Pablo Picasso is credited for saying that “every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” While we’re not 100 percent sure that the famous artist ever uttered those words, that idea is the premise behind the recently completed installation Create and Destroy over at the library in The World Reflectedup at Spalding House.
Starting in late August, local artists Ava Fedorov and Janet Tran began dismantling and repainting the library and manipulating the books in all sorts of ways before returning them to the library space in new places (and mediums.) The final product can be seen until The World Reflected ends on Oct. 28.
The two artists bask in their reimagined library space.
What is your background?
Janet Tran: It’s a mix of a few things that I tend to draw upon. Initially, I studied architecture and received a degree in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on interior design. However, I always found myself drawn to art and right after, received a degree in fine arts, focusing on fiber arts. Though in my current practice, I concentrate on conceptual ideas before consideration of art medium(s). Working in education as well, previously with pre-k for five years and now as a teaching artist for the museum’s educational outreach department, has been an enjoyable and engaging learning experience that puts me in the role of both teacher and student.
Ava Federov: My background is in visual art and writing. While I was in graduate school for fine art in New York City, I supported myself as a writer. Because of the combination of verbal and visual expression in my background, the Create and Destroy project’s involvement with books as a medium really fascinated and inspired me.
How did you two get involved with Create and Destroy?
JT: Earlier this year, [public programs manager] Ryan Higa approached me about a project to essentially change up the entire library space in collaboration with a couple other artists. Immediately drawn to the idea, I agreed to take part, intrigued by reimaging an alternative arrangement yet maintaining its original function as a leisurely reading space. As wonderful as the library space started as, the opportunity to change it opens the space to many possibilities Federov and I were eager to explore.
AF: Higa invited me to be involved with an installation at the Spalding House in which books that were going to be discarded from the Museum’s library were reimagined as the fodder for an art installation. Over the past year, Higa and I had been having conversations about the idea of destruction being a creative mechanism, and creativity employing an element of the destructive. I think both of us are fascinated by this interplay, intellectually and expressively. When Higa approached me with the Create and Destroy premise, our past conversations came to mind, and I was thrilled to get to experiment with these ideas and push some boundaries. The destruction of books, something I hold as almost sacred, is also an interesting (and uncomfortable) area to explore. Even knowing that these books were being discarded, it definitely took some willpower to glue them together, knowing that it meant they would never be read again.
What was the inspiration behind your installation and the process for executing it?
JT: Lately, furniture and industrial design alongside creative reuse are two areas that inform my personal goals in understanding how to incorporate utility back into salvaged materials. When we found out the Robert Allerton Library was planning to discard or donate boxes of withdrawn books, they became the perfect art materials to guide Federov and me in how we could embody the cyclical relationship of creation and destruction.
For one of the pieces made, I was drawn to stacks of Christie’s and Sotheby’s art auction catalogs, several years’ worth and in perfect condition yet intended for discard. Despite the wonderful art images and sturdy quality, they are impractical and largely useless for anyone to want or keep. But these same qualities were highlighted in their transformation into a mobile book bench as holes were drilled, support rods inserted, and nuts and screws helped turn into them into seating for visitors. As for the room’s floor tiles, they are composed of the aged, brittle pages of books that were falling apart. Through papermaking processes, they were pulped and formed back into modular units appropriate in laying down for a contrasting, textual wall or floor surface.
AF: I am inspired by the idea of books holding vast worlds within their pages and the notion that they’re becoming extinct in our modern culture. I took inspiration from a line of poetry by John O’Donohue, “The silence of another world waits,” and built the words into an intricate stacking of the books. The books themselves form the letters, which in turn form the phrase. The “silence” for me is a reference to the act of reading, which is a silent escape, and also the silencing of the books, as they become more and more obsolete. To take it even further, the act of creating this installation, and thereby destroying the books is also a type of silencing. The process of stacking the books was time-consuming and tedious but also became almost obsessive. I spent hours sifting through piles of books, trying to find one that fit precisely in the place I needed it. It was like designing a new puzzle out of old pieces. I had no idea how many books it would take and had to make multiple runs to the basement of the Museum on Beretania, to get more and more books. I estimate there are over 1,000 books in the stack, which probably weighs over 3,000 lbs.
What do you want audiences to take away from seeing your installation?
JT: While enjoying the space, perhaps with a book in hand and sitting on a cushion, to consider what that book and library mean to them in the context of their own life—and also to imagine what more they can become beyond just the words and images we see.
AF: The elaborate book stacking at first is compelling but abstract. However, as the viewer looks at the enormous stack of books (about 25 feet long and over 5 feet high), the letters gradually reveal themselves, coalescing into the words and then the phrase. I like the idea of rewarding the careful observer, of slowly illuminated messages. I also tucked “secret messages” into the stacked books, here and there, in the form of poems. Most of the poems are written by poets who I know as friends, or who are friends of friends, and I am very honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such great writers. Viewers will also find the work of several celebrated historical poets as well.
Watch atimelapse video of the entire project below: