Saturday, January 06, 2007

A library liberated

Lots to choose from
Robin Pacific's Shelf Portrait installation at Red Head Gallery has been drawing a lot of publicity in the weeks leading up to its opening. It's not every day that someone decides to give away her entire collection of books, and even rarer that such a decision spawns "an exhibition that renders an act of generosity into a work of art," as the gallery's flyer explains. On my way over to 401 Richmond this afternoon, I wondered how Ms Pacific and the gallery people were going to handle the mob scene that the opening would undoubtedly turn into.

Very well, as it turned out. Realizing that they were going to draw a crowd, they'd imposed a limit of 4 books per person, and printed up tickets for admission at half-hour intervals -- sensibly eliminating the need for attendees to wait in line for hours. Arriving at 1:30, I snagged a 3:00 ticket. I did a little shopping, and returned at 3:00 to find throngs of people milling about, some being interviewed by crews from City-TV and CBC Radio (Nora Young was there).

The show deserves to be a huge hit. It highlights, I think, a point about second-hand books that has intrigued me for awhile: they are artifacts that often have little or no monetary value, but enormous cultural and aesthetic value. They are so plentiful and easy to come by that people are unwilling to pay very much for them, yet many of us will always stop to dig through them when they're piled up at yard sales, or set out in boxes at the curb with signs saying "FREE." (I have no time to read for fun anymore & yet I am forever hauling the damn things home: books picked out of recycling boxes, bought for a few quarters at campus booksales, left on the swap shelf in my co-op's laundry room.) Shelf Portrait picks up on that, and it's also the sunniest, most positive thing I've seen in a gallery in awhile: a formalized, unqualified random act of kindness.

My 4 picks:

Waiting, Ha Jin
Meshugah, Isaac Bashevis Singer (I got this intending to pass it along to my brother, but might read it myself first)
Illuminations, Walter Benjamin (This contains "Unpacking my Library," his famous essay on book collecting, which just seemed way too appropriate to pass up)
The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry (This is the one I was most excited to find: have been meaning to look it up & read it)

You see what I mean about value? Amazing!

Festooned with books

More blogging soon. I have to go read now.


Blogger JuliaMazal said...

oooh. thank you for sharing the experience! by the time i go i'm sure there'll be nothing left... which is probably for the best...

4:26 p.m., January 07, 2007  

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