Last night was the opening for Brother Can You Spare A Stack at the Center for Book Arts. As part of the show, I built an installation out of my experience working as a librarian with the Peoples Free Library of Occupy Wall Street fame and compiling the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology. For the opening, a few of the Peoples Free Library librarians showed up and set up a Peoples Free Library on the sidewalk outside of the gallery!
Brother, Can You Spare a Stack presents thirteen art projects that re-imagine the library as a force for social change. Each project constructs a micro library of sorts that serves specific economic or social needs within the community. Each project proposes an alternative politicized realm, which can be imagined and formed to explore the social dimensions of contemporary culture. Small and mobile, these projects resist the limitations of a controlled, highly organized system that governs our society. In contrast to subjective libraries formed by the artists picking and choosing book titles, these projects take a pragmatic and rational approach, using the library model as an interactive field. Selected projects update the principles of relational aesthetics, and shift them towards all-inclusive and useful cultural production. “Brother, Can You Spare a Stack” borrows its title from the lyrics of a popular depression era song, claiming that the artists invent alternative models of questioning, inspiring new perspectives on social transformation. They insert themselves into the most unexpected situations and spaces, in this case libraries, to propose social and cultural improvement. The exhibition includes projects by: Arlen Austin and Jason Boughton; Brett Bloom and Bonnie Fortune; Stephen Boyer; BroLab (Rahul Alexander, Jonathan Brand, Adam Brent, Ryan Roa, and Travis LeRoy Southworth); Valentina Curandi and Nathaniel Katz; Finishing School with Christy Thomas; Anna Lise Jensen and Michael Wilson; Jen Kennedy and Liz Linden; The K.I.D.S. with Word Up Collective, Eyelevel BQE, Launchpad, NURTUREart, Weeksville Heritage Center, and individual partners, as well as with Emcee C.M., Master of None; Annabel Other; Reanimation Library; The Sketchbook Project; and Micki Watanabe Spiller. Special thanks to Build It Green NYC! for their in-kind donation of materials used both in the Bronx and at the Center for Book Arts.
The Peoples Library of Occupy Wall Street began with a couple books placed on a bench in the north east corner of Zuccotti Park, mid-September 2011. As books were added to the pile, Betsy Fagin and a few other people named the collection “The Peoples Library of Occupy Wall Street” and began organizing the books into categories. A call went out for more books and librarians, and both (along with other supplies) continued to pour in as the Occupation gained momentum. The Peoples Library became one of the Occupation’s proudest emblems. It proclaimed “truth to power” and demonstrated the peaceful protest’s desire to spread knowledge through inclusivity; all books given to the collection were added.
Poetry provided my entry to the movement. I walked around Zuccotti Park my first few days there in late September 2011, listening, soaking in the vibrant energy and diverse conversations. My third day there, I was introduced to Travis Holloway as he put together the first Poetry Assembly, which became a weekly reading. I went to Liberty Plaza early the second week of the Poetry Assembly because I had been asked to facilitate. I met the librarians that day as I made cardboard signs for the assembly; I pitched to them the idea of an anthology and they agreed the Poetry Assembly needed to be archived and took on The Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology as its first publication.
Until the police shut down the Occupation on November 14th, the library and the anthology grew exponentially. The night the police came and destroyed OWS, I salvaged a handful of books and the original copies of the poetry anthology. A couple days after the raid, the poet Sarah Sarai and I turned the anthology into a PDF on the Peoples Library website. Because the police state shut the park down as a place of protest it became necessary to put the anthology online to spread its’ inclusive message instantaneously. It was posted with instructions “how to print” and “how to make your own copy” so anyone could acquire a copy.
For “Brother, Can You Spare a Stack”, I’ve (re/re-re/re-re-re)considered why, unfortunately, The Peoples Library disintegrated. Libraries across the country are closing down and The Peoples Library strove to show how communities could create their own library. But because of violence perpetrated by the NYPD, The Peoples Library disappeared; the night it disappeared it was a collection of over three-thousand books. But unlike most libraries it reincarnated into many forms: as the anthology, as zines and ephemera, and Occupy libraries popped up around the country. They also popped up online as theory and in practice, and the New York chapter went mobile and into the streets. The battle continues to be political, and for this installation, I’ve created my experience into captions placed alongside various ephemera and books to narrate the experience of the library and anthology and all the life and protest that has continued to coincide with both projects.
A radical queer library on display! bring a book to swap for another book! I found a vhs copy of Patricia Hearst‘s First Tape from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)! I swapped it for a copy of Dennis Cooper‘s “Smothered in Hugs.”
The Patriot Library sent out from Los Angeles by Finishing School… after the Patriot Act was signed into effect by George W. Bush, Finishing School started to call around to public libraries around the country and they asked librarians if they had books on how to make a bomb. Many librarians immediately hung up the phone and others engaged them, “How big of a building are you trying to blow up?”
F.S., “Oh, you know, like a 30 story apartment building…”
Librarian, “Sounds like you need a book on demolition…”
F.S. made note of all the books suggested and then made a library!
There are many other libraries… all worthy of exploring! Go check them out. It’s up through March! And on March 15, at 6:30pm, I’ll be giving an artist talk along with a few other artists whose work is on display.
Let me know what you think! XOXOXO