow to exploit the possibilities of the networks. Making books and art objects, physically transporting them from their site of production to the point of sale and then to the place of consumption, it can all seem a bit nineteenth century, no? But we’re in no utopia or dystopia of dematerialization. In my work with the collectors Bill and Ruth True in Seattle, we’ve bought art we’ve seen only as JPEGs, from dealers we’ve never met, in galleries we’ve never visited. But I also print out all the PDFs I read. Actually, I print them out several times, because I don’t file them properly. I’m the market niche for your back-formed Portable Document Format book.
Dexter Sinister: A lot of the time I find myself wondering why we seem to be glorifying procedures—drinking, talking, thinking—that happen in any bar or pub every night across the world. And I could similarly think, hmn, does a bar really need to be “affected by the development of dispersed information networks?” I don’t know, I think our impulse to make something like The Serving Library comes down to being increasingly surrounded by products and places that seem to be all style and no substance; so wrapped in quotation marks of what they want to come across as being, rather than what they might just simply BE, that they can’t breathe. Is that too abstract? I’m talking about the sense that our surroundings are so mediated.
I’m not trying to avoid your question, I just think there’s a quick one-liner answer to it: regarding dispersion, we’ll just do whatever it takes depending on the resources available and the nature of the thing being dispersed—same as it ever was. Our attitude towards “exploiting the possibilities of contemporary networks” is pretty concisely summed up in this introduction to an article on kindred spirits by the Prelinger Library in San Francisco:
They think the conflict between a so-called digital culture and a so-called print culture is fake; they think we should stop celebrating, or lamenting, the discontinuous story of how the circuits will displace the shelves and start telling a continuous story about how the two might fit together. And they have designed a library project—part public archive, part private collection, part digital-appropriation center, part art installation—to suggest where we might begin.
The example of the Prelinger is perfect, in fact, because it’s precisely greater than the sum of these parts, without pandering to others’ ideas of what can and can’t be done. This is the sense in which I’m talking about mediation: the Prelinger is determinedly non-mediated. It is what it is. It’s not trying desperately to come across as an “art installation.” That’s just one of a bunch of slippery terms the journalist tries to stick together to give a reader some kind of reference point.
Fredericksen: Both Dexter Sinister and The Serving Library are or will be physically sited, but these manifestations are conspicuously modest and coexist with robust and dispersed networks. What’s the relationship between dispersion and location as it plays out in your work? And is it harder for you two to maintain a singular personal identity now that you live 2,400 miles away from each other?.
Dexter Sinister: I suppose the obvious analogy is that The Serving Library is based on the model of the server, and like all other contemporary servers its objective demands are simple: as big as it needs to be to administer adequately from as cheap a location as possible. Maybe our dealing with the distance between NY and LA is good practice. It certainly hasn’t seemed to make any difference to what we do, other than the difficulty of maintaining store hours on Saturdays, though I suppose this very fact of the store being open or not is implied in your question. For sure I think one of the things we’re very conscious of is that whatever the physical manifestation of The Serving Library is, it has to be consistent, open regularly, however occasional. These things have to be done with rigour and intent to have the kind of urgency we’re after. Too many contemporary projects are too content with a glamorous explosion and quick burn-out. It’s always been important to us to open the store on Saturdays even when no one comes in because it’s swelteringly hot or pouring down with rain, in order to develop a kind of trust with an invisible audience—and like any trust it’s quite rightly built over a long period of time.
One obvious lesson from the distance, and what that implies in terms of publishing in general and dispersing across broader and broader networks, is precisely how you consider your form of address when it’s going out to increasingly unpredictable audiences. In the upcoming issues of Dot Dot Dot I mentioned earlier that I hope to be more direct, we’re considering using the fact of publishing simultaneously in Korean (following an outside offer to do so) in order to dictate this simplicity, i.e., working on the basis that the simpler the language we use, the more accurately it will be able to be translated. But even then, how would we know if it’s accurate or not? Only by asking someone we trust who can speak both languages and who “gets” the meta-language of Dot Dot Dot in the first place, i.e., how it’s as much _about _language as anything else. So we naturally end up more and more reliant on other people and have to be more and more careful about who those people are.
Finally, to come back to the difference between Dexter Sinister and The Serving Library, I’m itching to invoke a line from the late David Foster Wallace quoted in a recent New Yorker article, in which he responds to the idea of whether his work is “Realism” or “Metafiction,” by claiming it’s not really one or the other, or both, but rather “if anything, it’s meta-the-difference-between-the-two.” I think this articulation is extremely enlightening, timely, and profound. So to very tentatively apply this idea to all we’ve been discussing above, I’d say that whereas Dexter Sinister has been a kind of naive but “realist” public exploration of the conditions of contemporary publishing at street level, learning on the job, and The Serving Library is more concerned with organizing a “meta”-structure (which we generally refer to as an umbrella) based on what we’ve learnt, the real project is, well….

Marginalia by Kyla Mallett at Artspeak

“Marginalia is photographic project that centres on the margin notes and graffiti found in a selection of books from the Vancouver Public Library collection. Positioning the library as an alternative archive, the artist worked with the library staff to accumulate “damaged” materials in order to reveal a transgressive system of communication that coexists with the official institutional system of the library. If the library itself is emblematic of a sanctioned literary practice, the marginalia found within the “damaged” books then becomes an unsanctioned literary practice: unruly, anti-institutional, personal, and at times offensive. At once public and private, marginalia is an attempt to make one’s mark, to pass on thoughts and opinions. In representing the marginalia in situ, alongside the official text, Mallett’s work offers a conversation between the official structure and the voices that appear in the cracks, and posits yet another cross-over dialogue between the subjects of the books that range from teen suicide to Milton’s Paradise Lost. “

Zoe Tissandier at Vivo Media Arts

Still from When love flourished in M for medical textbooks

Artist Matej Kren’s Book Cells

Artist Alicia Martin

Nick Georgiou blog

Artist Waldo Lee

Kevin Van Aelst

Walnut Creek Library Art Time Lapse

Artist Marina Roy

Artist Monique Levesque

Artist Francisco-Fernando Granados


3 Comments to “Art/Libraries/Books”

  1. That is a super-peachy-keen post. Thanks for really blathering on like that! Seriously, I don’t think I could have spent more effort wishing for something heavy to fall on me to erase that nonsense from my mind!

  2. That is a super-peachy-keen post. Thanks for really blathering on like that! Seriously, I don’t think I could have spent more effort wishing for something heavy to fall on me to erase that nonsense from my mind!

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