After threatening to close almost two dozen libraries, Miami-Dade County recently relented and instead will reduce hours and employees. Across the country, similar cutbacks are taking place. Coupled with the demise of bookstores, both independent and chain, it almost seems like there is a war on books, and as an extension, on education in general.
So it’s a good time to look at what’s happening in our own backyard, at people who love books and art and learning.
At Spinello Projects’ new space on Northwest Seventh Avenue, “The State of the Book” is a unique and wonderful exhibit/installation. In essence it is a reading room filled with books culled from bookshelves of various Miamians, here for public consumption while the exhibit remains open through September.
It’s intentionally a tactile, old-fashioned experience. After coming through the door off the street, you see a façade that looks like an English bookstore, circa Dickens time. Open that door, and a darkened room lit by reading lamps awaits. Created by video and performance artists Ruben Millares and Antonia Wright, the shelves are organized by topics and interspersed with artifacts and knick-knacks, completing the home-library mood.
Browse through the offerings: There are art books loaned from MOCA, and tomes on the birds of Florida from artist Christina Petterson. Millares added his rock-’n’-roll books, and Wright her poetry collection (her mother, the Florida mystery writer Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, contributed her personal first editions). Other artists and museums complete the reading room with sections on travel, spirituality, history, photography, Cuban-themed books in Spanish and English, and one shelf dedicated to motorcycles.
“The State of the Book” is a literal title addressing the topic of the state and its involvement with books, says Millares. “This is a political statement, with the closing of libraries, books being discarded because there is no room for them,” he says while pointing to a top shelf lined with old Encyclopedia Britannicas.
“We want people to physically enjoy the book — sit down, open it, find out how much is in there that you can’t find on Wikipedia.” He adds that the reading room or the library is also a communal space, as opposed to the lone computer/Kindle space. “It’s a place where people can engage with each other.”
Indeed, moving through this reading room is a physical experience. Pick out a large, coffee-table-size book and turn the pages slowly; it’s as though every new page reveals something new and special. Or choose a book that has a textile cover; you can feel it before even delving in. There are books with the author’s note inscribed on a title page, or ones where a reader has underlined segments. These are elements that simply cannot be reproduced on a computer screen, imprints that keep us tied to the past and present, and to each other.
The exhibit will close with a performance from the artists. What the performance will be Millares won’t say, but it will include books.
Over the last several years another labor of love of books has been taking place, relatively under the radar. It’s called the SWEAT Broadsheet Portfolio, and it involves collaboration between 46 artists and 42 writers and poets from South Florida.