Across the Campus-verse: U-M's "Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library" exhibit takes viewers on a trip
Many of the installations are true “pop-up” style, with the spaces being utilized by busy students. The exhibition, curated by Guna Nadarajan, dean of the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, includes work by University students, faculty, and staff. The work can be viewed in three places: Hatcher Graduate Library, Art, Architecture & Engineering Library, and Shapiro Undergraduate Library.
The Bookmarks exhibition addresses two questions. First, many works engage with the shift from printed books to digital formats, the displacement of the book as a form, and shifting functions and perceptions of functions of the library. Second, artists question what these shifts in form mean for the institutions housing information. The exhibition asks: “What is the future of the library? What is the future of the book?” Each performance piece, artwork, or installation comment on speculative futures for books, libraries, or shifting technologies in unique ways.
In all, there are 14 site-specific installations and exhibits. Two of these require a cell phone or electronic device in order to experience the entire work.
Below, each work is listed under the library it is shown in, with specific instructions to find it.
Right Place, 2019, by Nick Tobier
Location: North Stacks - Level 4a, near call no.BX 801 T47
As a non-University-affiliate, this piece was one of the most difficult for me to locate despite the very specific location instructions available online and in the exhibition brochure. The North Stacks are maze-like and relatively crowded. Luckily, many helpful library staff at information desks throughout the library system made it possible to find this and many other works. Upon finding Tobier’s installation, a video stream of his performance in the space, I was unable to watch it, as students were studying at the table it was displayed on. The work is part of a larger series called #Marvelous Guests#, in which professionals are invited to do their work in an incongruous space. Here, Tobier records someone playing with a basketball amongst the stacks.
In Search of the Pale Blue Spin, 2019, by Stephanie Rowden and Jennifer Metsker - audio walk
Location: Begin walk in first floor Hatcher North Lobby
This 20-minute audio walk is one piece that requires the viewer to bring technology into the space. The audio walk is downloadable from palebluespin.com and should be used to take a guided tour of Hatcher Graduate Library, beginning in the first floor North Lobby. The piece is based on Jorge Luis Borges’ story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.” The original story has “layers of reality and unreality” that the audio recording soundscape embraces to ask, “Are libraries becoming more mythic than real?”
Nothing Everything Nothing, 2019, by Cooper Holoweski
Location: Special Collections Research Center
Holoweski presents an artist’s book, which is inspired by the works of Robert Fludd, a 16th-century Theologian. Fludd attempted to create a set of books with “all of the knowledge in the universe.” Needless to say, he was unsuccessful. Now, much more information would need to be contained in these volumes to achieve the same goal. Holoweski’s takes on this “naively ambitious premise” by combining scientific imagery with “his own spiritual system” to reframe and call into question the ambitions of record-keeping.
Evolution, 2019, by Live in Color and SHEI Magazine
Location: Serials & Microforms
This multi-wall installation shows full magazine covers evolving into origami, which overtakes the corner of the two walls. Live in Color and SHEI magazines were used to create this transformation, which “communicates the sentiment that as text is reborn into electronic forms, it isn’t dying: it’s merely evolving.” This piece offers a promising speculative future for libraries, suggesting that nothing is lost; instead, it shifts and turns into something new.
Biblionatomy, 2019, by Kyle Clark
Location: Clark Library
Kyle Clark’s Biblionatomy combines mixed media: books, sculpture, assemblage, and “raw constituent derivatives” used in the creation of books. The display features books and book pages suspended above glass display cases. In the display cases, artifacts, books, and components of books are carefully arranged. The exhibit is meant to mimic the exhibit styles of an old “natural history museum, a botanical or scientific exposition, a medical theater, or even an autopsy table.” Clark further states, “This anatomical exposition and arrangement of the codex form is meant to evoke the same sense of wonder and curiosity found in many early published scientific works, displaying the codex in the same way as an object of natural history is my attempt to translate the book as a purely conceptual container object to haptic handcrafted form rooted in materiality, science, history, agriculture, and technology.” These contrasting styles of representation and display practices call into question the minute but noticeable differences in finished exhibits based on discipline, creating a hybridized take on the museum and collections.
Next to Clark’s exhibit, a second set of glass cases show illustrations from the Taubert Ruffner Collection on the book trade. Curated by Guna Nadarajan and Karl Longstreth, these images are displayed collectively under the title Bibliomania.
Field Notes From an Expedition: Traces of Piye in El Kurru, Sudan by Barbara Brown, Howard White, and Maria Phillips
Location: Clark Library
Field Notes From an Expedition: Traces of Piye in El Kurru, Sudan is presented next to a smaller work that it mimics, the Thames Tunnel book. Thames Tunnel is a folding pop-up with a book-like binding. Field Notes From an Expedition is a larger-scale, “more constructed” version of the Thames Tunnel book. In Field Notes, Barbara Brown, Howard White, and Maria Phillips collaborated to create the technology-enhanced pop-up book, which is meant to “evoke images and feelings of Sudan.”
Captured by an Algorithm by Sophia Brueckner
Location: Clark Library
Sophia Brueckner’s series of commemorative plates were created with an algorithm in Photoshop’s Photomerge. Brueckner notes that this program:
... is intended to stitch together photos into panoramas, is instead applied to scans of romance novel covers. Because the covers are so similar, the algorithm often finds areas that it believes should overlap producing dreamy, hybrid landscapes. Each plate features one of these landscapes as well as a Kindle Popular Highlight from a popular romance novel.
The results of these images are pastel-colored plates of hybridized romance novel covers accompanied by a quote in a script font. The results are random, and sometimes this is obvious in the juxtaposition of imagery. Above the plates, framed images are displayed with a photo collage at the top and a large block of text below, combining the visual and textual components of the plates.
Scrap/Books: Excess, Experience, and Ethnographic Expression, 2019, by Will Thomson
Location: Second Floor Stacks, near call no. NB 813 - Shelving Range #253
This exhibit presents field journals and scrapbooks from the past eight years. These range from places like China, Mexico, New York, Boston, and Michigan. Thomson brings together documents that were “scrapped,” raising questions about collections, what we keep, and what we discard. The arrangement of materials resembles a community billboard, where members may tack up their event posters, many being left behind long after the event has expired. Thomson’s work asks us to reconsider what is thrown away and asking what these documents can tell us about ourselves and what we value.
Jit Cipher Circle, 2019, by Masimba Hwati
Location: Duderstadt Center's First Floor Atrium
Jit Cipher Circle (image above) was a performance piece, performed in the first-floor atrium in the Duderstadt Center on April 10. The #Bookmarks# webpage that details the performance elaborates on what the performance is: “Jit Cipher circle is a dance intervention made up short of Detroit Jit, Hip-Hop battles and expressions.” Additionally, the definition and origins of Detroit Jit are explored, calling it “an under-documented dance style invented in the ’70s in Detroit by the McGhee brothers.” The webpage points out that a history of Jit is non-existent in archives, often shown in a negative light, and represented almost solely through the “living bodies of current Jit dancers.” The performance raises questions about bodies in spaces, particularly the African-American body as a “repository and a dynamic living archive of stories and histories that exist in less glorious ways in text-bound confines.” The dynamic movements of the dance in Jit Cipher Circle, performed in a small radius, comment on the classification systems still in use that aimed to create hierarchies of knowledge “with a colonial ethnographic, script-centered library model.” This performance imagines a future in which libraries document alternative histories that challenge the limitations of current library organization systems and hierarchies.
The Latinx Library by Mayela Rodriguez
Location: First-Floor Lobby
Rodriguez’s installation is comprised of a cart of hand-made books, “Latinx Readers,” which respond to “the lack of a clearly defined Latinx studies collection in the library system.” Viewers are welcome to browse through the handmade readers, even take them out of the library; visitors are only asked to return them when they are finished and to handle them with care. There were also three cartonera-making workshops for Latinx students, faculty, and staff in March and April.
DictionARy & Withdrawn Books, 2019, by Jane Prophet
Locations: Shapiro Undergraduate Library (First Floor Lobby), Shapiro/Hatcher Connector Bridge, and Hatcher Graduate Library (Second Floor Elevator Lobby & Special Collections Research Center)
Jane Prophet’s Bookmarks artworks (shown above) are a collaboration with software designer Mark Hurry, who created the phone app used to interact with the work. The pieces are in three different spaces in and between Shapiro and Hatcher Libraries. To download the app, you must scan the QR code presented on the exhibit wall text. If you are successful in your endeavor to download the app, you can use it to view the augmented reality 3D texts that appear and move out of Prophet’s graphic markers. The first graphic marker is a large zipper, unzipping to reveal gravelly dirt. This is the first of four similar markers and one which I was, unfortunately, able successfully view with the app due to student use of the area. Though this particular multi-site work draws its 3D text from withdrawn books, which may seem to be a metaphor for the end of the book, the future of libraries seems bright with so many spaces occupied with vibrant academic, staff, and student life.
Collect/Connect, 2019, by Heidi Kumao
Location: First Floor, Computing/Printing Study Space
This digital work by Heidi Kumao is an interactive board game that requires two players. The game is presented on a large touch-screen, which library visitors can walk up to and use. I was alone, so I was unable to complete a game. I did, however, browse through some of the components of the game, which were presented as cards that you can click. Once the cards were selected, historical information was presented on the screen with corresponding call numbers in the expansive University of Michigan library system. The aim of the game is to “create interesting relationships between across seemingly unrelated collections at the University of Michigan libraries and museums.” From archeological objects to a category on Cary Grant, this game creates a light-hearted exploration into the sometimes overlooked interconnectedness of disciplines and collections.
Scheherazade 2.0 (prototype) by Osman Khan
Location: First Floor, College & Career Collection
This sculptural work is made from wood, plastic, custom electronics and software, Raspberry Pi, and a parametric speaker. The machine is an A.I. storyteller that is “trained not only on folk and fairy tales from the Muslim world but also crowdsourced contemporary stories from the local Muslim community, weaving myths of yesterday with the heroes of today.” I was unable to determine how to get the A.I. to tell me a story, unfortunately, and the robot’s physical form was placed next to a sign that read “SAY SOMETHING: report suspicious activity,” so I called it a day and went on to the next work.
Elizabeth Smith is an AADL staff member and is interested in art history and visual culture.
Bookmarks: Speculating the Futures of the Book and Library runs through May 26.