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  • Unpacking My Library: Introduction text

    Working With Chapters

    “The organ of memory appears to me to be always a passive one. It remembers nothing of its own accord; it requires a cause by which it is activated.”
    Diderot, The Reader is The Book Itself, 1778.

    I work in an interdiciplinary, conceptual and siterelated way, and with a longterm research. It includes photography, computermanipulation, tekst, video, installation, sound and books. The camera, the audiominidisc and the computer are my main tools. My personal archive is a research-storage of photos, books and ideas but also a storage of artworks which I consider as “chapters” in a non-liniar working structure. These can either be presented as individual artworks or reused and re-arranged into different narrative structures and constellations.

    An important focus in my work is to investigate how memory is produced as a constant flow between cultural and personal processes. To play with the idea about how cultural memory and archival spaces are constructions of fictions, facts and narrative structures. A couple of years ago I began to photograph various home libraries, the repositories of second-hand bookshops, the bookshelves of charity shops and the book stacks of public libraries. A characteristic feature of these places has been that they are either inaccessible to the general public or that they are arranged on the basis of idiosyncratic principles. In the course of time this research has in itself resulted in a comprehensive photo archive on archival spaces. From this archive I have developed a series of 10 “chapters” concerned with the construction of semi-archival spaces and the transformation of the photograph as medium.

    I regard my work on this ongoing project, which I call “Unpacking My Library”, as a kind of mnemonic exercise, in which through research via my camera I identify opportunities for exploring the complex mechanisms of memory. By incorporating elements from my book- and photo archive in the works presented I seek to unpack some of the meanings contained in both private and public archival spaces. What I want to investigate is the principles of juxtaposition used, along with the collisions and interdependencies that arise between the private and collective aspects. Here what matters is not the individual book or photo, but the narratives that emerge when one element is placed next to another. That the book or photo is seen as a conceptual entity and instrumentalized in non-linear narrative structures, in which time, memory and the imagination of the subject are highlighted.

    Libraries constitute the memory of a culture, but these places also contain that which has been forgotten along with possibilities of rediscovery. Here it is not only books that accumulate, but also problems that have to do with the processes of individual and collective memory. It is paradoxical that a library contains knowledge we may never possess, and that classification is a philosophical problem relating to the coexistence of differences.
    As Jorge Luis Borges put it, to be in a library is to be in a constant conflict between enthusiasm evoked by an illusion of completeness and the vertigo evoked by the inconceivable. The knowledge contained in a library is at one and the same time both accessible and unattainable. As a space, its defining feature is that it both stimulates our memory and challenges our ability to find our bearings.

    The production of books, libraries, reading and book-collecting activities testify to a culture devoted to knowledge, but are also concerned with the way in which personal memories are continuously being interwoven with the constructions of the collective memory. In both private and public libraries the main problem is the growth of the collection. But in private libraries we often encounter idiosyncratic principles of organisation and absurd juxtapositions that will disappear when they are incorporated in public storage systems with fixed principles of classification. The question is: What new meanings emerge when the collection loses its subject?
    The passions and worries of the private book collector are closely linked with ideas concerning the memory- generating function of the book and the book collection. Consequently I have always been fascinated by the opportunity to explore rooms containing the remnants of private libraries – especially in moments when I find myself holding a book in which the name of the previous owner has been inscribed. At such moments I am reminded that the accumulation, reading and treatment of books are connected with a conceptual rearrangement of time that I am quite unable to grasp, and which I shall never finish exploring.

    In this section you’ll get an idea about ”Unpacking My Library”. As the diagram shows, the project now contains 11 ”chapters”. Some have been presented for the public and some have not yet been realized as visual presentations. They exist as research for developing ideas concerning archival processes and the construction of memory.

    Elsebeth Jørgensen, 2003