During the summer of 2016, visitors to the library at Chelsea may have noticed a person wandering the shelves, contemplating and making notes about seemingly random books and archive materials. This person is Kit Poulson who, through a collaborative new commission platform initiated by Book Works with Chelsea College of Arts Library and Chelsea Space, has been our library residency artist.
Mutter is the first of a new Library Residencies Programme from Book Works, an art commissioning organisation specialising in artists’ books, spoken word and printed matter. Entitled You Must Locate a Fantasy, this series of residencies and commissions for artists to work with libraries, special collections and archives located across the UK will include London, Hull and Glasgow in 2016–2019. Organised in response to a moment where libraries face uncertain futures, yet hold the archives for potential futures, this new project includes an exhibition which opens this month at Chelsea Space and a publication with Book Works, supported by the Henry Moore Foundation, as outcomes to the library residency.
The project took the form of an open submission with artists asked to make proposals that made connections: between the research material in the library collection and the finished work; between the artist and the real or imagined audiences that access the collection; between the present in which the artist works and the histories of the collection; between the personal and potential communities of the library or collection.
The selection panel for the London residency included Jane Rolo (Director, Book Works); Katrina Palmer (Artist and Writer); Gavin Everall (Editor, Book Works); Gustavo Grandal Montero (Special Collections Librarian, Chelsea College of Arts) and Karen Di Franco (Programme Curator, Chelsea Space).
Selected through this submission process, artist and writer Poulson has taken peculiarities of technology as a starting point for his residency, with the aim to develop from it an idiosyncratic working method to investigate the library at Chelsea as a physical and dynamic space. Using the underlying motif of an analogue synthesizer, the Roland 303, to explore anti-systemic, intuitive and improvisational working methods. The project asks what ‘knowledge’ might be and how it is communicated.
Jane Rolo, Director of Book Works who has worked with Chelsea Space to establish the residency at Chelsea College of Arts Library, says this about the value of libraries and archives as a resource for artists making new work: ‘Each of the partner libraries, from the library at Chelsea to Glasgow Women’s Library, and Hull’s Central Library, have much to offer. The collections provide a starting point for artists to research and produce something political, poetic, unexpected, or ephemeral that can draw out the unique qualities of the libraries and the artist’s own interests. The librarian or archivist is often key to accessing the rich resources in a library, and the relationships that can be built though projects such as this give artists an opportunity to access and work with collections and promote the unique resources and locations these libraries offer to their audiences and library users.’
The exhibition opens in January 2017 and will include writing, painting, sound works and objects alongside a series of short films made in collaboration with the filmmaker Ben Owen, which explore improvisational practices well understood by musicians. The show explores a different way of thinking about libraries and archives, beyond fixed static spaces, but as dynamic, emotional spaces, sites of chance or extempore encounters. Poulson is interested in books’ materiality: not in the well explored sense of the printed artifact as a structure to be played with but rather in seeing a book as a solidification of the flux of consciousness, that can be explored through a range of mediums, willfully misunderstood and that resists dissolving into ideas.
In addition to this work, Poulson has also been working with librarian Gustavo Grandal Montero and BA Fine Art and MA Curating and Collections students at Chelsea to produce and curate materials that will be incorporated into a display in the library alongside the exhibition at Chelsea Space. The publication with Book Works, supported by the Henry Moore Foundation will also follow later in 2017.
All images: Kit Poulson, stills from Mutter, 2016. Images by Ben Owen.
Find out more about Kit Poulson: Mutter at Chelsea Space on the event page.