Ann Butler

Hybrid Identities

What are the characteristics defining libraries and archives, and how do they differ? Archives are comprised of records, in any format, usually produced in the course of routine activities and saved because of their inherent cultural and evidentiary value. Libraries usually consist of published materials, in any format. Although libraries and archives as repository and collection types evolved out of the same historical lineage based on the ideals of cultural heritage preservation and knowledge diffusion, they each have their own historic trajectories, distinct purposes and constituencies. In the 20th century, libraries and archives have evolved into very different collection types with increasingly specialized professional practices, standards, systems of management, classification, and description, to meet the preservation needs of the material, the mission of the repository, and the needs of the primary constituencies.

If archives reflect the life of an institution, a collective or organization that created the records as part of its routine activities, can libraries perform the same function and be read in the same way? Do libraries reflect the communities who helped build the collections through engagement and use, or the life of the collector who built his or her personal library? How do libraries and archives take shape over time and how do they reflect the lives and interests of those who participated in their evolution and development? What is the documentary potential of libraries?

Archives and Libraries as Cultural Models

Archives and libraries are cultural constructs each with their own systems of arrangement, classification, logic, and purpose. Collections are built according to various methodologies and they are used by a variety of constituencies to meet a range of needs.
Just as archives have been the subject of inquiry by artists as well as a cultural model worthy of appropriation, libraries are increasingly coming under the same lens.

Libraries serve as architectural spaces and sites of social engagement housing a range of collection materials gathered or accumulated over a period of time by an individual, a collective or community reflecting specific interests, time periods, and cultural and intellectual contexts. In this sense, libraries transmit culture. Artists and curators are tapping this logic when they present libraries as works of art to highlight the ways libraries can be read as a cultural document.

This practice comes out of a long line of artists utilizing existing institutions, networks, and technologies as a means of subverting common uses and highlighting alternative possibilities. Examples include artists making use of the postal network as part of correspondence art, cable and broadcast networks as part of the dissemination of video art, print and publishing as part of the production and distribution of artists’ books and ‘zines, and artist-centered art spaces as a means of circumventing the commercial gallery system.

Examples include The Martha Rosler Library, approximately 7,700 titles from the artist’s personal library were exhibited in seven different international locations between 2005 and 2009, The Bidoun Library that was exhibited at the New Museum in 2010 and the Serpentine Gallery in London in 2011, and the Traveling Magazine Table, an expanding collection of publications by artists that was exhibited internationally and in various forms from 2001 to 2011. In each of these cases, portions of existing libraries were either re-contextualized and exhibited, or collections of publications and printed matter were assembled as part of the exhibition. These ‘libraries’ served as models for cultural engagement and inquiry within a contemporary art context.

The Traveling Magazine Table

The Traveling Magazine Table was initiated as the Magazine Table in 2001 by Nomads & Residents, a loose collective of international New York-based artists, during the first Lecture Lounge at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York. The project was reactivated in 2003 as the Traveling Magazine Table and subsequently developed by artists Bik Van der Pol and Cesare Pietroiusti. The Traveling Magazine Table or TMT is an eclectic collection of international small press publications produced by artists, alternative art spaces, artists’ collectives, and other non-profit art initiatives that documents small press publishing activities from 1999-2007. The TMT has been exhibited internationally at venues including: CAC, Vilnius (2003); Art in General, New York (2004); M.I.T., Boston (2005); IASPIS, Stockholm (2006); Kulturezone06, Frankfurt (2006); INSA Art Space, Seoul (2006); and the Design Academy/ Van AbbeMuseum, Eindhoven (2007), and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson (2011).

The project examines alternative publishing and distribution networks as a form of artistic practice as it engages with four key elements: growth, transport, design and installation, and an open call. Beginning with an initial collection of artists’ publications the TMT traveled to various hosting venues where an open call would be disseminated inviting local audiences to expand the collection through the submission of artists’ publications and other non-commercial forms of printed matter. Because the project was hosted by a range of international art venues, the collection was ‘built’ by a range of voices and constituencies, geographically distributed over a period of six years.

The Traveling Magazine Table is in many ways a hybrid model of the early circulating libraries found in eighteenth century America, where a group of people pooled their resources to build a collection of books for use by that community. Since books were expensive, collective ownership through the library was a more feasible model than building a private library. Equally, the TMT also serves as documentary evidence of the kinds of printed matter and publications created by artists and other cultural producers in the early part of the 21st century.

With each participating host venue, the TMT has grown incrementally as each site has updated and expanded the collection with new regionally specific small press publications. Each of the exhibiting venues not only enlarged and diversified the overall collection leaving an imprint of the community’s engagement with the project, but each venue also developed their own strategies for the physical organization and intellectual arrangement of the material as part its installation and display. These activities and public programs are all documented as part of the archival components of the Traveling Magazine Table Archive.

Installed as a library or reading room where the public could come and engage with the collection, the project also served as an alternative distribution network, providing users with access to obscure and regionally specific publications from locales across the globe that they may not have had access to through any other means. The collection was also activated through public programs, lectures and workshops on self-publishing, or as the inspiration for an investigation of architectural spaces designed to promote solitary reading or collective learning and engagement, or as an exploration of systems of arrangement and classification.

The Traveling Magazine Table Archive at the Center for Curatorial Studies

The culmination of the project is the Traveling Magazine Table Archive which was generously donated to the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College in 2011 by Bik Van der Pol on behalf of Nomads & Residents. The Traveling Magazine Table Archive consists of over 700 publications reflecting small press publishing practices within each of the geographic areas where the project was exhibited, as well as the archival traces documenting the project’s evolution and the various ways the collection was physically presented and arranged in each of its exhibition venues.

The Traveling Magazine Table is based within the Center for Curatorial Studies Library and Archives, a research repository that actively seeks out archival collections which support the advanced research and scholarship in curatorial studies and the contemporary arts. As a collection of obscure small press publications by artists and other cultural producers the Traveling Magazine Table Archive enhances and complements existing holdings in both the CCS Library and the Archives. The collection fills in important missing issues of out of print publications, such as LTTR and Ohio, and also stands as an archival collection that fully documents its manifestation as a work of art. The Traveling Magazine Table Archive will be examined by young curators as an innovative and collaborative artistic and curatorial model. Equally, portions of the Traveling Magazine Table Archive will also be consulted for the individual publications contained in it, which are now long out of print. I was interested in acquiring the collection not only because it supplements, enhances, and strengthens our library holdings of publications by artists and also serves as an important example of a collaborative work, but also because the Traveling Magazine Table Archive is a genuine contemporary art example of a hybrid library and archive. Just as the principal dynamics of archives are the tension between preservation and access; circulation and transmission are the driving forces behind libraries. The Traveling Magazine Table Archive as a contemporary work, a library, and an archive equally embodies the attributes of all three in an innovative hybrid form.