by Kirsty Robertson |
The Bookcase is a micro-museum and lending library located in an office (my office) in the Visual Arts Building at Western University, Canada. Comprised of an 800+ book library, organized by colour, and a two-shelf display case, covered in black velvet, the Bookcase is an idiosyncratic micro-institution. I had a number of goals in opening my academic office to the public, but chief among them were the creation of a display space for odd and unusual collections, and, simultaneously, the breaking down of barriers that place bookshelves, and particularly professors’ bookshelves, “out of bounds.” While I wanted to share a love of books as physical objects, I thought it would be difficult to see my books marching out the door, possibly never to return. But in fact, the opposite is true: loaning books has been massively rewarding, particularly in terms of the conversations and stories that have accrued around the borrowed volumes. Over the two academic years that the Bookcase has been in operation, I’ve lent out 150 books, have lost four, and have held seven exhibitions and two one-day festivals. Open one day a week and by chance, this is not a typical institution, but rather one that ebbs and flows alongside the vagaries of my own schedule, the willingness of the department and university to offer small sums of money (allowing micro-fees, receptions, and a forthcoming catalogue), and the participation of those who come to the exhibitions, return the books on time (there are no fines), and participate in other ways. Like all small institutions, the Bookcase struggles with the twin concerns of time and money – it has had to stay micro- for both of these reasons. And yet, the ideas keep getting bigger. Next year’s schedule, already in the planning stages, includes reaching out to the communities surrounding the university, developing a greater online presence, and possibly reorganizing the books (ideas so far include by size or around poetry by title).
Kelly Jazvac, Plastiglomerate, September 3, 2014-November 26, 2014, photo credit Jennifer Martin
The first exhibition at The Bookcase opened in September 2014, and included found object sculptures collected by Visual Arts professor Kelly Jazvac and geologist Patricia Corcoran. The two traveled to Hawaii where they discovered a new form of stone, an unsettling amalgam of plastic waste fused with oceanic lava rock, coral, and sediment. They called it plastiglomerate. Plastiglomerate is now a scientifically recognized harbinger of the Anthropocene era; a hot-button geologic term describing the present and future earth as irrevocably shaped by human activity.
Mushroom Festival, March 17, 2016, photo credit Kim Neudorf
Finally, in 2016, The Bookcase started hosting a series of one-day festivals, the first focused around mushrooms and mycology. Including a talk by a university mycologist, sculptures and art works by Paul Chartrand and Simone Sciascetti, and video and sound works by a number of artists, visitors who came to the festival were treated to mushroom tarts and mushroom soup, and could explore the “mushroom forest,” a large collection of mushroom ephemera that spilled off the velvet shelves of the display space and took over the whole office.
Christof Migone, Flipper A and Millefeuille, September 15-November 4, 2015, photo credit Jennifer Martin
Millefeuille included a pile of one thousand blank pages torn from books in artist Christof Migone’s library, while the soundwork Flipper A (2007) was an audio flipbook of 99 books starting with the letter ‘A,’ culled from the Paul D. Fleck Library and Archives of the Banff Center for the Arts.
Laura Mundinger, Concert Air, November 26, 2014-February 4, 2015, photo credit Jennifer Martin
Concert Air considered the point at which fandom becomes obsession. The exhibition documented a local collector’s obsession with sugar pop bands and the alternate reality they offered: one where the difficulties of daily existence, bullying and disaffection could be actively avoided. The Concert Air exhibition included water bottles used to capture the air at concerts (a literal attempt to collect atmosphere), key chains and knick knacks with the name “Bob” (for Bob Moffatt), dozens of movie tickets for Hilary Duff movies (with dates on the tickets clearly showing that films were often viewed numerous times in a single day), and Greyhound tickets documenting trips of hundreds of miles to see shows.
Rehab Nazzal, Touching History, February 4, 2015-March 25, 2015, photo credit Jennifer Martin
Touching History was based around a collection of ancient Roman pots, found by artist Rehab Nazzal buried under an olive tree at her family’s home in Palestine. “Only olive trees, in their tranquility in place and the passages of time, can truly tell the real story of these objects,” she writes. Visitors were able to carefully handle and smell the pots, and see the growth of three new olive trees.
Kirsty Robertson is an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art and Museum Studies at Western University, Canada (London, Ontario). My research focuses on activism, visual culture, and changing economies. She has published widely on these topics and am currently finishing a book Tear Gas Epiphanies: New Economies of Protest, Vision, and Culture in Canada. Since 2008, Kirsty has been very interested in textiles, the textile industry and textile-based arts. She has written on textiles and technology, on craftivism and is currently looking closely at petrotextiles (that is, textiles that are made from oil and that disintegrate into plastic microfilaments). Finally, she has an ongoing interest in critical museum studies, and is starting a large-scale project focused on small-scale collections that work against traditional museum formats.