In the Ancient Library of Alexandria, Egypt, founded circa 295BC, the Ptolemies attempted to assemble in one place, the knowledge of the ‘known’ world. They sought to collect, buy, steal, copy, cheat or otherwise acquire a copy of every book in existence, to ‘create a hub for research, learning and cultural exchange’1. And then they invented a way to digest that knowledge, to distribute and share it. In Hobart in 2017, we made a curious digesting creature of our own. We gave it a name and prodded it all over to see what it might choose to reveal. About this place, it’s people, languages, absences and imaginations. We called it The People’s Library. We excluded no one. Only things that were for one reason or another, too difficult to hold.
Inviting celebrated scholars from many countries (including Euclid and Archimedes) to take up residence in the library, the Ptolemies paid them a handsome retainer and asked no more of them in exchange than that they use the libraries resources. YOU DEAR READERS ARE OUR SCHOLARS. (It’s just like Alexandria but without the retainer). As writer and bibliophile Alberto Manguel writes:
these specialised readers could become acquainted with a large number of texts, reading and summing up what they had read, producing critical digests for future generations who would then reduce these readings to further digests’.2
On the first day of this year, we digested the synopses of over 180 authors. And the things we couldn’t hold we carefully gave back. They (the authors of The People’s Library) write for leisure, pleasure, necessity and/or money. They live in all corners of the island and many places in-between. We like the in-between. It’s the threshold that is not firmly attached to either. Literature or contemporary art. Yet expanded somewhere in the fuzzy eld of belonging that is a half digested apple. Annoyingly lodged in the windpipe, that can at times, prevent even the shallowest breath from escaping or speech from talking. The digesting starts quite early in the words we swallow down, push to the side, tell ourselves are just too difficult to write. But sometimes it’s not this at all. It’s the fact that words can be too hard to read. To tell. To hear.
The author must first digest before they write. They must swallow, ruminate, throw back up and taste again, these lives that have given them both vitality and sorrow. To write a book might force the digesting of a violent assault, the loss of a child or other dif cult knowledges that will never again see the light of day. For others it’s a process of metamorphosis. A wrestler falls in love. A human turns changeling. Time reverses and leaves us inside out and back to front. Either way, what comes back up, when the stomach acid has slipped and slopped and peeled all those memories from the safety of the diaphragm’s impermeable lining — that is the stuff that has the capacity to hold a collective library in the now. To be con-temporary. To be with-time.
The digest’s unique ability is to gather, assemble and ‘hold’ together a set of social relations in and through a particular space-time (constructed or found), rather than a consensus-based participatory practice. The readers bring the digest together into poetic sequence — we score it. Writing on archival art, American art critic and historian Hal Foster writes of ‘the will to connect what cannot be connected’. He continues;
‘this is not a will to totalise so much as a will to relate – to probe a misplaced past, to collate its different signs (sometimes pragmatically, sometimes paradoxically), to ascertainwhat might remain of the present.’3
It’s not a new idea. The READER’S DIGEST, an American magazine containing condensed articles from popular magazines from around the world, was rst issued in 1922, published from home and sold for only 10c a copy by mail. By 1935, circulation reached 1 million copies and more than 10 billion by 1994.
1.the process of breaking down food by mechanical and enzymatic action in the alimentary canal into substances that can be used by the body.
Enter the cycle: Create procedures for digesting knowledge from The People’s Library. Use these readings to fuel the body. Gather and distribute daily. Publish online and print out for collection in the library. Collate and bind as a single book. The constructed spillings of The People’s Library captured and distributed as a new repository. And on and on. A kind of wiki for a memory yet to come.
Extend invitations: Scholarly study, author’s reading aloud their books as others listen and record, group discussions, sections of books, single pages, images or other; book clubs, radio broadcasts, if we are lucky. Establish our Readers in Residence Program. Gibson + Bird. Fayen d’Evie. Unconscious Collective.
We are curious. Let’s ask this: How might we (authors, readers, feelings shared in the company of others) hold in the palm of our hands, intimate gestures of a place and time known only by those who have come to live them? Come to hold a life just long enough to record it? To suture it?. The act of digestion becomes a living process of the work. This digest is our gesture.
The holdings of the library are bold, ambitious, contentious, funny, touching and inventive. They are the openings. They are the branches of the apple seeds of all that fruit that we forgot we’d already eaten. Wolfed down. Sometimes we are so hungry to feel satiated, we forget to taste this life as we consume it. Be a citizen, urges writer, Caitlin Moran:
A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen, instead’.4
Just as fruit was processed into jam, canned and distributed from the building’s ‘Peacock factory’5, we invite you to inhale the 113 books of The People’s Library. Find a quiet place to breathe. To live with the work. And hold it in this place. And when you’re good and ready, take it with you.
For us, the book begins in absence, in the surface of lost trees. In the sap. In the rings. In the days and nights. In the res that rage. In the chains that fell all the rare things that once were sheltered in the darkness of this horizontal green.
This, dear READERS is our curious gesture to you. The library and the digest and the apples, half- digested, caught like ghost nets in the Tasman Sea. Gather them up and ingest at will.
HOLDING(S), LOGS, READER, GHOST NETS, APPLE, DIGEST, JAM
Manguel, Alberto. The Library in Architecture, Art and the Imagination. Edited by Sascha Hastings and Esther E. Shipman. Cambridge Galleries, 2008. ↩
Manguel, Alberto. The Library at Night: On Alexandria. Yale University Press, 2009. ↩
Foster, Hal. An Archival Impulse. OCTOBER, 110, Fall 2004, pp. 3-22. MIT Press ↩
Moran, Caitlin. Moranthology. Harper Perennial, 2012. ↩
Note: IXL purchased the Salamanca Place jam factory from WD Peacock, continuing to operate as before as ‘Peacock’s factory’. The factory produced pure fruit juice and cordials in addition to canned fruit and jam pulp. Further reading see: Young, David. The Peacock Warehouses; a building-by-building history. 2000. ↩
On Sunday afternoon park the car and walk along Kelly St, old houses, old memories, past the old Writers Cottage, old cottage memories, down Kelly's steps to Salamanca. Climb the stairs to the long gallery and in. On the wall at the entrance words about absence give space. In the gallery a breathing out, a sigh, an arrival. An exhibition of book colours, coloured covered books on a panel, up high with soft colours, deep rich tones to warm your hands, warm your heart, a don't touch, stand back and look. Look at all those names, friend's names, Tasmanian people that you know, or know of, or don't know but chances are you will one day, they're here, displayed and the coloured books by those unread authors have titles, conjuring things, telling something but mostly keeping it secret, behind the coloured covers. This is a display panel of 113 uniformly sized but differently coloured books, standing cheek by jowl, with front covers facing out, standing hand in hand, spine to lip, a patchwork of books, enticing iced blocks ready to transform themselves into story.
Then there are people to explain, to tell you, these are the ones you can open, these are the ones you can read, there's where you can sit, there's the tea, coffee, wine, water, go and look.
So you do.
And the first one you see is yours Tiff and you start reading and you read about the rain and the legs waiting for the virgin birth and the annunciation in the back garden, and you think, god this is good, I want to sit and read this Tiff, you want to tell her, this opening, it's not something you want to put down, but there are people there that you know and you also want to talk to them, hello haven't seen you for ages, how are you, Glenda isn't it etc. Lovely to see you, great to see you, it looks amazing, isn't it fantastic. So it is difficult to settle. Now is a busy time and you'll have to come back and read this book Bone Harps by Tiff. This is good. And there's that woman who went off with your last man/boy love, that must be, what forty-five years ago. He was lovely, you were together for 18 months, two years, fun times but then you fell in love with a woman and there you were, you and the man, separate and you loved seeing those two, that woman over there looking at books and that ex-lover man together because they were so good looking and so cool. You never were cool. Always you went running and jumping and getting excited and red in the face and saliva popping out of your mouth when you laughed and him so handsome, you were never really suited, but years before you'd fallen in love with his back. You had the upstairs flat and he used to garden at the back of the downstairs flat and he'd take off his shirt and you'd watch. And this flashes past because this is Salamanca where people meet. This is Tasmania and the personal and political and the people's library, they don't have edges, they meld.
But the books are beautiful to hold and you know you want to come back and back and be here in this public people's place and read as well as watch. 113 beautiful books.
But today there are three artists ready to read from their writing and the first one is Viv and she had been at Rocky Cape on an artist's residency and she says about the ordinary in the wild, eggs, fried edges foamed and frilled like the coast with her words smooth as satin and full of rock, driven out through a rough round sound, voices brewed with tea and she listens to words fallen and stuck and they are on the wall, written and sounded again from elsewhere, somewhere behind you words and story repeated. Now at home, as you sit writing this and thinking, you remember there were pictures too, petals and something sumptuous and startling, Mt Wellington dropped behind joy rides, fun-fair faces and a boat, on the river, alone on the river, and there was a hole torn in the sky for the words. This, an impression given from Post Cards from Rocky Cape, thanks Viv.
Gay Hawks is speaking next, surprise, poignant and funny funny funny. She head butts a uniformed Russian dickhead when alone and confronted by a group of uniformed thugs. They make her angry! Language dear, watch your language! Her mother tells her not to make an exhibition of herself. Sulphuric language learned in the Burnie factories, warmed in the burnt out mills, get out, the all get out, get away with you, the thinking person must leave the town of beaches and death where shops sent a tin of change along under the rafters, ding bell circus magic, good but no where near enough. So watch yourselves big persons.
The black buffalo has a stroke and lies catatonic refusing to party with the good time Sheila with red boots. Keep up if you can, it's worth it. She's racing. You’re entranced, gob smacked, that’s what this artist does. Predictable, no!
Little chat wine break.
Janelle stands red and black at the entrance of a web, poised spider-like, goddess challenger, weaving story, science, myth, mesmerising, voice echoed by another voice inside a cave, spinning and out of her stomach, thread, pale, wide-word-thread, concertinas, pours out to the floor on and on, as she talks about being birthed by black pressed earth, she is with her father blessed by her father repeat after me, woman is dangerous.
These three reading women leave, you want more but look, here are their stories, waiting in the books with the beautiful covers.
This reading event is part of Salon, produced by Ruth Hadlow and Janelle Mendham. There is another next Sunday.
In this essentially Tasmanian book place called The People's Library, anything can happen and, obviously, it is.
Tethered in everyday acts of writing,reading and telling, The People’s Library is an invitation to write an original book-length work in any genre. 4pm onwards.