Elsewhen: A Chronotextual Library
A library isn’t a place where physical books house stories; it’s a story that happens to house a number of physical books.
Sylvia Scheer brought more than books together as she collected her library: She interentwined the stories of the books and the people who’d owned them before her (“Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd,” Deleuze & Guattari). She made a song, a chorus of many voices, and these voices came from many places, near and far—
And more importantly, the voices brought together in the library came from many different times…
All libraries do this—mixing Aristotle and Toni Morrison, ancient Sumer and modern Beijing—but there was (and still is) something different about Sylvia’s. Maybe it has to do with the way the books have been organized to form a map or a mirror of the larger museum–gallery (itself already a retroscape, a collection of times, even without the books). Maybe it has to do with the influx of visitors and their stories, visitors who have continued to use Sylvia’s library as a way of seeing backward into her life, her time(s).
Whatever the cause, Sylvia’s careful collecting has definitely created a grand chrono-freakout (really just another word for “library”) to which we all have access. This doesn’t surprise us: Books are inherently spacetime-warping objects, and, in a cluster, they activate one another in strange ways. Each book projects its trace/shadow both back and forward. When you hold a book, everyone who intersected or will intersect it, from author to reader to future reader, is present in the same space, albeit at various times. If you’re rigorous and open when you examine a book, you can tell the stories of each of these bookholders; you can bring them all into one room…
Which brings us to our own predicament: Whatever the explanation (and trust us—we will get to the bottom of it), Sylvia’s rigorously fostered library has created a chrono-freakout, a soft spot in the fabric of spacetime—a time-sink, or time-tear, or whatever you’d prefer to term it—
And that’s precisely where we fall into the picture.
Elsewhere, Greensboro, North Carolina, 2012—
meet Elsewhen, Greenyborough, Subcarolina, 201X.
We are the Elsewhereians of the future—a future where things are vastly different:
The Muppets have made a comeback! Physical texts are rapidly being supplanted by hexadecimal encodings beamed to flat, gray boards! The sum total of the world’s ideas and information are rapidly being made available through vast interconnected networks, then beamed to flat, gray boards! Communication is possible with people instantly around the world, regardless of their location (except when they’re underground, or when there’s data interference, or when there’s heavy cloud cover, or when too many people are trying to communicate at once into their small black lozenges, or when the lozenges are without juice)! And people! There are billions of them. We confuse people with their surroundings! We confuse people with their objects! Most importantly, we confuse reality with virtual worlds, or rather reality keeps interfering with them. Ours is a perilous and exciting time, entirely different from your own.
But—thankfully!—Elsewhere is still in existence, far into the future.
But—less thankfully!—thanks to your, er, interesting custodianship of the fabric of spacetime vis-à-vis Sylvia’s wonderful library, we have been sucked backward through time into the past! In order to again breach spacetime and return to the ruined world of our own epoch, we will have to somehow agitate the library of Elsewhere. Unfortunately for all of you (who no doubt want us to stay and teach you the many secrets of the unenviable future), we know just how to do this: Stories.
We must bring into a superharmony that chorus of voices found in the library, that chorus of discontiguous times.
To do so, we will employ:
- Stories (at least one sentence long) for every single book in the library, detailing who possessed the book just before Sylvia, what their time was like, and what it may teach the Greensboro of today—and of the far future.
- Video, sculpture, ink and mixed media art, and print—all bringing (some of) these stories to life graphically. For example, the non-destructive necessities of Elsewhere’s collection lend themselves readily to the nondestructive nature of montage and imaginative propsmaking: Strange literary machines can be assembled and “documented,” disassembled, and placed back onto the shelves. (Think Michel Gondry.)
- Local kids, visitors, residents, etc.—writing stories themselves; making their own art; picking books at random for us to respond to in words and images; simply being in the space. In order to ensure the biological, genetic, and temporal diversity of our library, the active participation of the Elsewhere/South Elm community of 2012 is essential.
- Pen-pals from the future. Lucky for 2012, we’ve brought with us several letters from the children of our own time. We hope the children of 2012 will be curious enough to start an ongoing dialogue, in letters, with the children of the future, for instance by telling them what it is like to live in 2012 and then learning what wonderful surprises the future may hold.
- The library itself… As the library comes into superharmony, the books will call out to be grouped according to their stories, to form a temporary equilibrium of their own design. Most likely, this shape–body will not help human visitors to find specific books, but instead provoke exploration of the space and facilitate new readings of unexpected texts—new human–text resonance machines that will help us return to our own time. Ultimately, we’d like to help the library find the shape that is most architectonic, that one that stabilizes (only temporarily—no cause for alarm!) the story whirlwind of the texts into the form that is somehow their meta-story—that is, the story of Sylvia and of Elsewhere. We don’t mean the physical shape (this approach was carried out already successfully), but the narrative shape—the shape of the whole-story-of-Elsewhere/when-at-once…
This last tactic illuminates a key property of books/texts/objects that we will highlight during our stay as visitors of the Elsewhere of 2012: Books/texts/objects read people, just as we presume to read them. They write us. They read us. They shape our lives, actively; we do not and have never had total control over them (or we would not read and respond to them, live our lives by and for them, give them, sell them, covet them, work for them).
The main difference between us—you ancient Elsewhereians and we Elsewhereians from the future-art movement known as the Hollow Earth Society—is not how we interact with objects. We are still obsessed with and defined by them. The main difference is perceptual: You see a library of physical objects containing stories. We see a single, vast interconnected story (a narrative object), taking place across many times, containing many glorious physical objects—containing ideas, hearts beating.
We hope our freak ambassadorship can be a fruitful one in exchanging points of view.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE HOLLOW EARTH SOCIETY
We are delirious taxonomists: We use confusion for clarification and vice versa, and we seek to categorize with the inverse goal of creating the (shadow of the) possible infinite from a finite set. The network of relationships between a dataset of books—the building that houses them, their content, their connections through time and between people (both readers and writers, real and imagined)—will give us fertile material to craft interrelated art installations and texts. Elsewhen is an experiment on our part to see how many layers we can compound outward, or draw together to generate a well-crafted work of conceptual and highly abstract speculative art given an already-defined, already-awesome space of physical art, collective art, communal art, etc.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ELSEWHERE
By creating an interactive library that is not only open to the public but also depends upon their participation, we hope to create a collaborative and inclusive public art project. We hope that our design will challenge visitors to Elsewhere to think about and reconsider their relationships to knowledge and category, ultimately encouraging them to explore new ideas and texts that they would not otherwise engage. The library will be more than a place to borrow and read books, it will be a place to create stories. We want to make the library a space of intellectual adventure within Elsewhere that will be used (and appropriated and modified) for years to come.