Friday, March 02, 2012

altering attitudes about (e)books

I am participating in a group exhibition of site-specific work at the end of this month. It's called Material World, and we've all chosen a part of the ANCA gallery to play with.

I chose one of the girders in the ceiling, partly because I like the thought of making people look up away from the 'normal' eyeline of hung art and partly because they've always made me think of bookshelves. You can never have enough bookshelves in a space.

So I'm making an installation of altered books, literally altered to fit the space. I haven't planned all the details of the installation yet, because it's evolving as the date gets closer and I collect the materials.

This is the exciting thing about site-specific work for me. It's made, as the genre suggests, to fit that space only, and that space has very specific needs. For example, there are three girders in the main space, and they are all different lengths thanks to the shape of the gallery. They all have a lighting rack intersecting them about one metre in from each side. So what I put in one girder wouldn't fit in either of the other girders unless I change the work.

Today I drove (through the rain) to the Lifeline Book Fair Depot to meet up with Cedric Bear (best name ever!!!), a very nice man who is also a member of the Canberra Bookbinders. I had previously flagged with him the possibility of my needing over five metres of hardbacks that I could cut up, and he was happy to donate them, especially if they were books that they just can't shift at the twice-yearly fairs.

This is what I ended up with:

Boxes and boxes of hardback books by writers like Bryce Courtenay, Wilbur Smith, John Grisham, Stephen King, and myriad Reader's Digest volumes, both old and new.

Cedric didn't have to rummage around to find these particular boxes, and the volunteers packing my car offered me more, and said that I could go back & get more if I find I need them. What I took didn't make a dent in the depot's store of these books, and I've seen their shrink-wrapped pallets of the same hardbacks, in multiples of multiples.


It's not that the writers are {ahem} bad, it's that people will buy themselves these huge, badly-produced, cheap-papered volumes, read them once, maybe lend them to a friend, and then throw them away. Or in this case, donate them to Lifeline. Who have gazillions of them. Go into any secondhand bookshop, they have shelves of the buggers. Who wants them? No-one, they've already read them. And these kinds of readers want them to be new/fresh/free of germs/whatever.

If this is a description of your nana/pop/dad/aunt/uncle/friend, BUY THEM A KINDLE. All these books are available as e-texts, and e-readers can be made into large print books. Think of the number of trees we will save!

I've always thought that e-books will not kill books in general, they will just winnow through the chaff and allow good books to be produced well and collected by those who love the form. These crappy books are not loveable, they are the equivalent of Happy Meals with Toys. Don't buy them.

I'm going to have fun with these books. I won't know what I'll do until I go through them and talk to them and think about what they want to, and how they will interact with each other.

So thank you, Lifeline peoples. You rock. I'll make sure you get an invitation to the opening and an acknowledgement for your donation to my work. I'm looking forward to everything about the exhibition except the bit where I have to climb a ladder to install my work. I hate climbing ladders!


Cat Drawings said...

Interesting. Hadn't thought that way about all those books.

Also haven't yet tried to read a book on a Kindle.

I'm a big fan of the local second hand book shop and the lovely lady there generally takes all of my books.

Libraries (or whatever they're called these days) are also bloody useful - even if I do end up regularly paying late fees.

Alli Burness said...

What fun... I've always dreamed of making something out of old books. Being an archivist, I always have to be so careful with them... when really I just want to set their personalities free!

I hope we get to see piccies of your installation?

Elephant's Child said...

Yay for the Lifeline plug. I will get you there yet.
I can see what you mean about e books but I am a dinosaur and love my real, sometimes tired books. Crying as I read a Kindle just seems odd.
I am really, really looking forward to your installation.

ronnie said...

ahhhh you're talking my language.... (sans kindle)....

Taphophile said...

An e-reader and a library card.