Add to My library: An Interview with Christina Mitrentse | CHRISTINA GRAMMATIKOPOULOU
Video Produced and Edited by Rat Commander Productions
Christina Grammatikopoulou: Your new project Add to My Library Vol. II consists of drawings that reproduce known symbols as constructions of books, an installation, as well as a performance by artist Douglas Park. Could you tell us a few things about the origins and the evolution of the project?
Christina Mitrentse: Actually ,the exhibition of the project ADD TO MY LIBRARY Vol. II consists of five interconnected parts produced during the last two years: A series of large scale graphite and colour pencil drawings created on paper. I have invented an ongoing systematic methodology – an ‘On-line Bibliographic Data Flow’ which compiles favorite book titles/authors selected by invited international contributors from the art world. Artists-curators-museologists-historians-theorists-critics-gallerists and writers from museums and art centers around the world have positively responded to this project that alludes to a Meta- Library. Being a critique on the book as sacred object and site of subjectivity, I create a series of large-scale drawings that depict books as the building-blocks of idiosyncratic institutions; ‘STONEHENGE’, ‘WWW’, ‘NEW TATE’, ‘EMBLEM’, ‘RUINS I’.
The ‘METABOOK’, a plinth-mounted hand printed (silk-screened) book sculpture. And ‘10 FLAGS/EMBLEMS’ silk-screens extracted from METABOOK, that form a wall-based installation presented on the main walls of the gallery. For the final stage of Vol. II I have asked guest artist/writer Douglas Park to embody the Library’s body of knowledge as a living Encyclopaedia. The man who became a book!
Since 2004 I have continued to freely create narratives and poetic ensembles of non-normalized but heterotopic institutions i.e. schools, libraries, museums.The initial starting point for these manifold site-specific productions was the well celebrated solo project based on the Greek myth of ‘The Secret School’ 2005.An interactive, site specific installation, housed in a WW II, bomb shelter, just before the London bombings of 2005. Followed that in ‘BUILDING MY LIBRARY’(2008) project I presented the sculptural book art series of Pillar, Tomb, Fungi, Bibliophile created from my own collection of destroyed, uncovered and defaced Atlases, popular novels, history books, catalogues and academic textbooks, which have formed my artistic identity over the last 20 years.The next step was ADD TO MY LIBRARY Vol. II& I.
C.G.: It is certain that up until recently, the books we had in our library, that had a physical presence, revealed a lot about who we were and what kind of ideas we had. In your project you exhibit books from your own collection. Do you see these books as a reflection of yourself and their presentation as a self-revelation?
C.M.: Indeed! A symbolic potency has been undertaken for the production of BUILDING MY LIBRARY project (2008) Here the act of destroying, defacing and reusing my own book collection exists as a faithful act of reading, and deeply understanding the true content of the heavy philosophical volumes or academic textbooks by re-contextualising bibliographic experience. The experience of using the book reinforcing the importance of existence in transforming it. Forming an aesthetical dialogue with Derrida or John Latham for example, or knowing the scientific theory of multiverses. It is as if I remove its own aesthetic from the object, taking out the high culture of the book, and its authorship. By doing so, the body of knowledge has been shifted as well as its medium! I am interested in the cultural meaning that has been attached to the history of the book destruction from the 17th century to nowadays, and what that might reveal about the human history and our investment to this over-familiar object.
C.G.: On your series of prints entitled Flags/Emblems you use books to reconstruct emblems of diverse ideologies, exposing somehow the relation between written word and political propaganda. What kind of impact do you think that the symbols of these ideologies have on the viewer, in comparison to the printed text?
C. M.: In the Flag series the viewer is confronted by 10 familiar global symbols juxtaposing notions of education in relation to the believe systems represented within these Emblems. Conceptually powerful, I use the book as direct visual material (rather than the printed text used in political propaganda) in an attempt to emphasize the need for reconstruction of these ideologies. On another level, it is a critic on the fragile nature of distributing knowledge in the current Educational and socio-political persecution, widely experienced within the global crisis. Who manages and has access to the repositories of knowledge and information in our society? What might be the ethical position in relation to the violent state acts of public Library closures and limitation of public education. Thus, I invite the public to re-interpret their chosen ideology and emanations of social experiences.
C.G.: In your Project “Building My Library” you use books as part of a sculpture or a small architecture –thus exploring the plastic qualities of the very same object, which comes to form “tombs”, “plinths” “fungi” and “bibliophile collages”. Does this imply anything about the role of the traditional (paper) book in the digital age? What kind of role could this be?
C.M.: My book collection has been transformed into objects that defy their original form, investigating the
material and rhetorical presence of books, (the form and Metaphor).
Here I look at books as material surfaces, as objects between what contains and what is contained, drawing parallels with historical and digital technologies. For example the ‘cut-ting’ up and ‘past-ing’, re-ordering of pages, referencing the so-called Renaissance Iconoclasts and their conception of the scissors as emblems of transients, demonstrated in the iconic book of Shakespeare that makes me think of the author as dematirialistist object. On another level, the historical value of labour of the material book production conveys meaning now lost.
Twisted and stuck together the sculptural books contained within Building My Library, are humorous meditations on materiality that aim to provoke changes in the function of the material book, and the user’s relationship with it, while de-institutionalising it in the process. I encourage the viewers to consider how might the current phase of digitization and gradual disappearance of library stock, relates to prior moments of destruction. Questioning what might be the value of the traditional book nowadays, the work demonstrates how book destruction relates to recycling, reuse, and how we encounter ontological notions of authorship in new technologies.
C.G.: One basic feature of the Internet is that it has broken down traditional categorization and hierarchy in knowledge, by leading readers to other texts through hyperlinks or by suggesting what “other people who bought this book also liked […]”. Similarly, in Add to my Library Vol I & II you’ve created an online “library” where participants add their favorite books, creating a digital library. Based on the participation of the public in your project, can you see how these new schemes and nodes of thought are being created on line?
C.M.: The history of reading creates problems! The digitization of catalogues and libraries creates even more problems. Virtual books – technophiles -online galleries, notions of accessibility, preservation, reservation and authenticity through online registration and subscription have their own ontological issues that all go back to the book of Archimedes….
Not similarly -In ADD TO MY LIBRARY, the Internet is not the primary mode for the creation of the ‘library. It plays the role of a digital ‘messenger’ ‘cataloguing’ the titles in the form of a blog. Clearly the intention is not the creation of another digital reference Library among the ‘googlian’ empire, knowing that the next generation of books will exist just in digital archives. Here, Internet acts as a tool to directly communicate with the potential contributors who might respond to the questionnaire of their favorite art book, or they may not. Thus, it’s a system that gathers Bibliographic Data flow; the resource material for the creation of the artwork. This is then being directed in forming the ‘non- normalized institution’ back on the paper. On the contrary Drawing is the primary mode, an ‘autonomous’ art form in the realization of My Library.
So, for me, as new data from international contributors is gathered, the exercise of adding to and activating my library intensifies the paper surface, a locus not only to remix the ‘catalogue’ but also alter the pictorial space of the library. In this way monumentality is micromanaged. Each drawing might function as domestic ‘shelving’. i.e. in an attempt to visually interrogate the concrete edifice of the ‘NEW TATE MODERN”, and after Walter Benjamin show that the “picture becomes now a metaphor of digital reproduction over the mechanical, in the repeated form of the Penguin book ‘The Art work in the age of mechanical reproduction”. Tate Modern’s smokeless chimney becomes a ziggurat of ISBNs.
C.G.: On your press release of the exhibition, you mention, “MY LIBRARY acts as a non-normalized self-institution, a new place of knowledge”. Could you please comment this further?
C.M.: The works part of My Library project shaping an idiosyncratic institution. The traces of an attempted re-drawing of the existing ,yet normalized Cultural institution. This is facilitated through just the use of pencil & graphite on paper where time can be re-constructed. Through smashing colour pastel into powder, Smudginess itself becoming a symbolic overlay of the new –the new place of knowledge -, or in this context bibliographic input from international contributors of the art scene, each of them adding to the construction of an infinite library, being primarily intended to make the viewer ponder their ‘text’ of civilization in crisis.
The reading matter in picture ‘Ruin I’ (2011) is shown at the point of disintegration. Loosely based on James D. Griffion’s photographs of the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository and the film Fahrenheit 451, this decaying information dump signals one possible ‘end’ for the institution. High and low culture cease to differ. History becomes a list of legendary titles, while the power of knowledge creates new perspectives.
‘ADD TO My LIBRARY Vol. II’ runs from 29th Aug-25th Sept 2011, at ART WORK SPACE –THE HEMPLE HOTEL.
Private View 7th September 2011 6.30 – 9.30pm (First Wednesdays)
Ground Floor,The Hempel Hotel, 31-35 Craven Hill Gardens, London W2 3EA
Mon-Fri 10.30-19.30, Sat -Sun1.30-19.30
For more information on the exhibition “ADD TO My LIBRARY Vol. II” you can visit the Art Work Space website.