Ripping and Rolling Pulp Fiction
On Thursday 15th of September I had the pleasure of meeting with artist Kerry Morrison and environmentalist Alicia Prowse in the Cornerhouse. Kerry and Alicia have worked on many projects together which lends each of them the different perspective of the other. On this occasion Alicia had thought that there may be synergies between my own research and the project Kerry is currently working on…
Sitting over our coffees and a slice of very tasty rosemary and lemon cake I spoke about how I’ve come to be where I am today. Starting with my background in artist bookmaking as an undergraduate, to a comparison between analogue and digital bookmaking at MA to my current PhD research about narratives told through new technologies.
After covering my territory we moved into Kerry’s project in a very physical fashion. Taking a rejected book from Kerry’s trolley, all three of us sat tearing off their covers, rolling them tightly and tying them together with string as we talked about how the project came about, and where it’s headed.
Kerry is working on an ACE and Lancashire County Council funded project: in-situ, which is based in one of LCC’s libraries. The funding for the libraries within LCC has been protected, and in fact invested in, unlike the rest of the country. This investment has partly taken the form of refurbishing all of the libraries with the same branding so that they all of the same flooring, shelving etc. As part of this process any books that have not been borrowed for a set period of time are being removed from the library and recycled to create more shelf space. It is the fate of these no longer wanted books that an in-situ project has become focused upon. In-situ artist in residence, Jeni McConnell began asking questions at the start of her residence. The process for recycling these books is that they are sold for a penny each to a recycling company. We are unsure as to what the fate of these books is. But we do know that they are not used to create a bag for lit: paper bags recycled from paper waste and used in the libraries. Something that the council has won awards for. The glues, fabric, and covers of books make the recycling of them quite complicated, and raises the questions: what is happening to these books? And, where are they going?
In search of alternative uses of unwanted library books, Jeni asked the libraries if they wanted to send her the old books to be reused in artworks. Kerry and Jeni began to collaborate on a process of public ‘book interventions’ including tearing off the covers of the books, rolling them, then tying together with string. This stripping and rolling has taken place within the libraries themselves, something that was then fed back to the higher ups. Unsurprisingly they didn’t like the way in which this process was drawing attention to what happens to the books when they are no longer being borrowed. The powers that be however have not kicked up a fuss, perhaps because it will create more attention for the project!
Interestingly people often react to the stripping of the books in the way people do to my own research subject. In that they feel like they need to defend the physical book. It’s not unusual, and indeed happened as we ripped and rolled for someone to approach wanting to ‘rescue’ one of the books by giving it a new home. Kerry is quite happy for people to take books, in this case a lady took ‘50 Ways to Find a Lover’ leading me to discover the large amount of romantic novels that the libraries hold!
Beyond the performative aspect of the project Kerry and Jeni are looking at what to do with the rolled books. So far they have appeared as temporary installation pieces in a number of places. Longer term the books are intended to be used to grow Ash Tree seedlings, which will be planted somewhere in Lancashire. The books will compost down and in this way they’ll complete a lifecycle from tree, to print to tree.
Libraries as a way to control us
As we talked conversation moved to the nature of libraries and one thing that Kerry noticed was how a library can be used to control. She felt this was because libraries are only able to buy certain books, so they are not free to get any that they feel would be most relevant or educational even to their users. Also they only allow local access, so if you come in and you’re from another area you cannot access anything. Even to use the internet, you must produce ID to prove you’re local. Once you have accessed it, usually only for an hour there are a large number of websites blocked.
From a feminist angle, books, blogs and articles on the internet would often be censored as inappropriate due to it containing words like vagina within it. This is compounded by the libraries also not stocking certain feminist literature. One possible solution the inter library loan turns out to be is very limiting. You can order a book in from the British library, but this costs the library around £100 to do so, far more than the cost of buying the book, which they can’t do as they are only allowed to buy from very specific lists. All of which throws up issues of control around limiting the access to knowledge of people who cannot afford a computer or access to the Internet never mind have the money to spend on books.
What could it mean for my research?
I could go and rip and roll the books in public somewhere as Kerry does somewhere in Lancashire. Use it as an opportunity for more conversation with her and others about where I could be taking my research. There are possibilities in getting this to link in with the work I’m doing for John Rylands library and for the Paper Gallery?
John Rylands Library
Here the idea is to produce work based upon my reaction to being within the space. Perhaps with some workshops and interactive elements to it. One thing that stood out to me on previous visits was that the library had been created as a place of escape for the common people it was built within. Which is why the windows are so high. This means that they cannot see the depressing reality of their world outside. Perhaps I could work on something that isolates that vision and forces you to engage with the piece in a very personal and direct way.
This has the potential to link in nicely with my research, which is about exploring how far someone can achieve an immersive experience of narrative in digital media. So creating some works about the idea of escapism, and becoming truly immersed in an experience would be the avenue I could explore. For me this is traditionally done through text, but to then involve some perceptive media elements it would be good to also include elements that sense who is at the exhibition -Or perhaps just interactive elements.
Key to perceptive media is that it is less of a one-way broadcast but more of a conversation. The idea being that a more relevant conversation is personal and therefore more engaging, so perhaps the notion of art works as conduit for conversation is the most relevant.
Interim at Paper Gallery
So for this exhibition the idea is to show at what point we are in our research as a group of PhD first year students. The approach I’ve taken at the moment is to use it as way to map my reading and understanding of different parts of my research. It should be taking the form of a giant mind map, pen and ink on paper. I’m hoping to get some high quality paper stock to work on for the exhibition.
In terms of how I approach it I need to get on with some more reading and come up with a process of how I document the mind-mapping. Whether I work on a rough version of just start straight out on the final one. In a way I think it would be better to work on the final one in the first place. In this way it will more accurately reflect the actual process and order of the things I’ve been considering. It will also cut down the time I would have to spend transcribing it onto another piece of paper at the end.