From the Toolbox of a Serving Library

As an initial exercise of the Dexter Sinister residency, we participants were asked to devise a system for arranging the exhibition component of The Serving Library. Composed of a collection of wooden objects (a sandwich board, bookshelves and a three-dimensional typeface, to name a few), library-bound books and quite a number of wall-hanging pieces, the predominant task circled around how to display the wall works. These mostly flat objects range from record covers, to a movie poster, to a subway map, to more traditional works of art. As a collection, they represent a small portion of images that have appeared in Dot Dot Dot magazine, and a few that have appeared in the .pdfs that will generate the Bulletins of the Serving Library, a new printed endeavour of Dexter Sinister’s. However, these images do not literally illustrate the texts in which they are embedded. They are artefacts of personal, theoretical webs of interconnection, most of which we participants are not privy to (practical restraints on time, more than anything else, have made this knowledge impractical).

After exhausting all the wild and mundane possibilities of presentation (for example, a lineage from text to image to abstraction, colour-coded or chronological), a system was devised that is one-half structure, one-half response, both parts bearing a intimate relationship to Stewart and David’s connection to the pieces.

Maryse Lariviere, one of the residents, has offered up the following excerpt from Walter Benjamin’s “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting” in response. In thinking through the rationale of one system over another, this points toward the value of idiosyncratic collections–and in this case organizing principles–as a way of maintaining a relational integrity.

Actually, inheritance is the soundest way of acquiring a collection. For a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property. Thus it is, in the highest sense, the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility. You should know that in saying this I fully realize that my discussion of the mental climate of collecting will confirm many of you in your conviction that this passion is behind the times, in your distrust of the collector type. Nothing is further from my mind than to shake either your conviction or your distrust. But one thing should be noted: the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner. Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter. I do know that time is running out for the type that I am discussing here and have been representing before you a bit ex officio. But, as Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight. Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.

As a curator, this exercise has been imaginatively generative because the brackets and limitations of the context are such that I can’t imagine them being replicated in the regular course of things. In amongst a plenitude of works I have not previously encountered (except as reproductions in the magazines), and whose relationships are somewhat invisible, we were asked to hypothesize a presentation framework that considers how the space will function both as an exhibition and a classroom (the Walter Phillips Gallery will be our collective meeting place for the next five weeks). The resulting decisions are delightfully strange and I encourage you to come view the space at the exhibition’s opening.

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