SYNAPSE curators Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin set out to investigate the Anthropocene hypothesis: that humanity’s impact on the earth has been so great that it necessitates a new geological age. Springer and Turpin invited a selection of interdisciplinary thinkers — ranging from visual artists, natural scientists, and literary theorists — to participate in and contribute to SYNAPSE’s series of six exhibitions. All exhibitions will take the form of books, with the curators subtitling the series intercalations: a paginated exhibition series. Springer and Turpin gathered at Printed Matter to launch the series, joined by Museum of Modern Art librarian and curator David Senior and former New York Public Library librarian and curator Julia van Haaften.
The first book in the series, Fantasies of the Library, follows a unique design, transforming the two-dimensional space of the book into a multi-layered exhibition space. As Springer explained, they had to determine a way to “treat the book as an architecture that is not just a surface for text, but that can be designed in a way to open up the space and move around where relationships are established.” The relationships at play in Fantasies of the Library are with her own essay, “Melancholies of the Paginated Mind: The Library as Curatorial Space,” which runs throughout the book. The essay theorizes the library, surveying its history and variety of organizational methods.
Springer and Turpin determined a way to expand the form of the book, through a nonlinear organization in which various texts are intercalated into other texts. “There are intercalations in a design way,” explained Springer. When determining the layout, the curators asked themselves, “How do we do this in the logic of this book and how we want to create that space?” The answer was to place Springer’s essay only along the right-hand pages of the book. The left-side pages contain a selection of conversations and interviews between the editors and field experts about libraries and archival and book practices, as well as images of Andrew Norman Wilson’s ScanOps print series, which directly addresses the digitization of printed matter. The contents on both sides of the pages meet at the crease of the book, with Springer’s essay literally running up against other writings and images dealing with libraries. At the center of the book, both separate narratives of the right and left pages are disrupted by a visual essay curated by Springer, which illustrates many of the reading spaces discussed throughout.
Springer explained, “Fantasies of the Library is the theoretical reflection on all of these different spaces, these different modes of thinking and producing knowledge, of relating text and visual text together, of serendipitous relationships to the finds. In this way it is the meta-book of the series.” A book about libraries that acts both as a library and curatorial space — selecting, arranging, and housing texts — aligns itself with printed matter in a very specific way. The physicality of the book “resists the digital,” explains Turpin, “but not necessarily in a nostalgic way.” Instead, the book asks, “What does it mean to be making printed matter in a context of digital making?” Furthermore, Turpin noted, all future intercalations books will respond to the ideas the first book provokes. “What does the archive mean in this contemporary context [of digital making]?”
The intercalations series is not the first to reexamine the archive and printed matter against our digital backdrop. Please Come to the Show, an exhibition of invitations and exhibition announcement cards curated by Senior at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 2014 mined the museum’s extensive collection of ephemera in order to mark a shift in the culture of invitations. “I felt we were at a watershed point with how we got invited to things,” explained Senior, “and maybe it was time to mark that watershed point.” Unlike the intercalations series, Senior’s show and accompanying catalogue certainly have a tinge of nostalgia for handwritten notes and their various sizes and textures. But the project does raise an interesting question: If retrospectives often mark the end of a certain way of thinking about an artist or an era, does the intercalations series mark an end to the current way of thinking about books and exhibition spaces? I certainly hope so.
Senior referenced the Five Laws of Library Science, created in 1931 by S. R. Ranganathan, an Indian librarian who is credited with being one of the founders of modern library science. The first of Ranganathan’s rules is, “Books are for use.” Springer and Turpin’s curatorial undertaking attempts to truly use the book format, taking advantage of the ways in which books are held and read. The design of the book “disrupts the physical assumptions of how you read,” explains Turpin, citing our learned behavior of reading patterns, “but it is hospitable to the experience of reading,” in which one’s eyes tend to drift around and across the page. This innovative project utilizes the intimate space of the book to examine changing spaces: the first book looks at the shifts in reading spaces as we navigate the current digital age, acting as introduction to the book-as-exhibition space and setting the stage for the remaining five books that will explore changes in geography brought on, as Springer and Turpin put it, by the “Age of Humankind.”
The Fantasies of the Library book launch took place at Printed Matter (195 Tenth Avenue, Chelsea, Manhattan) on April 10, 6pm.