Salons

#6
Salon 2/2 Toon Koehorst &
Jannetje in ‘t Veld

16 Mai 2011
Berlin Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

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We were kindly invited to hold the second salon at the Dutch embassy in Berlin. We were given a guided tour through the embassy, which included informative commentary about the artworks on display.
Following the tour, guest gathered in the private rooftop apartment of the ambassador. The cultural attaché gave a welcome speech, followed by the salon’s opening delivery by Claudia Becker (Flusser Archive). Toon and Jannetje accompanied by their book scanner, resumed discussions addressing the unique distinctions between books and the complications surrounding digitalization.

Attending Guests: Claudia Becker (Researcher, Flusser Archive), Mirthe Berentsen (Dutch Embassy), Fred von Bose (Scientific Researcher, Humbold-University), Annie Goh (Assistant, Flusser Archive), Nina Köller (Art Historian), Christina Maria Landbrecht (Art Historian and Curator), Antonia Hirsch (Artist and Editor, Filip Magazine), Dominique Hurth (Artist and Founder, The Reading Room), Oliver Klimpel (Graphic Designer), Rodrigo Novaes (Researcher, Flusser Archive), Eseranza Rosales (Writer and Curator)

Dear Guest,

Welcome to our second ABA Salon. We are very happy to have you all here this afternoon. It’s a unique occasion at this special location, the Embassy of the Netherlands. It is also fitting in more than one way. Berlin and all of you have been very welcoming to us during our artist-in-residency. We like the idea very much that we have been allowed to welcome all of you here to this small bit of the Netherlands to return the favour. We wish to thank the amazing people at the Embassy that made it possible.

That we are now here in the ambassador’s apartment is even more appropriate. The quality of a Salon is to us the private character. So this is the perfect comfortable environment to gather this select group of informed people.

Finally we find it very interesting that the embassy is designed by the same architectural office, OMA, who designed the most radical new library of the past decade, the Seattle Public Library. They share pretty much the same concept, both feature a route that winds up, across and along different rooms as we have seen on the tour just now. Most striking however is the very representational character of the two buildings.

For the embassy it might be obvious to function as a monumental-sized business card. One that tries hard to provoke an image of daring modernity. But surprisingly, exactly the same goes for the Seattle Library. Of course they share the same architect, but there is more that these buildings have in common. While there is a huge difference in accessibility, both are communal buildings and both feature a collection. For the library these are the obvious items: books and a range of other media. For the embassy this is a collection of people, information and art. Together these items try to be as representational as possible for the Kingdom of the Netherlands. These collections don’t seem to have much in common but both can be traced back to the multi-functional Wunderkammer, a phenomenon that lends its name from the German language but enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Dutch Republic’s Golden Age. These historical Wunderkammers featured mixtures of objects, books, art and even people. They functioned as a place to research, to educate, to celebrate, to awe and to meet. How appropriate that we are here today in this Wunderkammer, in this Library.

This brings us to the topic for today. The future and the library. Already clear is that the term library is increasingly diffuse in the sense that it long lost the etymological origins that explain the word as ‘a storage place of books’. It now signifies an ever growing amount of diverse systems where data is stored and accessed. The Itunes Library is a fully logical name for what is but couldn’t be more different from the StaBi, which couldn’t be more different from the Iphoto Library, which couldn’t be more different from the Seattle Library. At the same time we are at a moment where the traditional institutional libraries are unsure of how to adapt to great changes that are driven by diverse political and technologic evolutions. While traditional public libraries originally were founded to combat a lack of literacy, education and access, they are now faced with a deluge of media, sources and access. These institutions are now the battlefields of a changing media landscape, which make them a very interesting environment for us to question how graphic design can adapt and play a role in these times.

To start a debate about the library and what it can stand for in the future we have collected a couple of texts, movies and images that we hope is thought provoking. We will present some of them during the afternoon.

First we would like to present a text about Vilém Flusser. We are highly grateful to the Flusser Archive to let us include this previously unpublished text in this hand-out. It is about SuperAbundance and how we could act on it. Flusser takes New York as the prime example of abundance, but if you replace New York with Berlin, replace Madison Avenue with Mitte, replace the Village with Neukölln and The Sunday New York Times with Die Zeit than this text is also a great summation of our stay in Berlin.

Flusser proposes ‘to analyse and to manipulate memories, not to try and enrich them further.’ ( ix ) He urges to reprocess and to reinterpret existing knowledge instead of creating new information. This is in a way quite visionary as we feel that a lot of (young) artists, especially in Berlin, are working along those lines at the moment. Another idea that sheds some light on these practices is the coining of the archive versus the an-archive by Siegried Zielinski. About the institutional archive, the canon and other academic methods of remembering versus more personal ways of documenting knowledge. This is reflected in the large existing institutes that are experiencing some sort of existential crises as opposed to all these enthusiastic initiatives to rethink the library on a smaller scale.

In this light we are delighted that artist Antonia Hirsch will share some of her motives for working on a library project herself at this moment. We also like to present the second version of our ongoing development of a bookscanner. With this contraption we will ‘scan’ the temporary ‘flash’-library we have here this afternoon to add to The Shadow Library. It is a response to the observation that in a couple of years all books will be turned into images through extensive and automated book scanning programs. This while machines are still hardly capable of dealing with them, they need secondary descriptions, hints, to be able to digest and process them.

We propose a slow but engaging way to create digital shadows of books. The bookscanner is a model of how the margins of the pages can retain their capability of providing context and commentary.

But as much as these institutional and indepenent libraries are opposed they share an undeniable urge to look ahead. They want to be interfaces to access existing knowledge saved sometime in the past. The reason to conserve lies in its future use. They function as an extended memory. But libraries are threatened by amnesia just as much as the human memory.

Books fall apart as ink burns through the paper. We’ve included a laser-cut quote with this hand-out to make this process visible, as these brittle books are ordinarily inaccessible to the public. While books are ordinarily saved to be accessed later, in these cases the books are saved by make them inaccessible. So here the status of the book changes from a document into an artefact, and the library turns into a museum. Another form of decay but just as destructive occurs in the digital realm. We are very happy that Claudia Becker of the Flusser Archive at the UDK is willing to present some of her own experiences with digital dementia. She will address the point made by Jeff Rothenberg that data will last forever or 5 years, whichever comes first. We feel that this panorama of anecdotes about the library could give a start to a debate this afternoon. Seeing everything together we think that it shows our interest in slowness. The library as a physical place that operates in human time as opposed to machine time. A sort of anti-futurism… We wonder what is your take on it.

As a final remark we would really like to thank Susanne Kriemann, Alexander Komarov and Ilka Tödt for their unique commitment with the residency.

Jannetje in ‘t Veld &
Toon Koehorst